In the verdict, three fundamental questions about narratives, justice and nature of State - Hindustan Times

In the verdict, three fundamental questions about narratives, justice and nature of State

Jun 05, 2024 01:24 AM IST

There is a strong possibility that the success of the INDIA bloc may attract professional politicians, who moved to the BJP from other parties.

The general election results could be read in two different ways. One, it could be argued that these results are going to decide the future configuration of the next regime. The NDA is all set to form the government under the leadership of Narendra Modi-led BJP. It will eventually be a coalition in the true sense of the term. The BJP, it seems, will not be able to maintain its absolute authority over the NDA partners. On the other hand, the impressive performance of the INDIA bloc will make the Opposition more relevant. There is a strong possibility that the success of the INDIA bloc may attract professional politicians, who moved to the BJP from other parties. The revival of the Congress might play a significant role in this process.

People watch the election results in Bengaluru. (AFP)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
People watch the election results in Bengaluru. (AFP)(HT_PRINT)

There is another — and a deeper — meaning in this verdict, which takes us beyond the numbers in the election outcome. These results seem to redefine three fundamental aspects of Indian polity — the nature of the future Indian State, the reconfiguration of the political narrative, and finally, the political recovery of the social sphere.

Let us start with a silent yet powerful debate on the expected role of the State. The BJP Sankalp Patra (or Modi ki Guarantee-2024) revolved around the State model that the Modi regime built and nurtured in the last 10 years. I call it the charitable State — a State that introduces welfare policies in the social sphere to assert its legitimacy as a generous entity, while overtly expressing its commitment to an open market economy.

The BJP designed its election strategy accordingly. The welfare schemes introduced by the BJP regime were evoked to answer two kinds of questions. It is argued that the welfare schemes would empower the citizens so that they can actively compete in the open market. Hence, the charitable State would be able to deal with the contested issue of economic disparity. The second argument is about the secular nature of the welfare distribution. Prime Minister Modi made the point time and again that his policy of welfare has been truly secular.

The Congress, interestingly, posed a serious challenge to this imagination. The proposed Naya Sankalp Economic Policy, which underlines three goals — work, wealth, welfare — made a persuasive argument that the economic sphere needs to be democratised to provide dignified employment and welfare to citizens. Congress leaders also made a few remarks about crony capitalism and emerging monopolies. The election campaign intensified this debate. As a result, the exact role of the State in the economic sphere has emerged as one of the most contested questions during the campaign. The political class cannot ignore this issue in the near future.

The reconfiguration of the political narrative is the second important outcome of this election. Hindutva-driven nationalism has dominated Indian politics for at least a decade. The BJP as well as the non-BJP parties have designed their political strategies to suit this narrative. This time, the Opposition flipped the narrative. It evoked the idea of nyay or justice without making any direct comment either on Hindutva or nationalism. The discourse on nyay merely relied upon the old social justice politics of the 1990s by accommodating the question of economic inequalities and wider inclusiveness. This narrative of the Opposition made the BJP uncomfortable and provoked the leadership to communalise the Congress’s nyay promises. The argument that the Congress would take away the reservation from Hindu OBCs/SCs and give it to Muslims stems from this political unease. It is worth noting that the non-BJP parties did not openly respond to the BJP’s attack because they did not want to be perceived as pro-Muslim parties. Nevertheless, nyay has begun to take shape as an emerging political narrative. The election results underline this fact.

This brings us to the third outcome of this election: The political recovery of the social sphere. Elections in the Indian context do not merely depend on aggressive campaigns or other methods of professional electioneering. Politics takes shape at the social level. The success of the BJP in the last few years has been the outcome of the party’s active presence in the social sphere. The social service-related activities led by the RSS and other Hindutva organisations have created a foundation for the BJP and made it easier for the party to nurture a political discourse at the grassroots. The non-BJP parties did not have that advantage.

Rahul Gandhi’s two Bharat Jodo Yatras, however, marked a significant shift in this regard. Social activists, intellectuals, leaders of grassroots movements, and civil society organisations provided logical support to these initiatives. A moral claim was advanced to justify the direct support given to the Congress. It was argued that Rahul Gandhi’s yatras must be supported so as to establish a link between the political party (in this case, the Congress) and the people at the grassroots. At the same time, the civil society groups maintained a principled distance from the Congress. The outcome was obvious. The yatras were successful in sensitising people including the most marginalised communities living in remote areas of the country. The Congress manifesto reflected the issues and concerns raised and discussed during these two yatras. This highly localised intervention expanded the political discourse at the grassroots. Obviously, it does not replace the dominance of Hindutva, yet it has transformed the social sphere into a vibrant site for debates and discussions, especially in the northern states. This election result is going to contribute to this process further.

This deeper meaning of 2024 offers us a perspective to interpret the contemporary moment of our democracy.

Hilal Ahmed is associate professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The views expressed are personal

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