Democratic Elections Or Erasing Democracy?

The Indian general elections, to choose 543 members to the lower house (Lok Sabha) of the parliament are set to commence on April 19th 2024 and scheduled in seven phases until 1st June. It is the largest democratic exercise of world, with more than 970 million eligible voters. The 2019 Indian general elections witnessed a voter turnout of 67% from 912 million eligible voters, and a record in women’s participation with 67.18% (298 million). The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, led coalition National Democratic Alliance (NDA) secured 45 percent of total votes, 353 parliament seats and a second term in government. Narendra Modi’s BJP emerged as the single largest part in parliament with 37.30 percent votes and 303 MPs. Under the neoliberal, ultra nationalist rule of BJP, India has slid backwards in all indices  of democracy-from suppression of freedom and expression to unlawful imprisonment of dissenting activists, students, journalists and politicians.

Fast forward to 2024, the world’s largest democracy is set for another general elections, with Modi and his Hindu nationalist party aiming for an easy win for third term, and a more unified coalition of opposition parties (INDIA Alliance), in their do or die effort to stop BJP returning to power. All opinion polls published by corporate owned media houses of India are predicting BJP, a landslide victory. However, India, with its complex and diverse domestic politics, has a track record of post-election results that often contradict pre-poll surveys.

Everything is not in favor of Modi, and BJP as portrayed by the mainstream media for the following reasons.

  • Anti-incumbency factor towards a government in power for the last ten years, who cannot tackle rising unemployment rates, and post covid cost of living. The BJP have already denied seats for 63 of its current MPs (21% of total MPs), to mitigate the anti-incumbency sentiments. The party have so far only published a list of 265 candidates, and number of current MPs going to lose their seats is likely to go further up.
  • All sectors of society including workers, farmers, women, youth and small t medium businesses have suffered from the pro-corporate policies of this BJP government. The massive farmer protests, youth protests, controversial Agnipath scheme of temporary recruitment to armed forces, and protests by women wrestlers have caused serious damage to BJP’s ambition of a third term in government.
  • The discriminatory citizenship law CAA, and pogrom of Indigenous Christians in the BJP ruled state of Manipur, have wreaked havoc in the consciousness minorities, and pro-democratic secular masses, who are expected to poll in large numbers against BJP.
  • The NDA alliance led by BJP is cracked and weakened with multiple parties leaving the coalition due to the authoritarian approach of BJP leadership.
  • Giving a huge set back to NDA, after the BJP broke the Shiv Sena, the second largest party in the coalition, into two factions in the state of Maharashtra in 2022 to subvert the democratic process and form its own majority state government there, the Uddhav Thakeray faction of the Shiv Sena joined the opposition Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDA Alliance). This faction of the Shiv Sena will put up a tough fight in the state of Maharastra, where NDA won 41 parliament seats in 2019.
  • Other minor parties like Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), All India Dravida Munnetta Kazhagam (AIDMK), have also left the coalition.
  • The most recent Electoral Bond scam have put BJP under pressure, that its main funding sources including controversial mining corporations, and big businesses who were on the radar of various investigation agencies, got clean chit after they donated BJP.

What potentially favours Modi?

  • Domination in owned mainstream media, and social media spaces, helps the party to set nationalistic narratives and shape public opinion.
  • Implementation of communal and divisive policies like CAA, abrogation of Article 370 of Indian constitution that ensured semi-autonomous status for the Muslim majority state of Jammu & Kashmir, and consecration of Ram temple on the site of Babri Masjid mosque demolition, have placed Modi as the undisputed Führer of Hindu nationalists.
  • Another narrative of Modi is that India is set to become a global superpower under the leadership of Modi, also supported by both India and western capitalists whom Modi offers unchecked access of resources of India, by weakening environment and employment laws.
  • Being a favorite of Western neoliberal governments, Modi and BJP gets enormous support from leaders like Anthony Albanese in 2023, praised ‘Modi is the Boss’ in front of a hyper nationalist Indian crowd in Sydney, and Joe Biden who hosted a white house state dinner for Modi.
  • BJP, with its gigantic corporate funding, continues to have unimaginable upper hand in campaign trail by buying out any space available.
  • High octane party machinery, cadre base of BJP, and its parent organization Rastriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), and foreign funding from Nonresident Indian (NRI) ultranationalists are add on.
  • The machinery is expert at distracting through outrageous statements and constantly bringing up Pakistan as a threat.

However, during the last ten years BJP has successfully dismantled almost every independent democratic institution like universities, the Election Commission, Reserve Bank, Economic Planning Commission, courts of justice, and law enforcement bodies, to suit their totalitarian governance style. Opposition leaders, their public and personal life are constantly under surveillance of government agencies. Two sitting chief ministers were recently arrested while the homes many new candidates of the INDIA Alliance are raided by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) under the pretext of accepting bribes.

There is unrest in the northern region of Ladakh while China hovers on the border having entered the territory in 2020, bu the Modi government is more interested in usurping land from the indigenous Ladakhis in the name of 'development'.

The unbridled Islamophobia and oppression of other minorities continues.

It’s worth noting that the two members of Election commission of India (which has a total number of 3 members including the Chief Election commission) resigned days before official announcement of general elections.

In 2019 55% of total votes polled against BJP but were scattered among different opposition parties which secured BJP a massive win, in an electoral system of First-Past-Post voting.

The opposition is more united and the INDIA Alliance is a hope.

Now for the people of India to stop Modi winning another term.