vantage Election Verdict

No mandate is a mandate to silence opposition

By HARTOSH SINGH BAL | 18 May 2014

The year 1984 is being invoked a lot in the wake of the Narendra Modi victory. Even though the circumstances were different then, it was the last time a single party won an absolute majority in an Indian election. That election saw another new prime minister, bearing the stain of majoritarian violence and speaking for the young, come to power offering technocratic solutions that would move India beyond caste and religion. The failure of that project, which was burdened with heightened expectations, should remain a cautionary tale, but that is not the reason I want to invoke 1984.

I had just finished school in June 1984 when Operation Bluestar took place. Over a game of badminton, my neighbourhood friends and I began discussing the army action with an avidity that comes easily at that age. When I expressed the view that while the action was necessary, the way it was planned and executed was wrong, one of my acquaintances, whom I thought I knew well, reacted in anger, “Don’t listen to him, he is a sardar.” I was clean-shaven then, but it was at that moment that I first realised what it means to differ from the majority view, and to be labeled for it.

Today I would have expressed my views more succinctly: the cure was worse than the disease. And it is a sentiment that I believe applies equally well to what is transpiring around us today. The end of the Gandhi dynasty—and I do believe that this is what we are witnessing—was necessary, but I also believe that the same is more or less true in this case: the cure is worse than the disease. Irrespective of the majority verdict—public opinion changes with time—the question here is simply of being honest to the truth as I see it.

In the cacophony of support for Modi, there will be no shortage of those like BJP's national treasurer Piyush Goyal, who on Times Now on the very day of the verdict, faced with a few journalists who disagreed with him, labeled them Congress sympathisers. As a matter of fact, over the course of the past few years, the only public critics of the dynasty were to be found among this limited set of journalists. Having shot from their shoulders, men like Piyush Goyal today, in their moment of triumph, appear fearful at the prospect of being at the receiving end. This intolerance of dissent was one of the fears of a Modi victory. We can wait and see whether the tendencies Goyal so vividly expressed will be heightened over the next few days or whether the party will seek to curb them, but there is no reason to be so uncertain over one of the implications of this verdict: it is emphatically majoritarian.

The case of Punjab provides the perfect illustration. In the facile nature of what has passed for the analysis of inconvenient facts after this victory, Arun Jaitley’s defeat from Amritsar has been attributed to local anti-incumbency against the Akalis. But the BJP won two adjacent constituencies in the same state—Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur. Of the three seats, Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur are Hindu-dominated, while Amritsar is a Sikh-dominated constituency. When a senior leader cannot even win a Sikh-dominated constituency, where is the hope that the BJP can command support among a substantial portion of Muslims in this country? Never before in this country has a prime minister been elected so emphatically while being so unrepresentative of the minorities.

In the face of this fact—and the weight of more than a 170 million people makes this a substantial fact—to claim, as some senior editors have, in television studios or in print, that we are entering a post-ideological, post-caste, post-religion era of the Indian electorate, is absurd, especially when you consider that almost all the people making this claim share a common religious identity. The claim may well be true of the mandate in parliament, which is determined by the first past the post system, but to argue that these rules, which we have all agreed to adopt, actually mirror social reality is to deceive ourselves. The combined vote share of those accused of playing identity and caste politics—the Congress, Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar, and the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh—far exceeds that of the NDA. If the perception of the mandate overrides this reality, eventually the mandate will be overturned because reality cannot be wished away, as Rajiv Gandhi so quickly found out.

I was hoping for some acknowledgement of this fact in Modi’s speeches on his day of victory. His failure to use the words “Muslim” or “minority” was striking. These are not difficult words to pronounce; their absence and the rhetoric that was in their place suggest a literary parallel with George Orwell’ s 1984. Development for everyone, say Modi and his supporters. Electricity does not discriminate, they add. But of course it does. Development that does not recognise inequality heightens it. In the same way, to fail to recognise Muslims and other minorities as categories is to not be able to cater to their specific problems, whether economic or those stemming from apprehensions about this verdict. It did little to reassure such anxieties that one of Modi’s first public acts as prime minister-designate was to perform a grand puja in Varanasi, accompanied by priests chanting hymns and the din of conch shells.

There is no shortage of cheerleaders for this verdict, but for democracy to function, the sceptics have to find their voice. We will all have to recognise that no mandate is a mandate to silence opposition. Neither is this mandate reason to silence oneself.

Hartosh Singh Bal is the political editor at The Caravan, and is the author of Waters Close Over Us: A Journey Along the Narmada. He was formerly the political editor at Open magazine.



54 thoughts on “No mandate is a mandate to silence opposition”

Dear Deepak….who exactly will perform the “cleansing” of journalism, and which direction will the cleansing take after you’ve done away with journalists you don’t agree with. Academics? Teachers? Writers and activists? Just so we know.

It is naive to assume that BJP won in Gurdaspur and Hoshiarpur because they are Hindu majority constituencies. He seems to think that Hindus vote for BJP only, what an insult! These pro-people anti-Modi thinkers do not even realize that how they are hurting and disrespecting the common man and his wisdom. I have never heard such a trash before that Hindus in Punjab vote for BJP or Sikhs vote for SAD alone. One shall ask him that what was the religion of the masses who voted for APP. In fact, I want the author to answer this question if he can? Or has he got an answer?

