The significance of the Indian elections

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup is a long-running series published every morning that collects essential political discussion and analysis around the internet.

We begin today with Pratap Bhanu Mehta of Indian Express and his overview of the Indian elections where Prime Minister Narendra Modi wins a third term as prime minister of the world’s largest democracy but his 

 The general election of 2024 is a wondrous moment. The air of despondency, the suffocating shadow of authoritarianism, and the nauseous winds of communalism have, at least for the moment, lifted. The NDA may form a government for the third time. That is not a milestone to be scoffed at. But this election was not an ordinary election. At stake was the continuing possibility of politics itself. At the very least, the result pricks the bubble of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s authority. He made this election about himself: His performance, his omnipotence and omniscience, and his ideological obsessions. Modi is, for the moment, not the indomitable vehicle for History, or the deified personification of the people. Today, he is just another politician, cut to size by the people. […]

The election is a reconfiguration of the social imagination of Indian politics. The BJP had upended conventional wisdom over the last decade by reconceiving the social imagination of Indian politics. The first was the consolidation of a Hindutva identity that, in part, tried to widen its social base to include OBCs and Dalits. It also used fragmented contests to make the minority vote irrelevant. But these strategies have now run its course. There is some evidence that the Dalits have moved away from the BJP and, more improbably, moving to the INDIA alliance. The minorities have finally found enough resoluteness in the Congress and the SP.

The second was the tapping into a vernacular politics of cultural resentment in the Hindi heartland, transforming it into a cultural block. This was aligned with an ability to radicalise a greater percentage of Hindus. Radicalising a third of the Hindu society, if we want to use a shorthand, might be possible. And that was often enough for political gains with a weak and divided Opposition. But permanently radicalising a majority of Hindus is much harder. The Prime Minister, constantly tapping into the theme of resentment and hate, tried just that. It was so successful that even the BJP’s critics thought of the Hindi heartland as an impregnable block, trying to stoke North-South divisions as a substitute. The blockbuster story of this election is the puncturing of this myth. But the big lesson is that politics is not over-determined by social identity, it is now available for being reconfigured in different contexts.

Read as much “subtext” into these various reports on India’s elections as you like.

Hannah Ellis-Peterson of the Guardian notes that the surprise result of the Indian elections is a victory for opposition leader Rahul Gandhi.

The coalition, united under the acronym INDIA, won 232 seats, taking more than 60 from the BJP and preventing Modi’s party from forming a majority government. “We fought as one,” said Rahul Gandhi, the best-known face of the Congress party, at a press conference on Tuesday. […]

Analysts say the onus is now on Gandhi to capitalise on this resurgence and reform his creaking party. Already, his ideological leadership has pushed the party radically further to the left than in previous generations, when it was seen as a centrist, upper-caste party.

Many believe Gandhi will also take on the role of formal head of the INDIA alliance. The job of keeping it united will be a tricky one, and exactly how the coalition will take shape remains unclear; whether it will come together with a form of uniting document or simply be a temporary marriage of convenience to stand up to Modi in parliament.

Baqir Sajjad Syed of Dawn look at the possible effects that Modi’s reduced majorities will have on India’s foreign policy generally and India’s neighbor, Pakistan, specifically.

The foreign policy legacy of Mr Modi’s past two tenures is marked by assertiveness, a pro-US shift, and a tough stance on Pakistan and China. Looking ahead, he’ll likely maintain this course while also pursuing stronger ties with Iran and Russia and deeper cooperation with Gulf states, balancing regional muscle with strategic partnerships. […]

Leading a potentially fragile coalition government, BJP may struggle to maintain its hardline stance on Pakistan, as it will need to accommodate the diverse views of its allies.

This could limit Mr Modi’s ability to make bold moves, especially regarding aggressive postures towards the neighbouring rival. As a result, the political dynamics may lead to a moderated foreign policy approach, potentially softening the aggressive stance that has defined a strong BJP government.

Mark Lander of The New York Times says that in this year of elections across the world, the political power of “strongmen” appears to be losing a bit of steam.

With a billion-plus people going to the polls in more than 60 countries, some analysts had feared that 2024 would pose a fateful test for democracy — one that it might fail. For years, populist and strongmen leaders have chipped away at democratic institutions, sowing doubts about the legitimacy of elections, while social media has swamped voters with disinformation and conspiracy theories.

In some of the biggest, most fragile democracies, leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey had been regarded as close to invincible, using appeals to nationalism or sectarianism to mobilize supporters and bending institutions to suit their purposes.

