India General Election 2024: Democracy in action or mirage?

The rise of Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) characterised by an aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda, has marked something of a paradigm shift in Indian politics.

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A massive BJP election campaigning gathering at Amroha, Uttar Pradesh, on 19 April 2024 – Photo: BJP Facebook

By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |

India, the world’s most populous country, on 19th April 2024 embarked on a massive parliamentary election to elect the next leader of the nation. Spanning nearly six weeks across seven phases due to its colossal geography, voting concludes on June 1st, with the results expected to be declared on June 4th. Though political observers raise legitimate concerns about the erosion of press and media freedom, India continues to claim the title as the world biggest democracy.

2024 General Election is the 18th since India gained independence from British Rule. Over the years, India’s electoral process has been a cornerstone of its democratic ethos, with each election witnessing the participation of a growing electorate, now reaching nearly a billion potential voters within a population of 1.4 billion.

Traditionally dominated by the Indian National Congress (INC) and the formidable presence of the Gandhi dynasty, the political arena has undergone significant transformations in recent elections. Notably, the rise of Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) characterised by an aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda, has marked something of a paradigm shift in Indian politics. Modi’s ascendancy to power in the 2014 elections, propelled by his charismatic leadership and promises of development and a ‘Hindu India First’ policy, reshaped the contours of political discourse in the country.

However, PM Modi’s tenure has not been devoid of controversies. Widespread concerns continue to be expressed over the perceived drift of the BJP towards right-wing Hindu majoritarianism, raising alarms about the erosion of India’s secular fabric and the marginalization of minority communities. In response, the BJP claim to be the true and only national party that remains committed to ‘secular’ India and that their assertion of Hindu identity is not based on religion but a common cultural heritage. Commonly referred to as ‘Hindutva, this claim is associated with a political ideology that was first developed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which was founded in 1925 and continues to be closely aligned with the BJP.

In this evolving political milieu, against the backdrop of the decline of the INC party and the anti-corruption campaign that was led by the social activist Anna Hazare in 2011, the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been a significant, particularly in Punjab, Delhi and Northern India states. Founded on the principles of anti-corruption and inclusive governance, the AAP, led by former bureaucrat turned anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal, made a notable entry into the political fray. The party’s electoral debut in the 2013 Delhi Assembly elections stunned observers as it secured a significant mandate, propelling Kejriwal to the Chief Minister’s office.

The AAP’s governance model in Delhi, marked by initiatives such as Mohalla Clinics for healthcare and subsidized utilities, garnered both praise and criticism. However, its anti-corruption stance and pro-poor policies resonated with a segment of voters disillusioned with traditional politics. Yet, the current imprisonment of Arvind Kejriwal amidst allegations of defamation adds a layer of complexity to AAP’s narrative. While supporters decry it as a witch-hunt, critics question the party’s claims of transparency, underscoring the challenges it faces in navigating the political landscape during a crucial electoral period.

In Punjab, the political scenario is characterized by a multi-cornered contest involving several key players, including the INC, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the AAP, and the BJP. Historically, Punjab has been a battleground for the INC and the SAD, with both parties vying for supremacy. However, in recent years, the AAP has emerged as a formidable contender, particularly in urban areas, capitalizing on issues such as corruption and governance.

The prospects of the main political parties in Punjab, and parts of the nation outside the traditional Hindi belt, namely, namely Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, are intricately intertwined with evolving socio-political dynamics and regional aspirations. Factors such as agrarian distress, youth unemployment, drug addition and outward migration and alliances are expected to influence voter sentiments.

Additionally, though not as significant as expat Panjabis seem to think, Panthic concerns linked to the ongoing imprisonment of Sikh political prisoners, long term grievances related to Punjab’s river waters and economic development are likely to feature amongst the hustings. In this regard, the rapidly declining Shiromani Akali Dal led by Sukhbir Singh Badal are characteristically expected to claim the mantle of being the only true Panthic party.

Whilst some political observers argue that the BJP popularity has peaked and can only decline, with a commensurate resurgence of the INC, others argue that Modi and his BJP are on course for a landslide third term in power. Whether the predicable victory will be because of popularity or, as critics suggest, the BJP corruptly deploying institutions and resources of the state, only time will tell. No doubt we will get some answers to this question over the coming weeks.

Gurnam Singh is an academic activist dedicated to human rights, liberty, equality, social and environmental justice. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Warwick, UK. He can be contacted at Gurnam.singh.1@warwick.ac.uk

* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.

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