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A woman shows her inked finger after casting her ballot at a polling station as voting starts in the first phase of India’s general election at the Dugeli village of Dantewada district, in the country’s Chhattisgarh state on April 19, 2024. (Photo by Idrees MOHAMMED / AFP)

The mother of all elections is over and the Indian people have delivered a verdict  that has left the political milieu astonished. The ruling combine’s chest-thumping claim of 400 plus seats has been dashed to the ground and the opposing alliance cannot believe its unexpected windfall. The favourites, who thought they would easily win a simple majority on their own and an overwhelming majority along with their allies are nowhere near the half-way mark. The allies will now be the crutches they need to stake a claim to form the government. Without doubt, they will extract their pound of flesh in return for their support.

The opposition combine is even more stunned. Never in their wildest dreams had they expected the numbers that they notched up. Once they recover, they will realise that this is a mandate for them too, for being a more constructive and effective opposition; and will hopefully, kindle in them the fire to re-organise strongly and offer the ruling combine a run for their money in any future election. This mandate is therefore, not just for those who sit in the treasury benches but for all those who occupy the 543 seats of the Lok Sabha.

As the trends were firming up, somebody quipped on X, “The Indian people have given a verdict that will be remembered for a very long time in Indian politics. They have given BJP and partners a victory that feels like a defeat and the Congress alliance a defeat that feels like a victory.” How aptly said! I am in total awe of the Indian electorate, often branded as poor, uneducated and unfit to deserve a democracy. They have sent a resounding message that will keep our politicians awake for several nights. It gives us confidence that true democracy will continue to thrive in India.

Now that both political alliances will get into strategy huddles to figure out their approach to their forthcoming roles in Parliament, let me make it easier for them with my version of what the average voter wants to convey to the parliamentarians through the 2024 electoral verdict. Here they are: –

  • Curb the tendency to grow arrogant. Do not hold out veiled threats about what might happen if you assume power.
  • Avoid making bellicose statements that upsets peace in our neighbourhood.
  • Do not over-estimate the effect of mega religious events turning into votes. They could well boomerang.
  • Avoid intimidating the media and uphold the freedom of the press.
  • Avoid interfering with cultural and linguistic sensitivities.
  • Respect the strong influence of regional parties. The view from Delhi is not necessarily the view from a State capital.
  • Avoid making individuals larger than the nation or its people.
  • Do not indulge in fearmongering. The average voter has very little to lose; hence nothing to fear.
  • Do not support or indulge in political vendetta.
  • While development is important for the economy, the average voter is more concerned about basic needs of food, shelter, health, education and sanitation.
  • Avoid concentrating power in a handful of people or organisations.
  • Promote religious harmony and not religious rivalry.
  • Do not hand out second-class treatment to opposition-ruled states. Their people are also India’s citizens.
  • Curb excessive showmanship and unnecessary media coverage of self-glorifying activities. People see through farces quite easily.
  • Do not display the arrogance of power. The electorate that gave you the power can also take it away.
  • Be wary of taking unilateral and split-second decisions on issues that affect a huge section of the population. Let these happen after informed parliamentary debate.

In effect, what the voter wants to convey is, “I want a well-meaning and performing government, a constructive opposition, strong, independent democratic institutions and my individual rights and liberties protected. I may be poor and not very educated; but I am not stupid.”

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