Majoritarianism without majority?

Majoritarianism without majority?

Will Nitish and Naidu be able to restrain Modi or will they succumb themselves? The contest for Speaker will tell us what comes next

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Last Updated : 19 June 2024, 23:55 IST

What happens to a party that purports to be ‘of the majority, by the majority, and for the majority community’ when it loses its majority in the Lok Sabha? I’m not trying to be clever, that’s the reality today. The people of India have refused to give a clear ‘majority’ to the party that posed as the only party for the majority community.   

Of course, the notion of the ‘majority community’ itself is misleading in the political context. When we talk of the majority/Hindu community, we need to understand as to who really constitutes this vote bank for the BJP/NDA. As per the latest survey by the CSDS-Lokniti, 60% of the ‘upper-caste’ voters supported the NDA: 53% for the BJP and 7% for the NDA. In Uttar Pradesh, it was 79%, in MP - 72%, in Rajasthan - 65%, in Karnataka - 71%.  Simply put, it refers only to the ‘upper castes’ but is often camouflaged under the label ‘majority’ though they are certainly not the numerical majority countrywide.

For two terms, the BJP managed to camouflage its interests with that of the OBC and Dalits, too. But this time, the pompous call of ‘char sau paar’ blew its chances. The Opposition parties went to town that the BJP sought such a mandate because it wanted to rewrite the Constitution to do away with reservations for the SC/ST/OBCs. This bombed on the Modi campaign and substantially reduced the BJP’s numbers in the Lok Sabha. Modi was sworn in as PM for a third term, courtesy Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar.     

What was intriguing to watch was how Modi, who was expected to walk away if the BJP fell below simple majority on its own, stooped to capture power even before the newly-elected BJP MPs came together to elect their leader. Modi had already met the President and got her letter appointing him PM-designate and showed it to the whole country on television, something he had not felt the need to do in 2014 or 2019, when his majority was in no doubt. Was that unholy haste meant to quell a possible rebellion in his party? Was Nagpur plotting a ‘coup’ to put an end to the decade-long ‘Vyakti Pujan’ in the BJP?

Maybe we should look for clues as to what might have been in RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement, an extraordinary one, chastising Modi without naming him, for the arrogance on display, for the lies and half-truths that filled the election campaign, and Modi’s demonising of the Opposition. 

BJP chief J P Nadda’s statement in the middle of an election that the BJP no longer needed the RSS indicated that the party was fully aware of the mood within the Sangh Parivar regarding Modi. Together with the fact that the BJP had given almost 25per cent of the tickets for the Lok Sabha seats to defectors from Congress and other Opposition parties, it must have seemed to Nagpur that the Modi-Shah BJP had, after a decade in power, become a “Congress-yukt, RSS-mukt” BJP!    

Be that as it may, a striking fact of this election is the sharp fall in the number of BJP MPs from UP. Is it the result of voters tiring of the BJP’s “Ram temple and Hindu-Muslim only on offer” campaign or was it that the RSS had abandoned the BJP? There are reports that the RSS cadre did not campaign for the BJP in UP, in general, and for Modi in Varanasi, in particular. Did Yogi Adityanath play a role in humbling Modi-Shah there?  

Given that he is now subject to coalition compulsions, what will Modi compromise on – the shrill communal ideology that was on display during the campaign or elements of the ambitious governance agenda? Will it be easy for a man who has ridden the Hindutva tiger to the top to get off it now without being eaten by it? Modi’s coalition partners do not share his belief system, nor his ideological moorings, shaped as it is by the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. Neither do they fear and hate the minority communities, nor do they aspire for a Hindu Rashtra. Will UCC be put on the backburner now? Can he afford to let the Hindutva hordes shouting “Kashi, Mathura abhi baki hai” run riot now? Will he bend to the demand of the allies and the voters to scrap, or make changes to, the signal ‘reform’ that he brought about in military recruitment, the Agnipath scheme? Will he give in to the JD(U)’s demand for caste census that his government resisted in the second term, thus allowing ‘Mandal’ to upstage ‘Kamandal’?   

Much depends on the coalition partners, because the country has witnessed what Modi can do with a steam-roller majority. The fact that the coalition partners have not insisted on signing a Common Minimum Programme either before the elections or before formation of the government has weakened their position in the coalition. And a party that is known for its aggressive and ruthless use of power would certainly seek to impose its will on the minor partners.  

If this mandate, as assessed by most political analysts, was meant to moderate Modi’s authoritarian instincts and strengthen the Opposition, the coalition partners and the Opposition parties will have to work together to accomplish what the voters expect of them. 

First and foremost, make sure that the government upholds the Constitution and the Rule of Law. No more bulldozer justice, no mob lynchings or calls for genocide of minorities, no more arrests of journalists, protesting farmers, students or workers, no more harassment of NGOs, no more invoking the draconian UAPA against every critic or dissenter, no more arrests of Opposition leaders by invoking the PMLA selectively. No more midnight orders to change the heads of government departments or judges of High Courts. The coalition partners must demand that the government let free all those it has arrested under UAPA and PMLA whom it has held without evidence or trial. They must also demand that the heads of ED, CBI and I-T be brought under parliamentary scrutiny. 

Will Chandrababu Naidu and Nitish Kumar fight for the values that must be upheld in a democracy, or will they let their parties also to be broken up, and their MPs and MLAs enticed to defect to the BJP? The coalition partners demanded and got nothing in the formation of the Union Cabinet. The contest for the post of Speaker will indicate to the nation what their own fate is likely to be. 

(The writer is a former Cabinet Secretariat official) 


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