The Impact of India’s 2024 Election on Workers, Farmers, and Minorities
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Author: Chandan Kumar
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The significance of India’s 2024 elections goes far beyond mere political outcomes, especially for the country’s workers, farmers, historically oppressed communities such as Dalits and Adivasis, and minority groups. It is a testament to the resilience of democratic forces in preventing the rise of a potentially authoritarian regime under Narendra Modi’s leadership.

The recently concluded election in India highlighted the country’s remarkable capacity to conduct a fair and inclusive democratic process despite its immense diversity. Initially, there were challenges, such as attempts by federal government agencies to take undemocratic actions like freezing the bank accounts of the Congress party (the largest opposition party) and arresting key opposition figures just before the election, including chief ministers from Delhi and Jharkhand. However, intervention by the apex court, supported by widespread public outcry, thwarted these moves by the Modi government. Despite early indications that the ruling regime might hinder a fair electoral process, India’s robust democratic principles ultimately prevailed.

With an impressive turnout of over 640 million out of 968 million eligible voters, the election stands as a remarkable example of democratic participation, involving people from all segments of society – including workers, farmers, women, Dalits, Adivasis, minorities, and affluent individuals. Despite significant social, economic, and political disparities, the act of voting transcended divisions based on caste, class, religion, and ethnicity, showcasing the essence of democracy.

However, amidst this democratic fervour lies a nation grappling with deep-rooted inequalities and pressing socio-economic challenges. Despite India’s emergence as a so-called “major global economy”, the benefits of this growth have often failed to trickle down to the masses. The biggest criticism and reality have been that we are moving towards an economy that is growing but not producing enough employment for millions of educated young people. This becomes much more important as India has the world’s highest population of employable age. Modi’s government policies in the last 10 years have miserably failed in generating jobs in the private sector and also filling up vacant jobs in the public sector. As India’s economy is largely informal, which means in reality unregulated, it is difficult to give concrete numbers of how many million jobs are missing. Besides this, persistent issues such as malnutrition, dismantling educational institutions, hunger, unemployment, and wage disparities continue to afflict vast segments of the population. Moreover, the erosion of press freedom and the stifling of dissent have raised concerns about the health of India’s democratic institutions. It is frightening to see some leading journalists like Prabir Purkayastha and others were sent to jail under colonial draconian laws such as the ‘Unlawful Activities Prevention Act’. This process clearly states that the Modi government is not at all interested in dealing with any forms of dissent, whether it is press or civil society movements.

During Modi’s ten-year leadership, India experienced notable democratic movements, including the farmers’ protests and opposition to the anti-citizenship law. These movements became symbols of resistance against various issues such as attacks on minority rights, corporatisation of agriculture, privatisation of public services, erosion of civil liberties, and dismantling of public education institutions.

However, this period was also marked by serious human rights violations and disregard for constitutional principles. Members of minorities faced public lynching and violence from right-wing extremists, with little accountability for perpetrators of crimes against Dalit women.

Workers advocating for better labour conditions faced repression from state authorities, while civic spaces were often handed over to real estate interests, leading to mass evictions and loss of livelihoods. Over the past five years, there has been a rise in inflation and job insecurity, particularly among the youth who are often forced into precarious employment. The dismantling of public sector institutions and the normalisation of exploitative contract systems worsened the situation for workers and farmers. The government’s preferential treatment of crony capitalists and undermining of the federal structure further exacerbated income inequality, making India one of the most unequal countries globally.

As Mr. Modi gears up to assume the role of prime minister for the third time within the coalition framework of the ‘National Democratic Alliance,’ initially established by his predecessors during the formation of the BJP-led government in 1999, he faces a changed political landscape. While he has been known for his authoritarianism and disregard for constitutional norms in the past, the current scenario necessitates his reliance on two regional parties, namely the JDU governing Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, and the TDP, which has recently returned to power. Both these parties prioritise secular principles and view safeguarding minority rights as integral to their ‘social justice agenda.’ This sets the stage for potential turbulence within the BJP, as both regional allies hold positions contrary to the BJP’s stance. However, the electoral mandate has tied Mr. Modi’s continuation as prime minister to their support.

Additionally, the oppositional ‘India block’, a robust opposition force after a decade (consisting of liberal and centre-left parties), is poised to assert itself and ensure the restoration of parliamentary democracy’s vitality. Left parties only marginally improved their results in the elections. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) won four seats, up from three in 2019, while the Communist Party of India has won two seats, the same as last time. The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation won two seats in Bihar.

Mr Modi, who has utilised Parliament as a propaganda platform for the past decade, must now face scrutiny and be accountable to India’s highest democratic institution. Ultimately, India’s 2024 election not only signifies a political shift, but also underscores the commitment of large parts of the nation to democratic principles and a rejection of increasing inequality and authoritarian tendencies. It reinforces the notion that genuine democracy thrives on the empowerment and inclusion of all citizens, regardless of their social or economic status.

The road ahead may become more turbulent due to the rise of regional parties, which have shown their (often progressive) potential. Recent election results, both at the federal and state levels, clearly indicate that Modi’s style of governance, advocating for centralised power akin to the American presidential format (hence a one-man rule focused on Modi), is no longer viable. The Indian constitution firmly upholds a quasi-federal system where parliament holds supreme authority. Even during Modi’s decade-long tenure, certain states challenged the aggressive neo-liberal agenda imposed by the BJP government. For instance, the left-led state of Kerala ensured minimum support prices for farmers and living wages for workers, while also confronting digital capitalism through the establishment of workers’ cooperatives. In Congress-ruled Rajasthan, landmark laws were passed to guarantee urban employment and pension rights for informal workers, alongside dedicated legislation for platform and gig economy workers. The regional Aam Aadmi Party-led state of Delhi prioritised quality education, healthcare, and energy initiatives. Despite significant financial challenges, numerous non-BJP-governed states implemented progressive policies aimed at benefiting the ordinary citizen. Conflicts over federal principles escalated into contentious disputes between federal and state governments, with many labelling it as an assault on the fundamental structure of the Indian constitution. In essence, while the BJP government aggressively pursued an agenda favouring their cronies, many states emerged as champions of people-centric policies. Non-BJP-governed states are now poised to rebuild the fractured institution of federalism, marking a positive outcome of this election.

The outcome of the 2024 election can be succinctly summarised as a reaffirmation of democracy, rather than a rejection of the BJP or Modi personally. It marks a significant shift towards a more robust and united opposition, which had been largely absent during Modi’s decade-long rule. The BJP’s consolidation of power over the past decade, coupled with its attempts to marginalise dissent and suppress progressive voices, had created an atmosphere of intolerance and authoritarianism. However, the electoral outcome signals a revival of democratic principles and a rejection of fascist tendencies, thereby restoring the faith of over a billion people in the democratic process.

Chandan Kumar is a labour rights activist based in Pune, India. He coordinates the Working Peoples’ Charter Network of grassroots trade union organisations across both formal and informal sectors in India.

transform! europe is a network of 38 European organisations from 22 countries, active in the field of political education and critical scientific analysis, and is the recognised political foundation corresponding to the Party of the European Left (EL).

This article is part of transform!’s Economics Working Group Blog Series

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