06/07/2024, 19.42
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Indian elections: Pluralism won, says Jesuit director of the Indian Social Institute

According to Prof Sebasti L. Raj, the BJP lost some key constituencies because it focused on religious issues rather than solve people’s real problems. The opposition is not a single bloc; to succeed, it must remain united. New undercurrents within the BJP will be clearer when the new cabinet is formed.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Pluralism has won in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to win a majority to rule alone as it did after the 2014 and 2019 elections.

Although Modi has won a third term, he will have to deal with two influential allies for the next five years: the Janata Dal (United), Bihar's regional party, and Andhra Pradesh's Telugu Desam Party, less interested in the Hindu ultranationalism the BJP promoted in the past 10 years.

“He will not be able to ignore the opposition as he has done so far," said Fr Sebasti L. Raj, a Jesuit priest, who is the executive director of the New Delhi-based Indian Social Institute (ISI).

“We can expect less arrogance from the BJP, which previously did not pay any attention to the opposition, while now it will have to accommodate different opinions in order to remain in power.”

The National Democratic Alliance won 293 seats, 240 with the BJP. This is a major difference from 2019, when the BJP alone took more than 300 seats out of 543 in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India's parliament.

The opposition, led by Indian National Congress (INC), won 232 seats, mostly in constituencies held by the BJP.

“Modi has led the party for several years, and all voices of dissent have been silenced,” Fr Raj explained. “Now, in addition to his age (73), he will have to deal with strong leaders, which will likely push others to step up and speak out.”

At present though, it is hard to imagine a succession to his leadership. “A lot of things will be clearer once the cabinet is announced," Prof Raj said.

Modi will be sworn in to start his new mandate on Sunday. “From the names chosen for cabinet posts, it will be clear what compromises the BJP has made to keep the majority together.”

The large, more populous states have determined the new direction the country could take.

“Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu are where the BJP performed the worst, and now it will be interesting to see how the elections for local assemblies will go."

"In the southern states, the BJP has no hold because local governments have more autonomy. This has also allowed for greater development. The central government should do less in areas like education and decentralise powers as much as possible,” Fr Raj said.

“The BJP instead sought to impose one language and one religion on a country, India, which has always been a plural state. There is economic wealth, but in my opinion the real wealth of our country lies in its cultural diversity," the Jesuit clergyman added.

Perhaps this is precisely why regional parties, both in the majority and the opposition, have emerged as the real new main players in these elections.

"The BJP lost in a number of key constituencies because it talked too much about religion and too little about practical, concrete issues that matter to citizens, like unemployment, prospects for young people, food security.”

What is more, “After the pandemic, the rich have become richer, while the poor have become even poorer. Building temples and prayers are not enough, people have real problems to solve.”

In Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, where Modi inaugurated a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Ram, opposition prevailed, but "it is not a single bloc", Prof Raj explained.

"The fact that the alliance (called INDIA) has held up is actually a great achievement, because in January it was about to fall apart. I hope they stick together for their own sake and that of the nation, because that's the only way to counter the BJP.”

Now, “Many fear that Modi will try to divide the parties that have allied themselves with the Congress, in which case everything risks collapsing.”

The party that has led India after independence should try to build its future from this new base.

"Certainly, the Congress was successful because it addressed the people citing concrete problems; they didn't just talk about the risk that a majority dominated by the BJP could change the constitution on its own,” Raj said.

The INC has “to go back to build new support starting from the bottom; people are asking for a radical change that involves courageous choices on the part of politicians. If Indians did not vote for the BJP, it is because what was promised was not delivered.

“The opposition movement was spontaneous, we can say, people wanted to change because they need someone to act for the people," Fr Raj said.

"Minorities, not only religious groups like Christians or Muslims, but India's ethnic and linguistic minorities can breathe a sigh of relief. Now we hope that the differences that characterise India will be respected,” the ISI director noted.

“In this situation, I am reminded of remarks made by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian prime minister after independence, who said that it was important to listen to the opposition, even if it was made up of one man. This way, our country can progress slowly, but it will certainly progress on the path of democracy.”


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