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June 4 Marks the End of Modi's Inevitability: A New Era in Indian Politics Emerges

A parliament with no one party with a clear majority also means a return to the days of more parliamentary influence on governance, where cross coalition consensus has to be built for new legislation.
Photo: Yogesh Mhatre/CC BY 2.0

It’s difficult to explain to outsiders what June 4 means to so many Indians. While it is certainly likely that Narendra Modi will form the new government, it will be a coalition. This includes partners like Chandrababu Naidu who quit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in 2004 (ironically for their failure to curb Modi after the 2002 Gujarat pogrom) and again in 2018 (after disagreements with Modi), and Nitish Kumar, who has developed political flip flopping into an art form. It will be Modi’s first brush with helming a meaningful coalition, without the absolute majority that has hitherto backed his ‘my way or the highway’ style of alliance management.

A parliament with no one party with a clear majority also means a return to the days of more parliamentary influence on governance, where cross coalition consensus has to be built for new legislation. Again, this is something the BJP, which has treated parliament as a rubber stamp for the last decade, will have to get used to.

And yet, beyond any of these gains, what drives sentiment today is that the idea of the inevitability of Modi has been shattered.

Aayega to Modi hi” (“Modi is inevitable”) is a chant often used by his supporters as a cry of power. To tell his opponents that their resistance to his ideas is futile, and even dangerous. That no matter what they do or say, a Modi government is inevitable. And it is this inevitability of Modi that has directed political funding, executive actions, and to an extent, judicial decisions, in India for the last decade. It has also driven political analysis and the public discourse, where bigots have felt confident to drop their masks and openly dehumanise minorities, secure in the knowledge that Modi would forever have their backs. That has changed. “Aayega toh Modi hi” is ill-suited for limping into power propped up by a capricious Nitish and a self-interest-driven Chandrababu Naidu.

A handicapped opposition, with frozen bank accounts, threatened with judicial and executive action, and with two chief ministers in jail, fought with both hands tied behind their backs and shattered the illusion. That cannot be remade. Modi, like every other Indian politician, is now going to be treated as one of many. And to one of many politicians, the Indian electorate is a hard taskmaster.

But the impact of this election goes far beyond Modi or even Hindutva as a whole. It challenges the fundamental neoliberal assumptions that have dominated Indian political thought since liberalisation in 1991. Like a mantra, repeated blindly by believers, “reform” for the last three decades, has meant reduced regulation and increased privatisation, with little or no analysis on the actual impact of such moves. Development has meant hijacking natural resources and handing them over to favoured capitalists to be ruthlessly exploited. It has meant the bypassing of environmental regulation and mindless culling of the green cover of the country in the name of infrastructure building.

For the marginalised, inequality was assumed not to be a legitimate concern (“Should everyone be poor?” Modi disparagingly dismissed the question recently). Bare minimum poverty alleviation was all that mattered. Growth discussions were divorced from the creation of jobs, or larger planning for the transition of a large rural population out of agriculture and into other occupations.

The Congress certainly shares some of the blame for this, for it is often their own talking points from the 1990s and the 2000s that have been taken forward by the BJP to their cruel (albeit logical) extreme. For the first time in 30 years though, the Congress seems to have changed track. Under the leadership of the veteran politician, Mallikarjun Kharge, who is Dalit, backed by Rahul Gandhi’s own experiences from his Bharat Jodo Yatra, his 4,080 km on-foot trek across the length and breadth of India, the Congress seems to have finally seen the limitations of their own post liberalisation imagination of India.

Their 2024 manifesto, or “Nyay Patra” allowed the opposition, for the first time in decade, to set the discursive agenda of this election. Their highlighting of inequality and the lack of backward caste representation in the country posed questions that the BJP found impossible to counter without resorting to communal dogwhistles. Consequently, all prior talk by the BJP of development and progress was sidelined in favour of a near continuous targeting of Indian Muslims. Led by Modi himself, the party mined the depths of right wing influencer talking points (Kunal Purohit offers an excellent analysis of these talking points here) to fashion their electoral campaign. From likening Muslim voting to “jihad”, to casting Muslim birth rates as demographic threats and consistently and repeatedly telling their voters that the opposition would seize their assets and give them away to Indian Muslims, all overseen by an indulgent election commission, the attempt to regain narrative control was both desperate and particularly communally vicious. And yet, it failed. In Banswara, for example, where Modi spoke of Muslims as “infiltrators” to whom the Congress would give property, the BJP lost by over 240,000 votes.

The supporters of the INDIA coalition are well aware that they have not crossed the 272 seat mark that would let them form the government, and end some of the pressing injustices enforced by the Modi government. And yet, June 4 offers a beginning. A chance for politics in the country to move away from mass religious radicalisation and violence and to return to addressing inequality and the needs of the marginalised. It must be built on, and looking at the mood of the electorate, it will be. In a country where the 1% hold 40% of the wealth, with extreme levels of youth unemployment and levels of inequality not seen since the days of colonialism, and frightening anti minority violence, it is a beginning that is very very welcome.

This article was originally published on the author’s blog on Substack, Tattva.

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