Hopes for Indian federalism in new era
With 2014 Lok Sabha election ending on a high and all the sound and the fury finally abating, a few conspicuous characters of this year’s election are beginning to surface. Apart from the one-sided victory for Modi-led BJP and the dismal performance of almost all the other political parties except for a few local ones like TMC or AIADMK, one of the most significant phenomena, in retrospect, seems to be the noticeable increase in the poll percentage from last parliamentary election of 2009. In fact, with more than 66 per cent voter turnout in aggregate, this year’s election had witnessed the highest polling percentage in the history of the nation. And although we often like to harp on the diversity of the nation in order to refrain from drawing any general conclusion, from the result it was quite obvious that a general trend was followed throughout most part of the country. Call it Modi wave or anti-incumbency, the unequivocal mandate raises the question, are we, at least as electorate, losing the heterogeneity that was characteristic of us?
An abrupt increase of poll percentage is usually associated with an anti-incumbency intent running high among the people. The assembly election of New Delhi in 2013 and in West Bengal in 2011 are two of the most recent and classic cases of such phenomena where the voting proportion suddenly shot up to dethrone the incumbent governments. Association of increased voter turnout with anti-establishment feeling implicitly signifies that people are keener on voting negatively than positively, that they are more enthusiastic about divesting the ruling party when it cannot deliver or commit atrocities, rather than voting to affirm allegiance to a sitting government when it does good work. In essence, the general belief was people of our nation were more prone to punish its governing bodies than reward them, although it may well be a false assumption.
Another possible false assumption that ran among the Indian political and social scientists is that India is too diverse to have a singular political goal, that emergence of a homogeneous voting pattern may not be possible given the cultural-lingual-historical diversity of the land. Many of the experts did convey their reservation about the much hyped Modi-wave stating this particular attribution of Indian society. However, following the resounding victory of BJP all over the country, even in parts where they hardly had a political presence beforehand, a large question mark is being put before that general supposition.
The incidence of increased voter turnout throughout the country is not absolutely unprecedented. We saw the same phenomenon after the assassination of Indira Gandhi when incumbent Congress rode to power with high pro-congress mandate. In a way, that single instance was counterintuitive to both the assumptions made above, yet that is the only occurrence in the history of the republic that can be mentioned having a nationwide as well as pro-incumbent upshot in the general election with people affirming rather than negating. So it did not invalidate the general supposition that in a country as diverse as India with innumerable, perhaps the most number of political parties vying in the election in various levels with their diverse array of agenda, it is hard, if not impossible to see a single wave of emotion arising and engulfing from shore to shore. True, there are commonalities among the assortment, true people from various parts of the subcontinent may find an issue or two to agree upon, but no matter what the diversity had always been seen as a stronger force.
And here comes the particularity of this year’s election result, where it seems that people have dictated overwhelmingly towards a particular direction which is rather befuddling, even to those who have arrived at the gate of the parliament with this enormous verdict. True, the verdict does not seem this unanimous if the vote is counted percent wise, where BJP has amassed about 17 crore votes, about 7.5 crores more than congress who failed to acquire minimum number of seats to become the main opposition. The third highest total vote getter in the election, Bahujan Samaj party, failed to win a single seat in Parliament, thus raising a quintessential question about the democratic process. But overlooking that question for now, we can certainly say that mandate does indicate a surge throughout the country. And this becomes more intriguing considering the fact that BJP was spearheaded, not by a moderate like Vajpayee or a mellowed-by-age Advani, but by as divisive a figure as Narendra Modi, who irrevocably generate extremes of emotion among his admirers and detractors.
The mandate for Modi may be the inception of a majoritarianism or the newly elected prime minister may be able to be inclusive as he promised in all his pre-electoral campaigns. But one thing is for certain, if the homogeneity of verdict tends to drive the method of governance towards homogeneity, thus undermining the already weakened federalist base of our nation, we will enter a very different era of administration as well as realpolitik.
The author is a doctoral researcher at Rutgers University, New Jersey