The people of India have spoken: There is still hope for secularism and democracy

The most striking victories in Punjab were by two Independents: Amritpal Singh in Khadoor Sahib and Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa in Faridkot. These victories highlight a yearning for genuine, grassroots leadership that is not tied to the traditional power structures.

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A BJP rally in the run-up to India’s 2024 general elections – Photo: Narendra Modi Facebook

By Gurnam Singh | Opinion |

The Indian elections have delivered a decisive verdict against the divisive sectarian religio-fascism propagated by Narendra Modi and his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)/ BJP over the past decade. This election was a clear signal from the people of India: they reject the increasing polarisation, authoritarianism and communal politics that have come to characterise Narendra Modi’s tenure. If one takes into account that the voter turnout was about 55%, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured around 36% of the votes, it means only about one out of every six eligible Indian voters expressed support for Modi. This is a stark indication that a majority of the electorate does not endorse the BJP’s agenda.

Perhaps the most striking result came from Modi’s own constituency of Varanasi. In the 2019 election, Modi won by a margin of half a million votes, a testament to his then unchallenged popularity. However, in the recent election, his victory margin shrank dramatically to just 150,000 votes. This significant reduction highlights a growing disenchantment among his base. Varanasi, being a high-profile constituency, often reflects the broader political mood of the country. The reduced margin here signals that even in areas considered BJP strongholds, there is a palpable shift in public sentiment.

Similarly, in Uttar Pradesh (UP), a state critical for any party seeking to control the national government, the BJP faced a formidable challenge. Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of UP and Modi’s potential successor, found his administration under severe scrutiny. The state saw a massive wave against the BJP in favor of the Samajwadi Party (SP) led by Akhilesh Yadav. This shift is significant because UP is not just any state; it is India’s most populous state and a key political battleground. The SP’s resurgence indicates a robust rejection of the BJP’s policies, which have often been criticized for being excessively communal and divisive.

Beyond losing its grip in the Hindi belt, the election results reveal a significant trend across various regions of India. From Tamil Nadu in the South to Kashmir and Manipur in the North, the BJP has become virtually non-existent. In Tamil Nadu, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) consolidated its power, reinforcing its stance against the BJP’s centralizing tendencies. In Kashmir, the electorate sent a strong message against the abrogation of Article 370 and the BJP’s handling of the region’s autonomy. As for Manipur, though a tiny state with just two seats, the total victory for the Congress further illustrates the BJP’s declining influence, where local parties and opposition groups have gained ground.

In my home state of Punjab, the election results were particularly telling. Not only did the BJP face a total wipeout, but there was also a further decline of the Akali Dal, a party that has previously aligned itself with the BJP. The Akali Dal, once a staunch defender of democracy and Punjabi and Sikh sovereignty, has seen its influence wane dramatically under the leadership of the disgraced Sukhbir Badal. The party, which was once a pillar of Punjab’s political landscape, is now almost defunct. This decline is indicative of a broader disillusionment with parties perceived to have compromised their principles for political gains.

Moreover, despite being ridiculed by the opposition parties, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) saw a further rise. Under the leadership of Bhagwant Maan, AAP increased its representation from one to three seats. This rise of AAP is notable as it represents a growing desire for an alternative to the traditional parties. AAP’s focus on governance and anti-corruption resonates with a significant section of the electorate, particularly the youth and urban voters.

The Congress party in Punjab, too, saw a resurgence. This resurgence is a reaffirmation of the party’s historical roots in the state and its potential to offer a viable alternative to the BJP. However, perhaps the most striking victories in Punjab were by two Independents: Amritpal Singh in Khadoor Sahib and Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa in Faridkot. These victories highlight a yearning for genuine, grassroots leadership that is not tied to the traditional power structures.

INCLUSIVITY OVER HATRED

Much will be written in the coming days and months about the impact of this result. Analysts will dissect the reasons behind the BJP’s losses and the resurgence of regional parties and independents. However, it is clear that this election is a victory for those who respect democracy and reject the politics of hatred and sectarianism. The electorate has shown a preference for inclusivity, development, and governance over divisive rhetoric. The rejection of the BJP’s divisive politics can be seen as a reassertion of India’s pluralistic ethos. For a decade, the BJP has pursued a majoritarian agenda, often sidelining minority communities and regional identities. This election result is a repudiation of that approach. It is a call for a more inclusive and representative politics, one that respects India’s rich diversity and complex social fabric.

The mandate also underscores the importance of regional parties in India’s federal structure. Parties like the DMK, SP, and AAP have shown that they can effectively challenge the BJP by focusing on local issues and building strong regional identities. This election has reiterated that national politics in India cannot ignore the regional aspirations and grievances. The BJP’s decline in states like Tamil Nadu, UP, and Punjab illustrates that regional dynamics play a crucial role in shaping the national political landscape.

Furthermore, this election has exposed the limitations of the BJP’s strategy of centralisation and strongman politics. Modi’s image as a decisive leader has been a cornerstone of the BJP’s appeal. However, the results suggest that this image is no longer enough to secure electoral victories. The electorate is increasingly looking for accountable and responsive governance, which addresses their immediate concerns rather than grandiose nationalistic rhetoric.

The results also highlight the evolving nature of Indian democracy. The rise of independents and smaller parties points to a maturing electorate that values candidates’ integrity and performance over party affiliations. This trend is healthy for democracy as it encourages a more competitive and accountable political environment.

The mantra ‘India is the largest democracy in the world’ is regularly trumpeted, but in recent years, against the background of attacked on press freedom, minorities and ordinary people, the claim has become increasingly incredulous. Parliamentary democracy can only work if there is a strong opposition, press freedom, the rule of law and respect for diversity. All these aspects have been waning in recent times, but maybe just we are now seeing a shift in the pendulum. The 2024 Indian election signals a clear demand for more inclusive and accountable governance, a respect for regional identities, and a rejection of majoritarianism. This is a victory for democracy and a hopeful sign for the future of India’s pluralistic society. The electorate has spoken, and their message is unequivocal: unity, inclusivity, and development must guide the nation’s political journey forward.

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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