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'Naidu Will Give BJP Run For Its Money'

June 07, 2024 11:04 IST
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'The Opposition parties will continue to woo Chandrababu Naidu even though he has said he will support the BJP.'

IMAGE: Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra D Modi and Telugu Desam Party President Nara Chandrababu Naidu during the National Democratic Alliance leaders meeting after the Lok Sabha election results in New Delhi, June 5, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

'400 Plus' was the slogan of Narendra D Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

The reality is the BJP is nowhere near the ambitious numbers it had set. In fact, Modi doesn't have the majority to implement some of his party's not so popular plans.

There is also another reality; that is, Narendra Modi is going to be prime minister of India for a third time.

"Indian voters have demonstrated as they did in the past that when they see democracy being threatened, they tend to place limits on leaders with autocratic tendencies. Voters have spoken loud and clear that they do not like autocratic, centralised political rule," Zoya Hasan, the eminent political scientist, tells's Shobha Warrier.


When you spoke to me before the elections, you had said that if Modi were to be re-elected as prime minister, it would change the character of India and would pose a risk to democracy and the Constitution.
Even though his party has no majority on its own, he is going to form the government.
Do you think what you feared will not happen?

The BJP fell short of an absolute majority which is a far cry from its claims made during the campaign. The party won only 240 seats and needs coalition partners to secure a majority of 272.

The verdict shows two things clearly.

It indicates a disapproval of the prime minister's hubris and his centralised authoritarian rule.

The verdict also shows the limits of communal polarisation as a mobilisation strategy, which was the mainstay of its (Modi and the BJP) campaign in this election.

It's a partial repudiation of Modi's Islamophobic campaign, if not a complete rejection of it.

It could be interpreted as a disapproval of Hindu nationalism.

This election was centred on Narendra Modi, even the BJP manifesto was called 'Modi ki guarantee'. The BJP fought the election in his name. But people did not vote overwhelmingly for him.

The electorate has given a balanced verdict. It wants the BJP to be more accountable, less confrontational and more constructive in its approach towards development, democracy and the rights of communities.

Will the BJP and Modi accept that?

In his first post-election speech at the party headquarters, Mr Modi called it a historic verdict.

There was no mention or acknowledgement of the setback that the BJP has suffered losing 63 seats compared to the 2019 elections.

There is nothing in his track record of the last ten years to suggest that consensus and consultation are part of the prime minister's style of functioning.

Political centralisation has been the core of the prime minister's model of governance from his days as the chief minister of Gujarat.

We must remember that decisions on demonetisation in 2016 and the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 were taken without consulting the chief ministers.

Coalition politics requires consensus building. It remains to be seen the whether there will be greater recognition of chief ministers and whether influential leaders in the BJP and the RSS will exert pressure on the BJP to be more accommodative towards its allies and also to not ride roughshod over political opponents and the opposition.

IMAGE: Modi poses for a group picture with others leaders of NDA constituent parties. Photograph: ANI Photo

Chandrababu Naidu speaks about a 4% reservation for backward Muslims while Modi's speeches are loaded with animius against the minorities.
How long do you think these two ideologically different partners can remain together?

Chandrababu Naidu and the TDP practice secular politics, as indeed Nitish Kumar's JD-U, and one indication is their willingness to extend affirmative action benefits to Muslims.

There are significant differences in the approach of the TDP and BJP.

But Naidu has done business with the BJP in the past. He entered into an alliance with the BJP knowing what the prime minister and his party stand for. He was fully aware of thw BJP's communal politics in the last few years.

At the same time, it must be noted that Naidu has friends across political parties, including good relations with the Left parties.

There will be some hard bargaining, he is likely to give the BJP a run for its money.

What is already evident is that the Opposition parties will continue to woo Naidu even though he has said he will support the BJP which was it's a pre-poll alliance partner.

Nonetheless, he will be pulled in two directions by the ruling party and the Opposition camp.

Coming back to my first question about what you said before the results were out, that a victory of Modi would pose a risk to democracy and the Constitution...

It was a non-level playing field with the BJP's complete stranglehold over money, media and institutions, notably the Election Commission of India, bureaucracy and the judiciary, notwithstanding the electoral bonds verdict on the Supreme Court.

The Opposition mounted a spirited campaign. They did not give up till the last moment.

The BJP's opponents led by the Congress have done quite well focusing on caste discrimination, social welfare, democratic backsliding, income inequality, etc. They raised economic issues, livelihood issues, social justice and the result underlines the importance of all these issues.

Overall, this was very much an election about democratic erosion and a concern that Indian politics had become very one-sided where the Opposition did not have any space.

