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  Opinion   Columnists  28 May 2024  Shikha Mukerjee | What’s the plan of action after D-Day on June 4?

Shikha Mukerjee | What’s the plan of action after D-Day on June 4?

Shikha Mukerjee is a senior journalist based in Kolkata
Published : May 29, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : May 29, 2024, 12:05 am IST

India awaits 2024 election results amid competing visions of future

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting for Lok Sabha elections, in Jadavpur, West Bengal, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (PTI Photo)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a public meeting for Lok Sabha elections, in Jadavpur, West Bengal, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (PTI Photo)

Two dramatically different expectations are racing to the finish line; there is the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party that believes that its initial target of the National Democratic Alliance winning 400-plus out of the total 543 Lok Sabha seats will be exceeded. And, then there is the Opposition, a patchwork of the Congress, regional and smaller parties, which is equally convinced that its final strength will surpass the 272 minimum majority mark. In a first-past-the-post electoral system, the minimum should separate the winner from the loser.

In the system successfully modified by the present ruling dispensation in the BJP, the minimum is a mere number; what can be made to happen is far more important. The strategy has been successfully tested in Maharashtra, in Madhya Pradesh and most recently in Bihar, when the ruling alliance or party has changed through horse trading in which legislators have changed colour to deliver control over a state government that the BJP did not win in a free and fair election.

What happens after June 4, when the ballots are counted, is speculation. Voters, however, must be prepared for an outcome that they did not choose; that is, if horse trading happens then voters will have every reason to feel that their power to deliver a verdict has been usurped; they will simply be told to lump it. Power in an election, after the votes are counted, moves from the people to the elected as the representatives of those people. If the voters get what they did not choose for themselves, the post-election empowered political establishment has only one recommendation; leave it to your elders and betters.

And, that sort of high-handedness is disempowering.

If the 2024 Lok Sabha election delivers an emphatic mandate to Mr Modi, an avatar or a divinely endowed being or the new mahatma as he has explained in the 40-plus interviews he did, what can voters expect in the five-year term for which he is elected? First, a wait of three months while the action plans are finalised by the new government for the transformation of India from a poor, developing economy to a fully development economic superpower, one of the top three in the world. Second, a timed release of announcements on the “guarantees”, that is the assurances Mr Modi and his second in command, Amit Shah, gave through the long seven-phase election and even longer campaign. Third, get down to brass tacks, implementing the promises listed in the BJP election manifesto.

The brass tacks in the manifesto or “Sankalp Patra” has the details of Mr Modi’s plan of action. This plan has three parts; there are things that extend the life of schemes-programmes-policies by another five years; there are things that are new like putting in a bid for the 2036 Olympic Games. There are another set of promises that when implemented would reconstruct the base of India’s political system.

The more of the same variety of promises are not exciting. The prospect of hosting the Olympics or to make Bharat the world’s third largest economy without a specific deadline mentioned is an ambition that may or may not be fulfilled.

The promises that certainly will be acted upon are changing the schedule of elections in India by bringing in “One Nation-One Election” and so gifting the BJP an almost permanent advantage in electoral politics. To implement the promise of “One Nation-One Election”, Mr Modi in his third term will necessarily amend the Constitution. To implement the Uniform Civil Code too, the Constitution will have to be rewritten. In order to rewrite the Constitution, a third term in office under Mr Modi’s leadership will require more than a stable majority in the Lok Sabha. It will require a major shift in power, a new alignment in who has control over state legislatures that would challenge the present distribution of some states ruled by regional parties to a new distribution where the BJP would be what the Congress was till 1967, the only party of governance in India.

The alternative plan of action as laid down in the Congress manifesto, with additions and subtractions by partners of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance from the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party to the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul Congress is a more nuts and bolts charter with start dates and end dates. The Opposition’s goals are in two parts, some immediate, like a caste census and 50 per cent reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs, tackling inflation, bumping up employment, direct cash transfers to youth and women, a law on minimum support prices for agriculture, raising the floor of minimum wages and ending government contractual employment and filling government vacancies.

It is a different matter, that neither Mr Modi nor the Opposition has bothered to promise that the long-postponed Census, or head count of India’s population, will be done immediately. How any political party or alliance in power can hope to deliver benefits to India’s vulnerable population without knowing how many beneficiaries it needs to provide for is a mystery. Since all political parties have promised to reserve 33 per cent of seats in the Lok Sabha and state legislatures for women, how exactly this grand empowering gesture is to be implemented has not been mentioned in any manifesto. Women as voters do matter; women as legislators can wait — is the message of India’s political class.

Leaders invariably talk about visions; these are not spirit-induced foretelling about the future but rather more mundane targets like the deadline for building a road or selling off the country’s public assets like ports, airports, highways, banks, universities and research institutions. Political visions are all about what happens next year or the year after.

The 2024 Lok Sabha election is a fight over two different visions; one that promises an Indian on the moon and the other that promises to give Indians the basic capabilities to access whatever opportunities they individually seek. Building India’s future in space is one thing; building the capabilities of 21.5 crore Indian voters under the age of 29 is quite another. By June 4, India will have decided what it wants; but then it is probable that India’s decision could be overruled, if the margin of defeat or victory is thin enough for a trade to take place. The “no wave, low turnout” election will test which side respects a mandate delivered by the people and how they do so.

Tags: 2024 lok sabha elections, india bloc, prime minister narendra modi