The other India | The News

24th May 2014
A Comment by Javed Jabbar

The BJP’s decisive victory in the May 2014 Indian elections indicates a distinct new development. At the same time, the result masks and misleads.

The first anomaly is the inherent flaw of the first-past-the-post system. The winning candidate often gets a minority of the total votes. Losing candidates, together, get far more votes. Yet the winner goes on to represent even those who voted against him/her, and the party and policies s/he represents.

Requiring the winner to obtain 51 percent of all registered voters, or the majority of those who voted, and proportional representation are ways to rectify the anomaly and ensure that legislatures accurately mirror voters’ opinions. Then there is compulsory voting, as practiced by over 30 countries, to make election results truly reflective of the whole electorate.

The 2014 Indian polls saw the highest turn-out in 60 years – at 66.48 percent or about 537 million out of the 814 million registered voters. BJP candidates’ combined share gave their party 31 percent of the turn-out. Or: only about one in every three voters voted for the BJP.

Yet, because of the flaws of the first-past-the-post system, the same party secured a clear majority of seats in the Lok Sabha – 282 out of 543 or about 51 percent seats with only 31 percent votes. But of 814 million registered voters, including the 277 million who, for one reason or another, did not cast their votes at all, the BJP got only 171,657,549 million votes – about 21 percent of all registered voters.

Thus, even after allowing for the vote-share of BJP allies like Shiv Sena which got 18 seats with only about 1.9 percent of the total votes cast, the vast majority of adult Indians either voted against the BJP and Modi, or chose not to vote for any party or candidate. Meanwhile, the Congress with 19 percent vote-share got only 44 seats instead of, ideally, proportionately 103 seats.

Thirty-five political parties are in the new Lok Sabha. Their range represents the remarkable plurality and diversity of a phenomenally kaleidoscopic country. The Hyderabad-based All-India Majlis-e-Ittehaadul-Muslimeen has a single MP. The Trianamool Congress in West Bengal has 34 seats. There are plenty of other small and medium-sized parties to counter the apparent monolithic dominance of the BJP.

When the results are seen on a state/province basis, the heterogeneity of the Indian electoral map becomes vividly clear. In the south, with the exception of Karnataka (17 BJP MPs out of 28), not a single BJP candidate won any of Kerala’s 20 seats Nor again a single seat in Tamil Nadu’s 39 seats. In Andhra Pradesh, only three BJP candidates succeeded in a total of 42 constituencies. Though Goa gave both its seats to the leading party, tiny Puducherry on the east coast gave its sole seat to the All-India N R Congress.

While the eroded Left will probably take several years to reform and revive itself, the rightist BJP has a clear majority in the Lok Sabha. Expanded by allies, the numbers give the BJP a powerful mandate to legislate and rule with authority. While its top priority is said to be economic growth, the DNA inherited from the RSS, Bajrang Dal, and VHP has already deformed its version of Hinduism into an aggressive Hindutva.

The ink on voters’ thumbs has faded. But the red shade of the victims’ blood in the 2002 Gujarat massacre remains indelible – partly because even after 12 years, there is no remorse. There is thus the danger of laws and policies that weaken secularism, discriminate against non-Hindus and change the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir to deepen forced absorption of the disputed territory.

Empowered by the reality of the almost 80 percent of Indians who did not vote for the BJP, other institutions and segments of the Indian polity such as the superior judiciary, civil society and some sections of the media are expected to combine with the opposition in parliament to challenge communally divisive moves by the BJP.

An additional deterrent may also be that the euphoria of landslides tends to breed arrogance and impunity. Which, in time, precipitate a people’s backlash against over-weaning dominance to initiate a down-slide back to harsh reality.

The prime minister-designate claims the result speaks for 1.25 billion Indians. After allowing for the laudable desire to be head of government for all Indians, and not just for his own voters, the new prime minister should remember that his triumph is a limited verdict, not a blank cheque.

The hard fact is that there is fortunately (especially for its neighbours!) another India, far larger, more varied, more textured, more complex than a single steamroller. This other India decisively, and with strong determination, did not vote for BJP or Narendra Modi or religious extremism. Therein exists the basis for hope that, over the next five to 10 years, the attributes of this other, truer India will modulate and moderate the conduct of its government both internally and externally.

(The writer is a former senator and and federal minister. Website: www.javedjabbar.com)

As published on the op-ed page of The News International, Pakistan on 24th May 2014