There was an obvious sense of relief and reprieve for the people of India after the election results were announced. This sentiment acknowledged that a strong Opposition can curve government’s policies and compel a more consensual and process-oriented politics.

This hope must somehow counter the somewhat brash moves by a still-arrogant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which believes that being in power is all that counts, never mind their now-hacked majority. It does not seem to have sunk in that their numbers have shrunk. The BJP alone lost 63 seats and we saw an overall dip of 60 seats of their allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Most people have no idea how the Prime Minister will handle the politics of coalition governance. For now, there is no visible change in the approach to what we can now call political pluralism.

In the last few weeks, the BJP seemed to have got its way on Cabinet formation. A casual glance at the list of Cabinet members suggests a virtual status quo’. Prior to the elections Telugu Desam Party’s (TDP) Chandra Babu Naidu seemed to have vehemently put his foot down on two conditions: One, ‘Drop Amit Shah’ and two, ‘Hand TDP the Speaker’s role in the new Parliament’!

The question is why Naidu has maintained silence despite the snub, with people guessing what the behind-the-scenes dynamics were. There had to be a quid-pro-quo that Naidu which prompted him to accept the relegation of his demands.

Naidu, undoubtedly, wants to have the edge while determining the economic deals settled which would make his term as Chief Minister of Andhra a thumping success. His big dream is a new capital city in Amravati that surpasses the best anywhere else.

In his previous terms, Naidu had created something of an economic miracle in the State. Naidu's public image was that of an economic reformer and proponent of information technology-based economic growth. His policies brought modernisation and investments particularly to Hyderabad. In his hurry to match Karnataka, he almost totally ignored the rural poor who dealt him a stunning blow at the next poll.

Later, the BJP added to Naidu’s cup of woes misery when they jailed him in 2023. Andhra Pradesh witnessed a tense drama that was unprecedented in a long time, following his arrest by the Crime Investigation Department (CID) at Nandyal, for his alleged complicity in a multi-crore ‘Skill development scam’. Whoever engineered the anti-Naidu move did not assess the mood on-the-ground.

The TDP cadres revolted with anger across the State confronting the police. Opposition parties expressed strong resentment. In a bid to quell the fires, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) claimed to have prima facie evidence of Naidu’s key role in the syphoning of approximately 371 crore belonging to A.P. Skill Development Corporation through fictitious companies during the TDP rule between 2014 and 2019.

His stunning comeback with a landslide victory in 2024 was stuff from the copy book of political tenacity and gritty politics. The people were only too keen to give him a renewed shot at fulfilling his broader political vision.

At the Centre, it seemed as if Naidu, with his new-found influence, would exact his pound of flesh in cabinet making in the MoSha combine. Surprisingly, the entire set of ‘biggies’ remain firmly entrenched in the cabinet with marginal shuffling of no significant consequence. Not even partial window-dressing.

It remains to be seen if the political status quo will serve the PM’s hopes of advancing his much vaunted agenda of Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas, the promise of jobs, the 5 trillion dollar economy, and the desperate conditions of millions of jobless, the rural poor, and those who pave the streets that pave the urban cities punctuated by stark contradictions of living styles.

The BJP desperately requires acknowledging that it is not the powerful entity it was and pretends to be. It is a minority party and has crossed the finishing line with two partners. If things don’t go their way, there could be a rupture.

There has not been even a whisper of assertion of their ability to realign room within and acquire delivery-capacity. Backroom political deals are made of spurious stuff and will last until a disgruntled partner thinks enough is enough.

Two months prior to the April 2024 elections, the PM audaciously declared that he would reveal a ‘Report Card’. No one saw it except that there was a fuzzy message that the first ten years were the ‘starters’ before-the-meal.

The real ‘meal’, the PM said in his campaign, is on its way in the next five years. (Read, we failed!) But by even the most generous assessments, the last ten years under the BJP has been disastrous in every sphere of economics, social justice, rank joblessness, gender-linked violence, caste oppression, and minority battering. Our Foreign Minister will overestimate his tenure as assertive and robust.

The April election was all about reinstating democracy. Yes, there was a replenished Congress and a viable India Alliance. This alliance must now claim their fair share of credit for their union and one expects there will be no rupture in the alliance for they cannot afford an internal tussle and gash.

They must accept fidelity to the people of the country who voted their representatives in and caused the degeneration of the BJP/ NDA. If they close ranks and remain glued to their relatively close ideological identities, and affirm the principles of consensus-politics for the wellbeing of the nation, the nation and its people would see new hopes and vistas. India has thrived - and with success- as a multi-party State even before coalitions became the approach.

The Left parties, at a rough estimate, held some 8% of the seats, the Centrist parties were the largest grouping, with the right usually a scarce number of seats and mainly good at winning debating points. This was in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and extended to the 80s too.

This era also coincided with the power of Trade Unions belonging to the Communist Party of India-Marxist, Communist Party of India, Republican Party of India, and Forward Bloc. Trade Unions and Unionists could bring the country to a grinding halt in their quest of justice.

