Mirror on the Wall

S G Vombatkere

Some writers had predicted decimation of Indian National Congress (INC) with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) becoming the single largest party in the 16th Parliament, but doubted whether it would go past the magic figure of 272 on its own. Indeed, Mr Modi contesting from two places indicated that he was not very sure of winning in Varanasi. However, this writer had predicted that the 16th Parliament would not last very long, and that the BJP would come in with a thumping majority in the 17th Parliament. But "India has chosen BJP" right away, and it is also more than likely that the 16th Parliament will serve a full 5-year term. Essentially, the vote is against dynastic political leadership at the national level, and for strong individual leadership that Mr Modi is expected to provide. The people of India have voted for a BJP government (or perhaps they have voted for Mr Modi as PM), and all citizens who may not have "voted BJP" have to accept BJP's electoral victory in 284 seats, with an "additional legitimacy" of unprecedentedly high voter turnout. The BJP's unprecedented victory is accompanied by an equally unprecedented humiliation of the INC.

For any polity governed by an overwhelming majority government, the existence of a credible opposition in terms of quality and numbers, is essential to ensure democratic functioning of parliament. Beyond a mere reckoning of Ayes and Noes on a particular issue, effective democracy also involves taking due cognisance of dissenting views based on cogent arguments. A majority that can pass any and every legislation by steam-rolling opposition on the strength of voting has been won by INC in the past, and has been achieved by BJP in the present.

It is well understood that the first-past-the-post winner of an electoral struggle rarely if ever represents the majority of the electors. Thus a majority of legislators in a legislature of such first-past-the-post elected representatives does not really represent the majority of the electorate. Indians have to live with this reality of the present system, and not forget to congratulate the CEC and its country-wide network for conducting the world's largest democratic exercise involving 815 million electors and securing an unusually healthy voter turnout.

But a steam-roller-capable majority such as BJP has in the 16 Parliament presents severe limitations to democracy, especially with a Prime Minister who wields overweening authority and power mostly due to personal charisma and political savviness of communicating promises to the public, and somewhat less from the disputed uniqueness and success of Gujarat's development model. Thus, with no credible opposition in the 16th Parliament, the situation could well lead the way towards a hidden-hand dictatorship safely concealed behind a massive mandate by a highest-ever voter turnout. This constitutes a decisive shift of the Union government to the Right both in terms of communal politics and neo-liberal, pro-corporate economics, a combination that some choose to give the label of fascism, while several state governments ruled by regional parties with dictatorial leaders follow suit.

The BJP, led by Mr Modi, has given the people to believe that replacement of the INC will solve the country's problems, and has proposed a 3-point macro-agenda of Ram Mandir, Article 370 and Uniform Civil Code. It is a matter of time before people get disillusioned with the BJP (NDA) government and the 16th Parliament, simply because the model of development that BJP will follow is not different from what the UPA-I and UPA-II (and indeed the NDA before UPA-I) have been following ever since Dr Manmohan Singh formulated the New Economic Policy in 1991. But this time around, the hold of the big corporations on the print and electronic media and on governments, can ensure that dissent and protest is silenced more effectively than UPA could ever do.

The State legislative assembly elections and even the third tier panchayet elections during the term of the 16th Parliament may also show greatly improved performance of BJP, all at the cost of INC. This can consolidate BJP's right-wing politics and economics across the country sufficiently to put all presently politically irrelevant Left movements into decades-long redundancy unless there is immediate and concerted effort at Left unification. The writing is on the wall, this time in block capitals.

Vol. 46, No. 48, Jun 8 - 14, 2014