Wonderful piece. Your closing remarks “We will all have to recognise that no mandate is a mandate to silence opposition. Neither is this mandate reason to silence oneself” spoke directly to me, as I’ve found that intolerance for even the tiniest dissent has been growing alarmingly since May 16th. I’ve been shouted down, lectured, called a Congress loyalist (even though I vote AAP), and even more confusingly, have been chastised for not appearing to be “happy” about the mandate, because clearly just “accepting” the mandate isn’t enough for the Modi fan club.

“His failure to use the words “Muslim” or “minority” was striking.” And ur exalated “Secular” credentials Mr Bal go bust. This is the reason the indian Media needs to decentralize from Delhi – their cocoon is reflected in their narrowmindedness. What about SC’s, ST’s and OBC’s, I did not see your worry about their future. What about the North-east? Oh yeah we know how much the Indian Press cares about them with the abysmal coverage of the riots of Kokrajhaar. If this seems like nitpicking to you, you will understand how you sound exactly.

Thank U, my dear Hartosh, for speaking your mind. I too am a retired journalist / editor in Pune. Here is a piece, I posted on my blog, which brings up similar issues. I also suggest some steps, we can take as individuals to resist.

Democrats and freedom-fighters in India are prepared for the dark days, now ahead of us.

Life goes on … Such dark days have ended; they have prepared us for today:
1. The Emergency of 1975-77, imposed by Indira of the Indian National Congress (INC).
2. The anti-Sikh riots of 1984, following the assassination of Indira, when the INC was in power.
3. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) / Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
4. The riots, following the terrorist attack in Mumbai, in 1992.
5. The privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation (LPG) of the Indian economy since 1992, begun by Manmohan Singh of the INC and continued by the BJP/NDA.
4. The anti-Muslim riots of March 2002, when Modi of the RSS/BJP was CM in Gujarat.

The sad fact, which democrats have to understand and accept, is that the forces of darkness can be elected by a majority.

Such forces of darkness have been elected in earlier times:
• Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy.
• Reagan in USA and Thatcher in Britain.
So, India in 2014 is not the first time.

How do ordinary people resist the forces of darkness?

From personal experience and lessons learned from resistance movements, I suggest:
• Listen to your inner voice, ie, conscience. Be sincere & honest. No indoctrination or intimidation can silence the inner voice.
• Trust working people 100%: work patiently and learn from them.
• Do not submit to the dictates of authority. Resist the personality cult; do not glorify the rights of the individual, especially the rich.
• Resist temptation.
• Question constantly till U are satisfied.
• Our earth belongs to the citizens of the world.
• Democracy and freedom are for ALL: the poor need them the most.

Peace and love,
– Joseph M. Pinto, Pune.

A very poorly written article .. The BJP has to stay away from this kind of tokenism for various communities that seems to have become the norm under the previous governments. Pray why should the Prime Minister of India specifically mention minorties ?? Are these people not citizens of India ?Are they not Bharatiyas ?

What are you trying to peddle here ?

The cleaning of prejudiced journalists masquerading as humanists would be accomplished by the same ordinary people who just cleaned up the Congress.

Really – the common man and his wisdom – who speaks for it ? An electoral mandate in itself is not an indication of wisdom !- history is replete with instances when comman men and women have voted in authoritarian and divisive figures all over the world due to a number of reasons. And yes, minorities have not voted for him in any substantive way, niether have all hindus voted for – 69% of India which did not vote for him also includes many hindus and formany good reasons !

I am not particularly optimistic about the new Modi government. There is very high likelihood that Modi and his team will be less willing to work with minorities than previous governments.

There is also a very high possibility that Modi and his team will pander to the extreme hindu rightwing elements from time to time just to ensure that those who voted them into power, who will likely have leanings towards the ideological positions held by the hindu right, are reminded often enough that it is their man who is heading the government in the center.

However, all of these will undoubtabtedly come at a cost to the Modi government because riots are bad for business – especially if one is positioning themselves as the person who will bring in unprecedented development into this country.

Because of this one fact that riots or major inter-community clashes may be bad for business, the Modi government will have to find ways to assuage their electorate with “low grade” events (just to remind them that Modi’s credentials as a militant hindu rightwinger are still intact) while at the same time they will keep the big “events” down.

This isn’t particularly a comforting situation, I know, but this is what we are left with now.

Can we infer from your point – consolidating Hindu votes gives huge majority – as it happened in 1984 and now in 2014. And then what was different this time than in the time of Vajpayee and Advani as they were not able to consolidate the vote to the same extent.

I know a comment is no place to seek clarity from the author – but worth a try.