In the 60s and 70s, the rise of student movements demanding political transformation to counter corrupt regimes and the politics of ‘Aya Ram; Gaya Ram’ made an impact. The Press was free and if one was politically keen, one had simply to read the newspapers, in public libraries, or posters/banners for a variety of ideological projections from which to assess and choose.

It was also a judiciary free from the clutches of errant politicians, who put Indira Gandhi – then, easily the country’s more powerful leader- out of power. She bullied her way back into office and introduced an emergency accompanied by some of the most ruthless political atrocities including jailing political leaders and ruling by pushing her will down everyone’s throats.

That was India’s first democratic debacle.

In 18 months Gandhi realised that if she had to make it good, she needed the active consent of the people. India was unfamiliar to being ruled by autocratic methods. She lost the first election she called after the emergency, having been misled by her sycophantic advisors that she would win hands down if she called an election at the time. Contrary to those predictions, she was trounced.

The baby steps of coalition politics provide hope and relief to the people and this is now emerging as the norm, especially with the rise of regional parties performing their distinct role in asserting regional identities and forcing the principle of subsidiarity in which people at the grassroots must define and plan for their future.

It was the Congress that introduced draconian laws and adopted anti-human rights mechanisms that were ruthless. There were political challenges, it must be admitted. They were huge, but none that could not have been resolved through dialogue and political-economic reform, rather than the barrel of the gun. Because of India’s chosen approach to militant resistance, the country had to invest in armaments to fight its own political rebels who were contesting structural injustice in the economy.

In 2001, after the September 2011 attacks on the Twin towers, India acted in haste to create the Prevention of Terrorist Act (POTA), now replaced by the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) both draconian measures that were used by the Government to subvert freedom to protest. The latter remains firmly in place and militant fighters in the jungles as well as urban radical intellectuals (labelled as ‘Urban Naxals”) are the target.

The lack of intent to place issues on a Democratic Round Table is only worsening things. militancy is growing as a reaction to growing repression. If change does not happen, the next election portends an even grimmer outcome for the BJP/NDA.

Somewhere India got misguided into the politics of expediency ideology gradually being pushed to the back-seat. No sooner than India adopted economic liberalisation, the country paid a price.

The rich grew richer and the poor much poorer. How else does one explain that the richest 10% in India controls 80% of the nation's wealth, according to a 2017 report published by Oxfam? Each day the gap is swelling and teeming millions are pushed into the ranks of the poor.

A paper entitled “Income and Wealth Inequality in India, 1922-2023: The Rise of the Billionaire Raj” stated that between 2014-15 and 2022-23, the rise of top-end inequality has been particularly pronounced in terms of wealth concentration. India may be a country with some of the richest people; but is clearly in the ranks of poorest nations.

A genuinely free and democratic country is one where the underpinning is justice and the economy is rooted in equitable distribution. This implies a free and fair judiciary accessible to all in equal measure, not just the rich. The current judiciary and legal system is heavily weighted in favour of the privileged.

The media, often irreverently referred to as the ‘Godi Media’ (lapdog media) must free itself from corporate control and begin to be truth tellers and prophetic about what is wrong and how it can be corrected. The ‘Alternative Media’ and Social Media are the salvaging features.

We need independent bodies in administration, be it the police, in the crucial election commission, and in the bureaucracy. The government has brought the foremost institutions that must guard democracy under their control and into discredit.

At the start of the current Parliament session, Om Birla, the Speaker, launched his tirade on the Congress for the Emergency. It was politically out-of-place. It demonstrated his intent to continue his one-sided management of the floor of the House.

He did not muster the courage to call the BJP to account for its autocracy and its still-worse undeclared Emergency. Om Birla missed a golden opening to be seen as an impartial monitor of the government’s misdoings.

If this continues, it would create political crises and be a real challenge to contest the virtual demise of democracy. In keeping with the best democratic traditions, Birla should resign from his party so he can act in a balanced way as the Speaker.

It was rather interesting that the RSS Chief disapproved of the way in which the campaign was conducted. It is hard to know whether his outburst represented genuine fallout or were they testing grounds. The RSS and the BJP were born in the cradle of Hindutva and are blood-siblings.

The most striking feature of this election was the visible the Dalit-Bahujan-Minority (Muslim-Christian) political front through the parties they have voted trusting in their support and political advocacy. The SC/STs/OBCs/EBC/Minorities are a formidable number and can change political equations if mobilised. A mass presence and an assertive can compel transition. The Farmers movement demonstrated that.

In these challenging times, there is much to learn from the wisdom of Jawaharlal Nehru, an iconic political thinker Jawaharlal Nehru who observed: “The problems of democracy could only be solved by more democracy, rather than through more institutionalisation and laws”.

Ranjan Solomon is a writer and human rights activist. Views expressed are the writer’s own.