India after the elections

The most revealing part of the result was the vote against the ruling BJP by the lower caste Hindus

Shahid Javed Burki June 10, 2024
The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank


Results of the seven-week long election exercise carried out by India were announced by the country’s Election Commission on June 4, 2024. The electorate went in the direction in which it was not expected to go. So confident was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, of winning with a larger majority than in the elections held in 2019 and 2015, that it taunted opponents with a slogan: “This time, 400 plus”. With 400 seats in Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, the BJP was in a position to bring important changes in the country’s Constitution.

As the election results began rolling out, “it was if someone snapped their fingers from a long period of hypnosis,” wrote Anjail Modi in a newspaper article. “Mr. Modi who recently claimed that his birth was not a ‘biological’ event but that he had been sent by God, failed to even deliver his party a simple parliamentary majority, leaving it to form a government on its own.” Modi and the BJP swept into power in 2014 and won again in 2019 when the BJP won 303 seats of the 543 members. This time the party won only 240 seats, far short of the 272 needed to govern without support from some minor parties. The opposition led by Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party had formed a coalition with the acronym INDIA which performed well. To go back to Anjail’s article, it is worth noting that some of what the BJP has done is not too different from what the political parties in power do in Pakistan. “During its 10 years in power, Mr. Modi’s party has in the style of authoritarian regimes, captured or subverted nearly every significant institution in India. One of the richest political systems in the world, it created a fund-raising mechanism — declared unconstitutional by India’s Supreme Court earlier this year — to take advantage of anonymous political donations. The party has gone after its rivals using government agencies, tying them up in endless investigations, freezing party bank accounts and even jailing two chief ministers from opposition-controlled states in the run-up to the vote.”

The most revealing part of the result was the vote against the ruling BJP by the lower caste Hindus. The unexpected election results would affect in several different ways Indian politics, the country’s economy, and its place in the world. It will also be consequential for the country’s relations with Pakistan and China. I will discuss each of these outcomes in turn in a series of articles beginning this week. I will begin with how the evolving political system is likely to respond to the conditions created by the 2024 elections and its unexpected results.

Going back to the beginning of the Indian state, its Constitution approved by the assembly that had been created for the purpose of drafting it put in place what in today’s favoured language would be called an “inclusive system”. The document was prepared by a group headed by Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a highly qualified lawyer who belonged to Hinduism’s lower castes. He presented to the Constituent Assembly the document explaining that India’s extreme diversity called for a system that provided space to all religions, castes, and language groups. That ideal was what the Indian historian Sunil Khilnani called “the idea of India”, in a book that carried that title. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, who stayed in that position for 17 years, bought this approach even though he was a great admirer of Stalinism and the way the Soviet Union was governed. He borrowed several aspects of the Soviet system of economic management by ushering in what came to be called the licence raj. The political system was shaped by the features that had developed in the West. These included a representative system of political governance in which those who ruled and made decisions were chosen by the people in the elections held with predictable frequency. Also picked up from the systems that had developed in Western Europe was the state’s involvement in helping the disadvantaged segments of society.

Narendra Modi — who became prime minister in 2014 after leading his party, the BJP, to win that year’s election — had risen from the bottom of the economic system in his state of Gujarat in India’s west and became the state’s chief minister, a position he served for several years before moving to New Delhi as prime minister. Gujarat was well known for its business houses whose leaders had acquired enormous amounts of wealth and political power. Modi, while in Gujarat, cultivated these groups and as discussed later helped them to acquire more wealth and influence.

The party won again five years later in 2019 with enough seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, and has done it again in 2024. This means he will reside in New Delhi’s prime minister’s house until at least 2029. By that time, he would be nearing Nehru’s 17-year record of governance. In the time Modi has governed, he has moved the country from an inclusive to an exclusive system. He is brought what is called ‘Hindutva’ as the governing philosophy. He has also begun to call India Bharat, giving up the name that goes back to the colonial times and is named after the Indus River which after, originating in Tibet, flows through Pakistan and then goes into the Indian Ocean. A recent book, Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River, by a young female archaeologist from Britain named Alice Albinia, traces the origins of Hinduism in the South Asian sub-Continent. She walked more than a thousand miles along the Indus River reaching after some effort the origin of the long river. The river starts in Tibet before flowing into Kashmir and Pakistan. She maintains that Hinduism as a religion originated in the areas that are in northern Pakistan. She had learned to speak and read Urdu and carried an Urdu translation of Bhagwat Gita, Hinduism’s holy book and discovered much of its content was picked up from the systems of beliefs before the arrival of Hinduism in the country. Upset that the Indus no longer flows into India, New Delhi has restored an old river that had dried. Much of what Modi is doing — and intends to do — is to revive the old religion.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2024.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.



Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