The author is making a mountain out of molehill- though have to to structured as coalition at this juncture, the Opposition’s responsibility is pivotal for the vibrant democracy of ours.The opposition voices cannot be muffled as stated.The victory is a victory and that has to accepted. On Mr.Jaitley’s defeat , I would term it as the result of the internal local dissent of his party.The malcontent Sidhu and the towering personality of the Captain Amarinder Singh had catalysed the chances for a win.The Congress party finally stealthy played the divisive card to invoke sentimentalism with 63% Sikh voters of Amritsar against their political opponent.

“Never before in this country has a prime minister been elected so emphatically while being so unrepresentative of the minorities.” Maybe it is because the previous PMs were never very representative of the majority. Modi won on the plank of development which catered to the middle-class and the sizeable youth vote, and his performing aarti in the Ganga should not be an issue with the ‘minorities’ if the wearing of skull-caps for the sake of minority appeasement was accepted earlier. In your view, someone using the words Muslim or minority instead of saying that it was a victory not for a particular community or religion but the entire country is being divisive, and that seems to me to be a more dangerous point of view. Such insecurities have been exploited for long by ‘secular’ thieves to loot the country. If the minorities so care for the welfare of the country (which they surely do) then they should have used their political influence to demand better governance. Since they did not, only succumbing to the bogey of ‘secularism’, they should not cry over the reverse polarization that resulted.


Statically isn’t it expected that with one vote for each and most od the people casting their vote they would involve some sort of majoritism. At a local level that is what has been witnessed in Punjab and over time every other constituency – Muslim candidates tend to win from Muslim dominated areas etc rtc. I wonder why is this such a big issue this time just because most of the people decided to exercise their franchise .

Also coming to the solutions what Should we expect – allow two secular vote for eebery communal vote? Or disbar ring thr majority from voting. Pqppo

“Electricity does not discriminate, they add. But of course it does. Development that does not recognise inequality heightens it. In the same way, to fail to recognise Muslims and other minorities as categories is to not be able to cater to their specific problems, whether economic or those stemming from apprehensions about this verdict.” – This is incorrect, recognising inequality on community lines is not just an useless exercise but counter productive for legislative policy making and economic efficiency, since there are far greater inequalities within communities than between communities as the author seems to believe, if one keeps dishing out different policy solutions to every bit of social stratification, such policy stratifies society even more, public policy should be so devised as to recognise patterns of underdevelopment across communities, so that it extends to maximum number of beneficiaries cutting across community lines. A failure to do so, and an obsession with looking at society through the majority and minority prism, accentuates differences and discrimination more than it resolves and by definition therefore does nothing to set it right. Such is the irony, it is always much easier to appear politically correct than to be correct in analysis.

Why does not journalists like these have any fears when any other party gets absolute majority? What many people expect is lip service from politicians. I think we are used to getting lip service from politicians which is precisely every other parties like Congress, SP, BSP etc do.
I’m becoming very skeptical of today’s journalism which is heavily biased and opinionated. Perhaps disgusted by today’s journalism.

I certainly agree that for a democracy to function skeptics have to find their voice, but in your case it seems forced skepticism. Your entire argument hinges upon the perception that minority have not favored NDA. Reality is if you analyze the minority dominated consistencies more than 50% of them are won by NDA. Remember that in a multi party contest a small vote percentage change can reverse the fortunes, now constituency with more than 30% vote share by minorities can significantly alter the final outcome.
How is that any party can reach majority on its own without any kind of support from minorities at all is question that is worth pondering over.
In your bid to be a skeptic you have given an argument whose basis is built upon fragile perception rather a prejudice. Being a journalist i expect you to do better analysis of the reality than to give judgement upon your prejudices.

Hi all, please stop abusing the author for his views. You have every right to disagree but maintain healthy logical discussion. There was opposition to Rajiv in 84, there will be opposition to modi in 14, though both had a huge win. But please stop this abusive comments. Infact if the comments and discussion are healthy and non abusive, i believe Hartosh would have no problem replying to your queries.

Why exactly did Mr. Modi need to mention the words “Muslim” or “Minority” in his speech? Didn’t he mention “all Indians”? Or are you trying to suggest that Muslims and other minorities are not Indian? It is true that development that does not recognise inequality heightens it. Wouldn’t a leader rather recognise it in his policies instead of resorting to rhetoric in a thirty minute speech?

wonderful article hartosh singh bal. i notice modi bhakts are still shouting at the top of their voices. but they shall not silence secular and democratic voices of india. may our tribe not be browbeaten and silenced.

What a horrible article. Hartosh Bal’s inability to even remember recent history is shocking. The BJP didn’t lose Amritsar because they couldn’t get Sikh votes. They lost because they fielded a weak candidate against Captain Amaninder. Arun Jaitley was a Rajya Sabha nominee from Delhi with no base in Punjab. For the last 10 years BJP had been winning the same seat fielding a Sikh candidate, Navjot Singh Sindu, who got Sikh votes. Totally refuting Hartosh Bal’s argument that minorities don’t vote for the BJP. Also, his suggestion that Modi must regularly mention minorities in his speech is the worst form of tokenism and only exposes his own childish insecurities. It is clear from reading all his articles that he will remain a Modi hater till the day he dies and spinning imaginary fears irrespective of how different the truth is.

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