The initial BJP slogan of 400 seats was immediately read as a threat to alter the Constitution and take away what's non-negotiable for many sections of voters: Political and individual freedoms for some, religious freedoms for some, and most significantly, for a much larger demographic, the fear of losing reservations.

These fears were dismissed as absurd, but it resonated with voters, especially Dalits who wanted to preserve the sanctity of the Constitution which is the basis of their rights and reservations.

The voters resolutely said no to still more power for the BJP.

IMAGE: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses a 'Nyay Sankalp Sabha' in support of party candidate Dr Dharamvira Gandhi at the Polo Ground in Patiala, May 29, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

Do you think Rahul Gandhi talking about inequality in India struck a chord with voters?

Inequality, economic concentration and crony capitalism were very much a matter of debate in this election.

It is to the credit of Rahul Gandhi that the issue of inequality was brought to centre stage. It was extensively discussed after the publication of the Congress manifesto.

The Congress manifesto was the high point of the campaign which the BJP used to discredit the politics and policies of equity and distribution.

From the moment the Congress released its manifesto, the prime ,inister attacked it in almost every speech. The ruling party's campaign linked the Congress manifesto entirely to Muslims although the word Muslim did not figure in the manifesto.

Meanwhile, the BJP manifesto was forgotten by the BJP itself, the entire discussion was on the Congress manifesto with the Prime Minister himself constantly criticising it. That way, he did bring the Congress manifesto right to the centre.

Interestingly, after the results were out, Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi said that it was a victory of democracy and the Constitution.
Narendra Modi also said exactly the same thing later...

Anxieties about democratic erosion and dilution of Constitutional values, especially affirmative action and reservations was visible in the campaign.

For the first time, voters expressed concern about the Constitution and expressed the fear that it might be changed by the BJP if its gets 400 seats.

That possibility had to be averted.

Narendra Modi spoke about democracy in his post-election speech because he knew that there was a lot of concern about democratic erosion under his rule, and the decline of institutions, notably the partisanship of the Election Commission of India.

To counter this criticism, he praised the Election Commission and its successful conduct of the humongous election exercise.

So far, the BJP's recognition of democracy has been limited to winning elections. For them the sum and substance of democracy is elections.

Elections are important, but democracy and politics between elections is no less important than elections.

Election results have shown that people were not convinced about the BJP's record on democracy. They were concerned that India was moving in an authoritarian direction.

IMAGE: Modi during an election roadshow in Odisha. Photograph: Reuters

What was the biggest surprise for you in this election results? UP cutting the BJP to size?

UP is the biggest story of this election.

Ayodhya voted against the BJP. The BJP lost Faizabad, the parliamentary constituency where the Ayodhya temple is located. The fanfare around the new temple may have appealed to people but not at the expense of livelihood issues.

The BJP has been routed in UP which was its greatest stronghold after Gujarat. The BJP's vote in UP has declined by eight percentage points. This is a big setback for the BJP because its overall electoral reverses are driven by its huge losses in UP.

In UP, the BJP failed to take into account how its policies were playing out among the poorer and marginalised segments of the state's population, mainly Muslims and those at the bottom of India's caste hierarchy.

Clearly, the OBCs, especially lower OBCs, Dalits and Muslims brought about its defeat.

The second story of this election is the revival of the Congress which requires a separate discussion.

The party that was declared dead and gone has risen from the ashes winning almost a double of the seats it got in 2019.

IMAGE: Congress supporters during a Rahul Gandhi roadshow in Wayanad. Photograph: ANI Photo

How much credit will you give Rahul Gandhi and his Bharat Jodo Yatra for the revival of the Congress?

Rahul Gandhi must be given considerable credit for the revival of the Congress.

He was one leader who stood up against the BJP/RSS in the last few years and charted out an ideological stand for his party in opposition to the BJP.

The two Bharat Jodo Yatras made him a popular leader. The yatras articulated the ideological position of the party with its focus on social issues of justice and equity.

It is not only the yatras but also the way he defended the Constitution throughout the election campaign and helped to build a coalition of parties which form the INDIA bloc.

What are your final thoughts on the 2024 election results?

The election results provide a useful corrective; the Indian voter has placed limits on the BJP.

Indian voters have demonstrated as they did in the past that when they see democracy being threatened, they tend to place limits on leaders with autocratic tendencies.

Voters have spoken loud and clear that they do not like autocratic, centralised, political rule.

The result is a vindication of India's democracy, and the importance of plurality for democracy.

The idea of India will raise its head again.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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