The 16th Lok Sabha will be one with shadows and mirrors. This House reflects the polarised election campaign, especially its individual focus.
The personality of Narendra Modi will dominate the House. The atmospherics of a presidential-style campaign have not been created in vain: There will be a carefully chosen team that will match a command-and-control structure.
The Amit Shah team created a personality cult around Modi. He has been presented as a messiah-like figure, who alone can address the anxieties and fears of the youth, the neo middle-class and an unknown ‘majority’ that will overshadow Parliament.
Even though slogans around ‘NaMo’ or ‘Har Har Narendra Modi’ will be kept well out of the official discourse, a self-created myth of divine support and spirituality like the call from ‘Ma Ganga’ is part of the Modi narrative.
Some continuity will be maintained to link with the organisational structures of the BJP and RSS. But the style in the government and in Parliament will be in continuity with the presidential methodology of the campaign, where Modi began with distancing himself from the old guard in the BJP and from any internal anti-incumbency, getting the RSS to back this purge, micro-managing ticket distribution to build a well-controlled machine, where each vote was for Modi. For the voter, even the name of the candidate was not to matter.
This House is dominated largely by middle-aged rich men. An analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms has shown that 82% of the winners are crorepatis.
Given the kind of poll spending, where a massive PR exercise supported by corporate houses allegedly went into crores of rupees, this is not surprising. It will impact policy decisions of this House and endorse a public culture that links business and politics. This is neither new nor unusual.
Instead of increasing the share of women, only 62 (11%) women have been elected, more or less similar to earlier parliaments.
This is despite the fact that women voters outnumbered men in 16 of the 28 states and seven Union Territories. Women participated in large numbers and with more autonomy of choice than in the past.
The large election rallies were largely crowded by men. Such public political spaces remained unsecured for women.
It is no wonder that men will as usual decide what they believe are gender-neutral policies. Women will be seen as protectorates, to ensure their security as opposed to empowerment and equal participation.
In this Parliament, the representation of minorities, especially that of Muslims, is the lowest since the first general election of 1952.
Only 22 Muslims have been elected. The treasury benches have none. This shows the imbalance where the 11% minority population will have only 4.4% representation. This exclusion is a programmatic core of the BJP.
Modi’s election speeches targeted alleged “Bangladeshi infiltrators”, knowing well that this is more of a threat than reality and also knowing that Bengali-speaking Muslims, who are Indian citizens, are targeted and discriminated against on these mythical grounds.
Similarly, the BJP did not even contest from Mizoram and Nagaland, both Christian-majority states.
The fears of majoritarian politics in the House are real.
For the minorities, the opposition and others, such a polarised election with hate speeches, personalised attacks, threats of vindication, and violence remain a fear factor. Maoists attacked security personnel, militants attacked election officers, other militants attacked Bengali-speaking Muslims in Assam, and political goons attacked opposition candidates, women and others in states like West Bengal.
The polarisation that followed the vituperative speeches in western Uttar Pradesh that preceded the Muzaffarnagar riots and Assam militant attacks created the Hindu vote-bank in those regions. Three BJP candidates accused in the riots won by huge margins.
Sixteen winners have cases related to causing communal disharmony of whom 12 will be sitting on the treasury benches. In addition 34% of this Lok Sabha’s members have declared criminal cases against them.
The argument that this election broke the usual mould where Parliament is a sum of regional politics and caste arithmetic changed to one where people voted as individuals is not fully true. In several northern states, the vote for the BJP cut across traditional caste lines, and the Samajwadi Party and the BSP were reduced, but vote percentages along caste, community and religious lines remained. Modi played up his backward caste status during the election.
His reference to Hinduism as ‘a way of life’ was the subliminal message that gives sanctity to the use of religion in politics as conceptualised in Hindutva.
Critical issues like poverty and rights-based legislation, its implementation and impact were hardly part of the election campaigns and debates.
In fact, the public discourse was one-sided. The TV debates were fractious and barely educative. Journals like the Economic and Political Weekly had serious debates on the Gujarat model and the multiple views of the development discourse. This debate remained in the ivory towers of academia.
The public was much taken up by the idea of development. But development for whom? In what way? With what impact on environment, women, excluded, marginalised and poor communities barely entered the discourse.
A House with a clear Right-wing majority is likely to keep touting the idea of a Gujarat model.
The past of this model where a public distribution system and mid-day meal system already existed by the 1980s has been obliterated as if the history of Gujarat’s development started under Modi’s stewardship, is only first of the many flaws in the way this model has been touted.
In sum, the 16th Lok Sabha will be the stamp behind the rightist economic and socio-cultural policy that a democratically elected but authoritarian in nature leadership will put forward. This House does not reflect many of India’s complexities but it does have many of its shadows.
Anuradha M Chenoy is professor, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.