A fight for isonomia and isegoria

Published : Jun 26, 2024 19:48 IST - 5 MINS READ

A supporter of the Congress party waves the national flag as others watch live election results for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, at the party headquarters in New Delhi on June 4.

A supporter of the Congress party waves the national flag as others watch live election results for the 2024 Lok Sabha election, at the party headquarters in New Delhi on June 4. | Photo Credit: ARUN SANKAR/AFP

Dear Reader,

Like every meme, this one’s funny, loud, and says far more than it appears to. It features Prime Minister Narendra Modi advising a puzzled Indian cricketer chasing a run target. “Easy-peasy. Target 400; you can hit 240,” is the advice. Evidently, the meme mocked Modi’s slogan “Abki Baar 400 Paar” (This time, over 400 seats for BJP), which ended up as a mere 240 seats when the Lok Sabha election 2024 results were announced on June 4, 2024.

This is not the first meme mocking Modi, but so far, they’ve been shared surreptitiously among opposition circles or by critics of the ruling dispensation. What made this particular meme significant was that it was shared by a youngster in a family WhatsApp group. Unlike in the past, the young person was not immediately ostracised. Instead, the meme elicited laughter and agreement. Even those who used to be vocal in their defence of their “development hero” were quieter, begrudgingly acknowledging this new reality.

June 4 heralded a new India, where people openly call a spade a spade and point out that the emperor is wearing no clothes. So, what has changed? To put it bluntly, and risking some exaggeration: democracy made its presence felt. As many analysts have already made clear, the people of India, especially its weak, meek, and vulnerable, sent a message to Prime Minister Modi that they did not subscribe to what his party was doing in the name of democracy and governance. They wanted change.

The message was strong, loud, and lucid. On counting day, in the Varanasi seat where the Prime Minister contested, Congress candidate Ajay Rai led by a significant margin for hours. Modi eventually took the lead in the later stages of counting. But Modi’s victory in Varanasi is symptomatic of the BJP’s performance in the 2024 election: a poorer showing than before, with scary moments where defeat loomed. Hindutva didn’t pay the expected dividends, and the local trumped the national.

Even though many say local issues mattered more in this election, two major “national” issues powered the advancement of the INDIA bloc: Democracy and the Constitution. Like the campaign of the Janata Party-led alliance in the 1977 general election, formed in response to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency, the INDIA bloc anchored its national campaign on the need to save democracy and protect the Constitution. While highlighting issues like inflation, unemployment, caste, and minority concerns, customised for each State and region, opposition leaders, campaigners, and cadres were seen across the country carrying a Little Red Book that had little to do with China’s Chairman Mao.

This strategy paid off. The opposition created a sense among the public that constitutional values and democracy’s fundamentals were in danger in India. This resonated with the public, especially the younger generation, who are vocal about civil liberties and freedom of speech.

There’s an interesting aspect to highlight. The seeds of democracy were sown in ancient Greece and nurtured in city-states like Athens, where citizens (excluding women and slaves) participated directly in shaping their destiny. This experiment, though limited, birthed core democratic principles: isonomia (equality before the law) and isegoria (freedom of speech)—cornerstones on which a government of the people, by the people, for the people, could be built.

If you’ve been following events in India for the past decade, you’d know that isonomia and isegoria faced an existential crisis under the Modi government. It was imperative for the republic’s future that an electoral battle be fought highlighting the need to reclaim these principles.

This fight overlapped with the struggle to preserve the Indian Constitution—a living document that has guided a nation of over a billion people through chaotic times. Rooted in the hard-fought independence struggle, this magnum opus of Indian democracy stands testament to the vision and tenacity of its architects.

And it was under threat.

The framers of the Constitution borrowed threads from different constitutional traditions, creating a fabric distinctly Indian. Unlike many constitutions cut from a single ideological cloth, ours deftly balances seemingly contradictory principles. The document’s Preamble set the tone, declaring India a sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic. These words were not mere rhetoric but the very foundation upon which the nation’s ethos was built.

However, this beautiful entity was under threat of an ugly, toxic overhaul. Its most robust characteristics were being undermined in unimaginable ways. This had to be fought.

And fight the people did. As voters humbled Prime Minister Modi, forcing him to form a coalition government—an exercise he was neither familiar nor comfortable with—the Sangh Parivar and its allies have to re-strategise. Certainly, the forces that have been trying to undermine democracy and the Constitution will not retire anytime soon, and the setback to Hindutva and majoritarian politics is not strong enough to force the Sangh to abandon its agenda. Mandate 2024 can only be seen as a temporary respite. But that’s the charm of democracy: it’s a work in progress.

The future of democracy hinges on our collective ability to understand the realities of the day and work towards addressing them, holding the politicians we elected accountable. We must also find ways to encourage informed participation, combat misinformation, and foster a culture of tolerance and respect for diverse viewpoints.

This is why the latest edition of Frontline, our second on the 2024 election results, takes a deeper look at June 4 and attempts to decode the mandate and its impact on the country’s future, both immediate and long-term. We have lined up an impressive list of experts, including Ashish Ranjan, Cynthia Stephen, Shamindra Nath Roy, Paromita Vohra, Saba Naqvi, Venkatanarayanan S., and our own fleet of reporters from across the country.

Read their analyses and send us your comments, critiques and, of course, all those funny, quirky, and bold political memes.

Here’s wishing you and our beautiful country a meaningful time ahead!

For Frontline

Jinoy Jose P.

We hope you’ve been enjoying our newsletters featuring a selection of articles that we believe will be of interest to a cross-section of our readers. Tell us if you like what you read. And also, what you don’t like! Mail us at frontline@thehindu.co.in

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