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An egalitarian Constitution wins, a divisive vice-like grip eases

Looking at the BJP’s election campaign, it was as if the party had already fulfilled its core agenda – that its mission was all but over and what was only left to be done was to alter the Constitution and do away with democracy, writes Javed Anis

The just-concluded general elections may have been a long and arduous affair, but it is a milestone in the history of Indian democracy. The decade-long, so-called “strong government” has given way to coalition politics. What was supposed to be “400 paar” (over 400) has turned out to be “200 paar” (over 200). The BJP has been stuck at 242 seats, 30 shy of the halfway mark. Individual-centric slogans like “Abki Baar Modi Sarkar” have vanished and instead, the talk now is about “NDA government”. The poll results have also disproved the notion that the opposition lacks an alternative to Modi. They have also re-established the fact that a diverse country like India can’t be ruled for long by know-all individuals with a my-way-or-highway attitude. Who will form the government and who will become the prime minister will be decided within a few days. This, of course, will be decided behind the scenes. But what is certain is that these elections mark the defeat of authoritarianism and have lent strength to democracy.

Constitution in our hearts

The poll results also show that for the Dalits, the OBCs and the minorities of the country, the Constitution is not just a document, but something which they consider essential for their very survival. In this context, Rohit Dey’s book A People’s Constitution is relevant, which very lucidly and systematically explains how the common man has been protecting the Constitutional principles and values to preserve their basic rights. This was evident in the nationwide agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2020. That was the first time that the minorities mounted a resistance centred on protecting the Constitution, on that scale. The movement gave a voice to the value of secularism enshrined in the Constitution, which treats adherents of all religions equally. These election results show that the Dalits, the OBCs and the Adivasis know that the Constitution has not only freed them from centuries-old exploitation but has also provided them with dignity, respect, civic right, self-respect and security, besides affording them an opportunity to grow and progress through reservations. They understand that this is the reason protecting the Constitution should be their first priority.

Every election has a narrative. The Constitution was the central narrative of these elections. Some talked about changing the Constitution, others talked about protecting it. What is interesting is that this time, it was the opposition, and not the ruling party, that set the narrative. It was for the first time, in a long time, that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had to go on the defensive. It had to answer the questions posed by the opposition. The “400 paar” slogan proved the BJP’s undoing, which began with the Karnataka BJP leader Anant Hegde asserting that if the BJP formed the government this time, it would change the Constitution.

That also enabled the opposition to build the narrative that the BJP wanted 400 seats so that it could change the Constitution. What gave an edge to this narrative was the addendum to it. The opposition declared that if the BJP returned to power, it would end the provision of reservations. The old utterances and actions of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) vis-à-vis the Constitution and reservations gave wings to this narrative.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge

The Constitution has been amended several times and governments of all parties have done it. But this time, the fear was that the very soul of the Constitution would be trampled upon. Those opposed to the RSS have been claiming for a long time that a root-and-branch change in the Constitution is the hidden agenda of the Sangh Parivar. The “Ab ki baar 400 paar” slogan only lent credence to the fear that altering the basic structure of the Constitution was indeed on the agenda of the ruling party.

The leaders of both the RSS and the BJP, have, from time to time, been talking about reviewing the Constitution and the provision for reservations. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government had even set up a commission to review the Constitution. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, too, over the past decade, has repeatedly talked about reviewing the Constitution and reservations. He had talked about reviewing the reservations during the run-up to the 2015 Bihar Assembly elections. In 2017, he had underlined the need for making changes in the Constitution to align it with Indian moral values. He said that many parts of the Constitution were rooted in Western ideas and in its 70th year of Independence, India needed to review them. Of course, every such statement was followed by explanations from the BJP and the RSS. But that could not assuage the fear of those who would be potentially affected by such changes.

When the issue of changes in the Constitution started becoming the talking point in the 2024 election campaign, the BJP came out with its time-tested formula of dividing the nation along Hindu-Muslim lines. Modi himself took the lead, claiming that if the Congress and the opposition coalition formed the government, they would allot to the Muslims, the reservation quota assigned to the SCs, the STs and the OBCs. But the results show that the divisive propaganda didn’t click.

Oxygen for the opposition 

The results have provided a new lease of life to the opposition. After a long time, the opposition is brimming with self-confidence. Over the past decade, it seemed under pressure. It looked ideologically confused and tired. It had nothing to counter the Hindu nationalism peddled by the BJP. The general perception was that it was very difficult to defeat the BJP led by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.

This time, the opposition did set the narrative but it failed to inflict a decisive defeat on the ruling party. However, it has eminently succeeded in reining in the BJP. Among the opposition parties, it is the Congress which has achieved the biggest success. It has managed to double its tally.

Since 2013, the Congress has lost around 52 elections and more than 50 of its top leaders, including 12 former chief ministers. The results will change the perception of the Congress leaders about themselves and their party. They will start believing that they can stage a comeback.

Extremism doesn’t last

The election results have also proved that all kinds of extremism have an expiry date. It is also clear that the BJP’s twin planks of Hindutva nationalism and a strong leadership will not always fetch them a victory. Looking at the BJP’s election campaign, it was as if the party had already fulfilled its core agenda – that its mission was all but over and what was only left to be done was to alter the Constitution and do away with democracy. It is also clear that as a political party, the BJP has lost its vigour. Modi’s charisma and Shah’s management no longer dazzle.

Now, a coalition government

For the past 10 years, India has had a powerful government. The country had witnessed a similar period during the reign of Indira Gandhi. Both have proved injurious to the health of democracy. That was probably what brought the apprehensions and the fatigue of the responsible and aware citizens to the surface. This time, the mandate is not for the Modi government. It is for a coalition government. Prior to 2014, India witnessed a series of coalition governments. From 1998 to 2004, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in the saddle and from 2004 to 2014, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power. Theoretically, it was the NDA that ruled the country from 2014 to 2024 but in reality the government was neither NDA’s nor BJP’s. It was the Modi Government. But the 2024 mandate is not for the Modi government. Even if a government is formed under the leadership of Modi (which is very unlikely), it would be an NDA government in actual terms. As the BJP does not enjoy a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha, the government will have to put up with the conditions and the tantrums of its coalition partners. Given Modi’s temperament and style of working, it will be very difficult for him to run such a government.

(Translated from the Hindi original by Amrish Herdenia)

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About The Author

Javed Anis

Javed Anis is a Bhopal-based human rights activist who writes regularly on social and political issues.

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