A Curate’s Egg: Deciphering the 2024 Poll Results

A Curate’s Egg: Deciphering the 2024 Poll Results

What these results tell us and what they portend will be crucial to understanding the next five years of this Lok Sabha until the next general election

Conrad Kunal BarwaUpdated: Thursday, July 11, 2024, 04:54 PM IST
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Representative Image | Pixabay

Now that the dust has settled after the 2024 Lok Sabha elections and the results been finally released, it is possible to examine them to see what they say about the standing of the various political parties and leaders in the view of the public. One key salient feature stands out which cannot be refuted, which is that the political narrative has seen a substantive shift. Despite the hype going into the election on behalf of the BJP and its supporters, that it would largely be a cakewalk and a historic third term with a “super-majority” of 400 plus seats in sight be the most likely outcome, the actual result delivered a shock blow to this expectation. The BJP was not able to even get a simple majority on its own, unlike in the previous two general elections, and fell more than 30 seats short of the 272-mark required to form the government on its own; though its NDA coalition was able to cobble together a majority of 293, this was less than the 303 seats that the BJP had won on its own in 2019. The INDIA bloc led by the Congress won 232 seats, with the Congress nearly doubling its number of seats from its 2019 tally, to 99. What these results tell us and what they portend will be crucial to understanding the next five years of this Lok Sabha until the next general election.

While formally BJP supporters are trying to put a brave face on this outcome, by saying that Modi has equalled Nehru’s achievement of three consecutive wins as PM, however, this elides the rather different contexts, as even in his third term while forming the government and being the prime minister, in what was the weakest performance of the Congress electorally under his leadership, Nehru still commanded an impressive majority in Parliament, winning nearly 70% of the seats. Modi while also heading the government for the third time as PM, will be leading a coalition government, with his party dependent on its allies to survive in Parliament. Ao, while technically it can be as an equivalent achievement, substantively there is quite a difference and a gap that cannot be directly compared. This puts unfamiliar and significant constraints on the Modi government which it has hitherto not had to deal with, in that it will need to take into account the wishes and acquiescence of its coalition partners in governing in a way it has not had to do in the past. Few administrations have been as centralised as Modi’s first two governments, with many decisions being made in and through the PMO, rather than through the cabinet; ministers found themselves very restricted in the ability to run their ministries without interference and freely. It is telling that while 19 cabinet ministers lost their seats in this election, apart from a handful of prominent names such as Smriti Irani and Rajiv Chandrashekhar, most members of the public would be hard pressed to answer which portfolio the losing MPs had held while in office, such was the dominance of the PMO. It is unlikely that this state of affairs will continue going ahead, as with a coalition that is dependent on non-BJP allies to survive, not only will other NDA members want a greater distribution of portfolios but will also want to run such ministries autonomously without the micro-managment that existed before. The style of decision-making also was characterised by secrecy, lack of transparency and consultation as exhibited by the way such key policies such as demonetisation and the Covid lockdowns were conducted, literally announced overnight and sprung on an unsuspecting public, causing the consequent large dislocations.

Two other points need to be acknowledged; firstly there should be some caution in making broad-sweep generalisations about a large change on the ground in terms of political sentiment in either direction. In terms of total vote share the change for both the BJP and Congress has been relatively marginal in the realm of 2% or less; yet because of the first past the post system and pre-poll alliances with other parties, the difference in terms of seats won is much larger and gives an illusory image of how things might have shifted in concrete terms.

Secondly, voters cast their vote for a wide variety of reasons, many of them not related to ideology; so, while it might be tempting to see any change in results as a victory for one ideology over another, or that it heralds a revived belief in secularism, in the constitution, or in a more liberal form of democracy, it is often no so. One of the most iconic victories in this election was that of the INDIA alliance candidate from Faizabad, where the PM had with much pomp and ceremony inaugurated the new Ram temple at Ayodhya earlier this year, bringing to its culmination the four-decade Ramjhambhoomi agitation which had marked the revival of the BJP’s electoral fortunes from the 1980s onwards. Yet despite this event, the BJP still lost due to a combination of local caste factors, whereby the Opposition chose a popular Pasi leader who had a strong following in the constituency and where there was anger at the way the temple construction project had displaced local landowners, businessowners, and farmers without adequate compensation and where the benefits of the new temple complex and its associated expansion of tourism was seen to benefit mostly outsiders. The result was the INDIA alliance candidate winning by nearly 60,000 votes, for the first time electing a Dalit MP from a general constituency in the 77-year history of the district.

Set against this though, the single unique selling point of the BJP which was seen as its greatest strength electorally — Modi’s personal popularity — was seen to have taken a blow. Despite the unprecedented way the BJP’s manifesto was written, with every single pledge carrying a personal link to the Prime Minister through the label of “Modi ki guarantee” with 53 photos Modi in the pamphlet; which revealed how heavily the party was relying on the PM’s charisma. The election results not only are a direct personal rebuff to Modi’s popularity but show that his hegemonic grip over the popular imagination has slipped — the CSDS-Lokniti Post Poll survey showed that when respondents were asked who they wanted for the PM’s post after the election 36% said “Rahul Gandhi” while 32% said “Modi”, marking the decline of the “Modi magic”. This transformation does mark a shift in the discourse, which sees not only an expansion of Oppositional dissent but also a broadening of the imagination where an alternative is possible. It is for this reason, that like the proverbial curate’s egg, this election is good but only in parts.

Conrad Barwa is a senior research analyst at a private think-tank, and a senior research associate at the Birmingham Business School

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