Yet now, Mr. Modi and Mr. Erdogan have both had their wings clipped. Soaring inflation, chronic unemployment and uneven economic growth have widened inequality in India, Turkey and elsewhere, frustrating voters who have shown a willingness to buck the establishment.

Nate Cohn and Ruth Igielnik (w/ graphics by Alicia Parlapiano) of The New York Times re-interviewed voters in the most recent NYT/Siena poll and found that, to this point, it appears the the shoe salesman’s criminal conviction is resulting in small but significant gains for President Joe Biden.

In interviews with nearly 2,000 voters who previously took New York Times/Siena College surveys, President Biden appeared to gain slightly in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s conviction last week for falsifying business records.

The group favored Mr. Trump by three points when originally interviewed in April and May, but this week they backed him by only one point. […]

The shift was especially pronounced among the young, nonwhite and disengaged Democratic-leaning voters who have propelled Mr. Trump to a lead in the early polls. Of the people who previously told us they had voted for Mr. Biden in 2020 but would vote for Mr. Trump in 2024, around one-quarter now said they would instead stick with Mr. Biden.

Voters who dislike both candidates — who have been dubbed double haters — were especially likely to defect from Mr. Trump. Overall, Mr. Trump lost more than one-fifth of the double haters who once backed him. That group of defectors was about evenly split between moving to Mr. Biden and saying they were now undecided.

Maegan Vazquez of The Washington Post writes about House Speaker Mike Johnson’s appointment of Scott Perry (R-LA) and Ronnie Jackson (R-TX) to the House Intelligence Committee. 

Perry, a hard-line Republican who previously served as the chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, played a key role in promoting false claims of election fraud and pushed the Trump White House and Justice Department to investigate baseless claims and prevent the transfer of power to President Biden. The FBI seized Perry’s cellphone records in 2022 as part of the criminal investigation into Trump’s efforts to subvert the election, and Perry sought to block what the federal investigators would be able to access on his phone. In December 2023, a federal judge ordered that Perry disclose nearly 1,700 records from his cellphone to the investigation being conducted by special counsel Jack Smith. Perry’s lawyer has said that U.S. officials never described Perry as a target of their ongoing investigation in their discussions with the congressman, and he has not been charged.

Jackson, a retired U.S. Navy officer who joined Congress in 2021, served as the physician to Presidents Barack Obama and Trump. He was demoted in rank from retired rear admiral to captain in July 2022 following a damaging Pentagon inspector general’s report thatsubstantiated allegations about his inappropriate behavior as a White House physician. Jackson has denied the report’s allegations and claimed they were politically motivated.

The appointments of Jackson and Perry come a day after Johnson, a staunch Trump ally, broadly outlined a “three-pronged approach” on how the Republican majority can target the Justice Department, New York and other jurisdictions for investigating Trump — using, among other things, House oversight powers.

Thor Benson of Wired outlines how a second Trump Administration could become a surveillance state very quickly and with very little resistance.

Nixon and former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover famously surveilled the president’s political opponents and activists, including Martin Luther King Jr., through a program called COINTELPRO. One of the main goals of the program was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” civil rights groups.

If he so desired, Trump could create his own version of this program, but he’d be working with much more advanced technology—and it’d be in a time when there are countless data points available on every American. Hoover could have only dreamed of a world where everyone was walking around with tracking devices. […]

The administration may not even need to come up with a justification for surveilling Americans without a warrant, because it could simply purchase scores of people’s personal data. The federal government has been known to purchase data from private brokers in the past, and doing so doesn’t require a warrant.

“We are just awash in data, and data brokers can just collect and sell these data,” Vagle says. “Law enforcement or quasi-law enforcement can collect that information.”

Finally today, Sandhya Raman of Roll Call reports on the Senate Republicans all-too-believable denial of a procedural vote to codify protections for attaining contraception.

Two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined Democrats in voting to move forward on a bill that would guarantee the ability for health care professionals to provide contraception and related information. The bill would also guarantee the rights of individuals to access contraception.

The Senate needed 60 votes to advance the legislation; the final vote was 51-39. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., voted no in order to be able to bring up the bill under Senate rules at a later date.

Democrats say they are worried about access to contraception because the 1973 Roe decision was based, in part, on a 1965 contraception case known as Griswold v. Connecticut, which protected the rights of married couples to use contraception.

Friday will mark the 59-year anniversary of that decision.

Have the best possible day everyone!