A political mandate for balance and restraint | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

A political mandate for balance and restraint

Jun 04, 2024 10:27 PM IST

Lok Sabha Election 2024 results: Here are the broad lessons that can be drawn.

Indian voters don’t want to be taken for granted. They don’t want a leadership that concentrates power; instead they are keen on “santulan”, that intangible notion of balance, in statecraft. And they want a spirit of accommodation rather than constant confrontation to govern the everyday affairs of the state. That’s the core political message of the admittedly complex and nuanced 2024 mandate.

The mandate has witnessed the heaviest losses for the ruling party in regions where it has been strong, while seeing it gain in newer geographies where it has been weak. (PTI)
The mandate has witnessed the heaviest losses for the ruling party in regions where it has been strong, while seeing it gain in newer geographies where it has been weak. (PTI)

Examine the broad contours of the mandate first. The mandate makes the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the single largest party by a wide margin — it is almost two-and-a-half times bigger in size than its closest rival. It gives Narendra Modi a third term as Prime Minister. But the mandate also gives the BJP around 60 seats less than its 2019 tally and 130 seats less than its stated goal for this election. The mandate has witnessed the heaviest losses for the ruling party in regions where it has been strong, while seeing it gain in newer geographies where it has been weak. And the mandate gives the Congress a signal of renewed voter support, without giving it the strength to govern, and regional parties a role in national politics.

ALSO READ| 2024 Election Results LIVE

Here are the broad lessons that can be drawn.

One, both in 2014 and 2019, in the backdrop of the decade-long United Progressive Alliance (UPA) arrangement that saw a perceived weakening of the prime minister’s office and the executive arm of government, voters decided to repose their faith in the idea of a stable government and a strong and decisive leader. This meant a vote for Narendra Modi. What it also meant was that the BJP could field relatively weak local candidates, but ask voters to ignore the local candidate, local sensitivities and remember they weren’t voting for a member of parliament (MP) but the prime minister (PM).

This story is over. And the most visible proof of that is the dynamic in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Haryana. In all three states, the BJP has lost a considerable number of seats. And in all three, the party ignored and alienated local sentiments; it imposed local candidates who did not speak to the preferences and needs and anxieties of voters; it was seen as intervening to undermine local political configurations and formations. Even for voters who wished to see Modi as PM, the local prevailed, resulting in a message to the BJP that the era of taking voters for granted and expecting them to vote in the name of a leader had its limits. Yes, the national will always remain important in a Lok Sabha election, but the imperatives of a parliamentary system dictate that the local is given its weight and value too.

ALSO READ| Lok Sabha Election 2024 - Constituencies Results List

Two, this election and its outcome cannot only be explained away as a result of the local prevailing over the national. Modi himself campaigned nationally and sought votes in his name, on his record, for his promises. He campaigned on the plank that a majority government had given him strength to execute his agenda, and sought an even bigger mandate in his name, to implement a set of new guarantees. And therefore any dilution of the mandate is also a message to the PM.

This message is reflected in numbers. When a leader has 303 seats, asks for 370 seats, gets 240 seats, and needs 272 seats, it cannot but be seen as a message from voters that they want the leader to govern — but in a different style. It also means that voters don’t think that the leader needs a bigger mandate to deliver. The numbers dictate collaboration with leaders and formations that are outside the BJP fold. They will inevitably result in a weaker political executive -- and that’s not necessarily bad, for a decade of an overwhelmingly strong executive has resulted in the weakening of all other arms of government and institutions. A mandate such as this will result in these other institutions finding a voice and Modi having to reorient his governance style to take into account these voices. This mandate, therefore, is a call for “santulan”, balance; it is call for “sayyam”, restraint; and it is a call for respect for institutional autonomy.

The final political message of this mandate is that while democracy is about contestation and debate and non-violent articulation of policy battles in the public sphere, it is also about accommodation and consultation. India’s public sphere is deeply polarised on partisan and ideological lines; social media and news television discourse, which unfortunately play a disproportionately large part in setting the everyday political agenda, is vitiated beyond repair; there is a fierce sense of zero sum competition among parties; the old norms of cross-party dialogue and cordiality even in Parliament is all but over; leaders have brought their political divides and made it personal with constant vendetta; and the executive arm uses and misuses agencies to hound rivals.

This mandate is a message to all parties in general but the BJP in particular that voters want democratic competition within the architecture of democratic accommodation. The mandate is such that no party can be unilateral in its approach. The BJP will have to listen to allies before taking major steps, the Congress will have to consult its own partners before embarking on a political programme if it wants it to be broad-based even as an opposition. Certain issues, for instance the border conflict with China, may require a sense of bipartisanship that has been missing. And parliament may need to become the forum once again for deliberative lawmaking rather than the executive ramming down its agenda.

Put together and it is important for all parties to read the mandate with a sense of responsibility. Voters haven’t rejected the BJP or endorsed the Congress or made a set of regional parties the custodian of the Indian state, but neither have voters given the BJP a blank cheque to govern or the Congress untrammelled room to obstruct or the space to exclude regional parties from national decision making. It is this spirit of the message of 2024 that needs to be heard in the corridors of Delhi.

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