Written by Narhitya Nawal

The BJP may have clinched a third term, but the victory is almost comically underlined by the eerie silence on once-boisterous WhatsApp groups. The BJP’s vote share slipping from 37.4 per cent to 36.6 per cent might seem like a tiny dip, but its ripple effect is monumental. Moreover, the blow it received in its stronghold state in the Hindu heartland, Uttar Pradesh, makes its win more of a Pyrrhic victory. It’s worth noting that the BJP has indeed breached new frontiers in previously untapped states. The underlying causes and political implications will require some careful unravelling. However, the crux remains that BJP will form a coalition government.

For most youngsters, including myself, this is the first time we’ll see a coalition government at the Centre. This, I must admit, feels like a return to a civics class. The BJP’s decade-long run, coupled with the Opposition slipping into obscurity, had almost wiped out the understanding of consortium mechanisms. My generation has come of age, witnessing legislation function with about as much discussion as is involved in a monologue. Under the shadow of the last government’s iron-clad rule, my generation also grew up highly polarized – a reality that hit me hard during the CAA-NRC protests. Facing right-wing extremism and bashing from people I once went to school with was a stark reminder of just how divided we had become.

As shocking as it may be, the opposition’s resurgence does signal a change. What is interesting and exciting is how a leader who has been accused of authoritarianism works in a coalition government. How does a phenomenon work through the mundaneness of Parliament? Ideologically at odds, this coalition is set to have the masses engaged more critically. The JDU supports a caste census, the TDP supports Muslim reservation, and the BJP opposes both. It would be refreshing to finally witness active debates being thrown across a spectrum. Not only does this sanction an alteration of state mechanism, but also a reinvention of citizen participation. It also marks a resurgence of regional political narratives. Should the Opposition solidify its resurgence and demonstrate that this result was not merely a fluke, obstacles await the BJP. This is particularly of consequence considering the ideological disparities within the coalition.

A recent survey by Lokniti highlights that there have been noteworthy changes in voting patterns as compared to 2019. The most important one is the decline in votes based on branding. The survey data suggests that only one in 10 considered leadership as the decisive factor, despite the BJP’s heavy emphasis on leadership during the election campaign. The survey also highlighted that there has been a five percentage point decline in the preference for Narendra Modi as Prime Minister when comparing the 2024 and 2019 figures. For the choice between Modi and Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Minister, the difference has narrowed by nine percentage points. The numbers might seem small on paper, but for anyone who even remotely remembers the 2019 election, these help us safely conclude that these are ripples of change. The election campaign itself was intense with charges and counter-charges, imprisonment of Opposition leaders and the controversy over electoral bonds.

The national political discourse is set for a shift. As Christophe Jaffrelot said in one of his recent newspaper articles, “The weakening of his authority should allow institutions to regain some of their spine”. This shift could lead to more tailored and effective governance, given the Opposition is able to cement its long pending rejuvenation. Regional parties will bring their intimate understanding of local needs and priorities to the national stage. The emergence of leaders like Chandrashekhar Azad and Sanjana Jatav is reassuring in their representation of the concerns of political minorities. Coupled together, all these, at least, guarantee shaking up the narrative, even if not completely dismantling the ethno-nationalist framework being set up by the RSS-BJP. It is an honest, rather sad admission that labeling this an ideological defeat for the BJP would be premature. However, the reinstatement of coalitions back into the political discourse offers some optimism for democratic institutions and civil societies. To echo Arundhati Roy, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing”.

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The writer is a Masters student at the University of Oxford

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