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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 13, March 30, 2024

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, March 30, 2024

Friday 29 March 2024


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, March 30, 2024

India’s electoral democracy is under scrutiny nationally and internationally as its giant election process is set in motion. The coming 2024 general elections in India are projected to become one of the most expensive elections held anywhere in the world [1] India’s ruling party sits atop a huge kitty of funds making it the richest political party in India, with an immense advantage in terms of campaign finance. The electoral playing field has become very uneven. On the one side stands the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which obtained the majority of funding from the now-illegal Electoral Bonds scheme set up by the Modi Government. The Supreme Court set aside the Electoral Bonds scheme but questions remain over quid pro quo in exchange for political donations which must be fully investigated [2]. On the other side, you have India’s Congress party, main opposition political force which faces an unprecedented situation with all its bank accounts being frozen by the authorities. It is going to very difficult for the Congress party to campaign and advertise; to pay for internet ads, newspaper ads, TV spots, billboards on the roads, and on public transport (buses, taxis and metro networks etc). A carrot-and-stick electoral strategy is being used by India’s ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to deal with the opposition. Money is being dangled at the opposition politicians to get them to change sides. According to Sunetra Choudhury of the Hindustan Times “444- opposition MLAs have switched over to BJP since 2014. 226 are from the Congress and 41 in this election season” [3] In the long queue of people rushing to join the BJP just before the 2024 elections and some have been immediately named as BJP candidates in the elections… this suggests that deals were in the making for sometime. Among the latest to join the BJP are Kangana Ranaut the well-known Bombay film actress with right-wing sympathies, Abhijit Gangopadhyay, a serving judge at Calcutta High Court who just quit to join the BJP [4], Naveen Jindal, the former Congress Party man and a top Industrialist [5] all three have been named in the list of candidates fighting the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Other examples are Ravneet Singh Bittu Lok Sabha MP from the Congress for Ludhiana joined the BJP on 26 March and is likely to contest from Ludhiana, Punjab. The former Chief of the Indian Air Force RKS Bhadauria joined the BJP on March 24 [6] AAP MP from Punjab Sushil Kumar Rinku joined the BJP on March 27. Now, there are those who are joining to the BJP for protection and immunity from harassment by Government agencies. e.g Karnataka’s mining baron Janardhan Reddy has just returned back to the BJP the reason is nine CBI cases pending against him from 2008-2013 from when the BJP was in power in Karnataka; Another example is Praful Patel a former union minister who recently quit Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and joined the ruling coalition in Maharashtra. Since 2017 there were corruption cases against Praful Patel registered on orders of the Supreme Court, but now the CBI, the federal investigation agency has moved to close these cases [7]. There is another very contentious issue that is putting strain on the federal structure in place in India. For a long time, the opposition Governments from the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Karnataka have been accusing the Modi government of withholding funds that are “rightfully” due to them, saying the people of their States were being made to pay the price just because they exercised their democratic right to elect opposition party governments. The Governors in these states have been playing politics and refusing to sign legislation passed by state legislatures. The Aam Adami Party (AAP) ruled opposition government in Delhi has faced a constant tug of war with the Lt Governor breathing down its neck for every decision it made. Now the arrest of a sitting Chief Minister of opposition ruled Delhi just weeks before the national elections is going to stymie its abilities to fight the elections [8]. Public perception of an unfair national election in 2024 can fuel great resentment and could impact the future of Democracy in India.

March 29, 2024 —HK

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