Elections that Were

The 2024 Lok Sabha Elections were markedly different from earlier ones. The tone of the elections was unique; more presidential than parliamentary, with the Prime Minister guaranteeing welfare and prosperity to the electorate, and projecting himself as a candidate on every seat.

Elections that Were

I.N.D.IA and NDA (Photo:SNS)

The 2024 Lok Sabha Elections were markedly different from earlier ones. The tone of the elections was unique; more presidential than parliamentary, with the Prime Minister guaranteeing welfare and prosperity to the electorate, and projecting himself as a candidate on every seat. Campaigning was intense and bitter; relevant issues took the back seat while divisive utterances, appeals to religion, personal attacks and uncouth language predominated. With the last hurrahs yet to die down, it may be somewhat premature to comment on the election results, but the main trends had become obvious during the prolonged voting schedule, except to the so called psephologists.

Barring a few outliers like Yogendra Yadav, who were mercilessly trolled, no one had the courage to proclaim that BJP was not getting a clear majority, and the INDIA alliance was in the reckoning. Deliberately or otherwise, all pollsters got it wrong; which may be a manifestation of the poor state of psephology in India, or more plausibly, deliberate fudging for the lure of chai paani. Sad to say, except for a few honourable exceptions, like the present journal, throughout the election campaign, the press played a totally partisan role. The run-up to the elections deserves special mention. All parties brushed aside civil society’s concerns about the fielding of tainted candidates. Turncoats were shamelessly fielded by all parties, making up a fourth of the ruling party’s candidates. Two of the three Election Commissioners (ECs) were appointed hardly a week before the Elections, with no meaningful participation by the Opposition.

Notably, the Supreme Court has reserved its verdict on the ECs’ appointment process. Another watershed event was the unanimous Supreme Court judgement in the Electoral Bonds case, which shattered the Government’s carefully cultivated image of staying away from big ticket corruption. The manifestos of the main rivals were a study in contrast; while the BJP focused on ‘Modi’s guarantees,’ Hindutva and national security, the Congress promised economic Valhalla, and salvation for the backwards and deprived. But not mentioned in any manifesto were plans of garnering votes on the basis of caste and religion. The BJP sought votes on the basis of Hindutva, while the Congress Party pitched its appeal to the minorities and Dalits.


Regional players like the Bahujan Samaj Party, were even less circumspect. An election promise of the Congress party was the Mahalakshmi scheme which promised a dole of Rs.1,00,000 per annum to all poor families, which may have ensured the votes of the really poor for the Congress party, enabling it to make a comeback. The election proved that social justice and bread and butter issues were more important for the deprived; religion and nationalism are luxuries to be enjoyed on a full stomach. Also, it would appear the protracted efforts of the BJP to dent the personal popularity and trustworthiness of the Gandhis have not succeeded fully.

A mistake committed by the BJP in the 2004 Elections was repeated in the 2024 Elections; a narrative of India Shining Version 2024 was presented, which was at odds with the situation on the ground. Significant issues like unemployment and agricultural distress, were simply brushed under the carpet. Any one doubting the achievements was publicly labelled as a victim of the Government’s anti-corruption drive or an Urban Naxalite or a Khan Market elite, though the meaning of these terms was never clarified. The tragedy for the BJP was compounded by overconfidence, which resulted in side-lining of the RSS that had provided selfless dedicated workers for the BJP.

Also, party cadres wholeheartedly believed the spiels spun out for the benefit of the general public. Consequently, mistakes committed by the Government were seldom acknowledged and little effort was made to commiserate with voters reeling under economic distress. The media also must shoulder some of the blame for the downfall of the BJP. Quoting the official party line and painting a rosy picture of BJP’s prospects, media reports lulled the party into complacency, preventing it from re-strategizing in light of the emerging opposition challenge. As an election strategy, before elections and during campaigning, the BJP tried its utmost to polarise the electorate on religious lines, but did not succeed because the same strategy had been tried out one time too many. Construction of the Ram Mandir, supposed to be a game-changer, did not pull votes, except of the really devout. Another disadvantage the BJP faced was its failure to develop a really inclusive character.

Minorities and Dalits felt left out of the mainstream. People who had voted for BJP in 2014 and 2019, believing in ‘sabka sath sabka vikas’ felt disenchanted because while in power, the BJP had ridden roughshod over them; no wonder the minorities and Dalits saw election as payback time. The disillusionment of the minorities and the Dalit community cost the BJP dear because these two groups, taken together, account for a large chunk of voters in any given constituency. The BJP almost completely lost uncommitted voters who had supported it for a better future; the extra votes cast in the 2014 Elections almost entirely went to the BJP, giving it a vote share of 31.3 per cent as against 18.8 per cent in the 2009 Elections.

This was repeated in 2019, when BJP’s vote share increased to 37.8 per cent. The BJP’s incremental votes in Hindi-speaking States roughly corresponded to the increased turnout in these States. Therefore, the fall in voting percentage in 2024 led to a loss of seats for the BJP, in states like UP and Rajasthan The key to understanding the current Election Results is that in many ways the BJP and Congress Party are complementary to each other, with the Congress party being slightly left of the centre, and the BJP being right of the centre. Considering earlier election results, we find that put together BJP and Congress secured around 50 per cent of the total vote in all elections since 1996. In this period, the sum of seats won by the two parties has hovered around 310 with a high of 355 in the 2019 and a low of 283 in 2004. So, a fall in the fortunes of the BJP is accompanied by a concomitant rise in the fortunes of the Congress and vice-versa.

The 2014 and 2019 Elections threw up a verdict decisively in favour of the BJP which had got more than 90 per cent seats in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh and all seats in Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. Of the 303 seats of the BJP in the Lok Sabha in 2019, most were from these States; a slight loss of seats in these states has upset BJP’s applecart. Being a cadre-based party with a strong centralised command structure, and with Mr Modi’s preference of the un-elected over the elected, Rajya Sabha MPs became ministers and bureaucrats exercised real power in the BJP Government, marginalising Lok Sabha MPs. Sensing the public disaffection with their dis-empowered MPs, Mr Modi and Mr Shah canvassed for votes in the name of Mr Modi alone. This was probably the best that could be done under the circumstances but it did not prove good enough.

Sensing the ground slipping from under its feet after the first few rounds of polling, the BJP became desperate, with its leaders trying to polarise the electorate on religious lines. To its credit the Congress party ran a comparatively sober election campaign, mainly focused on its manifesto. A particularly acrimonious and bitterly fought election has concluded. One hopes that the divisions created during the election are bridged quickly, and the new coalition Government that is formed, most probably by the BJP and its allies, avoids the angularities of the last Government.

It is the electorate’s fond wish that the Government and Opposition sit down together to work for welfare of the public. Being perpetually in election mode for the last many years has caused immense loss to the country, governance has suffered and aberrations have emerged in the economy. Lastly, the election results have proved the power of the voter. As Franklin D. Roosevelt, former US President had said: “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

(The writer is a retired Principal Chief Commissioner of Income-Tax)