Democracy is back, baby!

'I feel lighter, as if I’ve put down a burden I’ve carried for a long time. I can’t wipe the smile off my face'

Ah, some good news at last? (photo: Arun Sankar/Getty Images)
Ah, some good news at last? (photo: Arun Sankar/Getty Images)

Mitali Saran

Well, it’s finally happened, folks, after 10 interminable years— and in the weirdest way possible. Modi has lost his win; the opposition alliance has won its loss; and two regional leaders hold the highest cards. The Hindu Rashtra gets parked for now. Much is still up in the air, including private jets carrying public figures and their extremely conditional support, but democracy seems to have resumed normal programming.

The 2024 Lok Sabha election results blew our heads off because they seemed so very impossible for so very long. Narendra Modi had India in a chokehold, talking democracy and walking electoral autocracy. The exit polls gave him an even greater landslide victory than 2019. On the eve of counting day, like many other Indians, I lay awake for hours—not worrying, exactly, but bracing for more leaden years of marginalisation and gaslighting, fury and grief; yet, harbouring that deranged flame of hope that insists on itself in the face of all the evidence.

The 4 June verdict seemed unreal. Could this actually be happening? Doubt is PTSD from the Modi-majority years, from the misinformation and vote suppression, the one-sided money train, obsequious media, and the Election Commission looking on violations like an indulgent nanny, SMH-ing with a smile while the kids set fire to the curtains and stab the cat.

But the electoral tsunami spoken of as a foregone conclusion never materialised. Instead, there was piece after piece of news that made my heart leap. Congresswoman Geniben Thakor won the Banaskantha seat in Gujarat with a crowdfunded campaign (take that, electoral bonds), and the BJP lost in Banswara, Rajasthan, where Modi made his disgusting speech about buffaloes and ghuspetiyas.

Manipur, which the PM couldn’t be bothered to comment on for months during its bloody civil war, went to the Congress. Ajay Mishra Teni, who called protesters “barking dogs” after his son allegedly mowed down farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, lost to the Samajwadi Party. Prajwal Revanna, who sexually harassed and abused thousands of women, lost in Karnataka.

The improbable hero of the day was Uttar Pradesh, the BJP’s happy place. Having thus far blocked the path to change at the Centre, like an impassive ox in the middle of the road, UP now stood up and tossed Modi on its horns. The PM’s victory margin in Varanasi was a shaky 1.5 lakh votes. Smriti Irani was booted from Amethi.

But by far the biggest fist-pump moment was when, after all its incessant trumpeting of the Ram Mandir, the BJP lost the jewel in the Hindutva crown—Ayodhya. The public sharply reminded the PM that his only non-biological bits are his feet of clay. Of 80 seats, Uttar Pradesh gave Modi only 33. Itwas an utter humiliation.

It’s hard to find the precise image for how all of this feels—but imagine that you’ve been living in an undeclared Emergency under a Nazi-inspired domestic coloniser with brute power, complete with political prisoners, a hog-tied press, a dysfunctional Parliament, violent impunity, institutionalised corruption, hundreds of millions living in fear, and a personality cult so absurdly swollen that the leader refers to his own divinity.

Imagine that at the very last fence before this might become permanent—at the eleventhest of eleventh hours—the land starts ringing with ‘Ding, dong, the witch is dead’. Well, that feels as if democracy has not just opened its eyes after a 10-year coma, but has leapt to its feet in harlequin colours, farted in the face of the naked emperor, drunk three margaritas, and gone clubbing. Is this a shade of how they felt in 1947, and in 1977—this weightless, euphoric, sense of freedom? Never again will I take this feeling for granted.

If you’re going to say that the BJP still won, that Modi will still be Prime Minister, you’ve missed the point. He’s been cut brutally to size—the ‘400 paar’ man now has to function within the checks and balances of a coalition, and regional allies at the Centre will reinvigorate the federal nature of India. The INDIA bloc came up with the goods, holding to their seat-sharing arrangements. Rahul Gandhi gave the Congress legs (literally, with his Bharat Jodo Yatra efforts) and in the process firmly established his credibility despite the BJP’s best efforts.

The 18th Lok Sabha underlines the country’s rejection of communalism, authoritarianism and arrogance, and the BJP’s failure to tackle actual problems like rural economic distress and unemployment. The ‘in touch’ liberals who like to tell ‘out of touch’ liberals how people don’t care about the Constitution or concentration of power are dead wrong—they must be thinking of crony capitalists and the middle class.

The poor and marginalised care a great deal; taanashahi and samvidhan were a thing this election. The country voted in a minority government, and a strong Opposition.

Democracy is back, baby.

But we will have to repair the terrible damage done to it. The media will have to give up its servility. The new Lok Sabha should roll back oppressive and anti-democratic laws. The judiciary has to operate without fear or favour. Institutions must take back their independence... the list of broken things to be fixed is long and well-known.

Most of all, democracy will have to treat Narendra Modi as armed and dangerous. Hindutva is India’s autoimmune disease— once you have it, it might be better or worse, but it has to be managed. We will have to remain on permanent guard against anti-democratic and pro-Hindutva forces.

We can only wait and watch, but I for one feel physically lighter, as if I’ve put down a burden I’ve carried for a long time. I can’t wipe the smile off my face.

Now, in such moments, you’re supposed to refrain from going low. You’re to resist the temptation to send back all the Burnol that bhakts have sent you over the years.

When they tell you to go to Pakistan, remember that you stand for inclusivity. They persecuted their ideological rivals, but you can be better. Just take pleasure in not having to watch India become a nasty, mendacious country while the Khokhla Dhokla strokes peacocks and waves at nothing for the cameras.

On the other hand, it’s been 10 years of sucking up anti-Constitutional Hindutva garbage, and at least you’re revelling in freedom rather than oppression, and at least you’re being truthful and non-violent, and frankly, it’s bad for your health to bottle things up.

Hopefully we’re over the dark chapter of history where one person’s meme is another person’s FIR. What the hell, we deserve to enjoy the moment.

But not for too long. Gloating is fun—ask the bhakts—but eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

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