Cover Story
How Peoples’ Movements Propelled the Opposition
by Akash Bhattacharya

The Lok Sabha Elections of 2024 were remarkable for multiple reasons. First of course because against all odds, the united opposition (the INDIA Alliance) managed give a considerable blow to BJP’s fascist game plan and opened up the possibility of not only salvaging our democracy but also stretching it to new horizons.

The unity of the opposition was the second remarkable aspect. The last instance of a united opposition fighting an autocratic ruler comes from 1977 elections, when multiple parties came together as the Janata Party to overthrow Indira Gandhi’s regime. But Janata Party was an attempt at creating unity by overlooking differences and it did not last long. Democratic forces learnt its lessons from it. INDIA, in contrast, was an alliance which accommodated differences rather than set them aside prematurely. Some constituents may change but INDIA, encouraged by this against-the-odds performance, looks set to retain its core: the Congress, significant section of the social justice parties, and the three major Left parties.

The third, and perhaps the most significant aspect, has been the role played by common citizens in stopping a 400-aspiring Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at 240. Two major mass movements – the movement against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), and the movement against the farm laws – played a pivotal role in crystallizing opposition unity. Other major actions and policies of the BJP government – National Education Policy (NEP), labour codes, indiscriminate privatization, encouragement of crony capitalism, institutionalization of hatred, and systematic suppression of dissent, and attacks on the political opposition, and so on – led to united mass action of various kinds.

Come the election, common citizens, civil society organizations (Eddelu Karnataka, Watan Ki Raah Par), issue-based social movements (e.g. Right to Food, Right to Information) mobilized on their own to teach a lesson to the BJP. Where the INDIA alliance lacked cohesion, these so-called non-political actors stepped in to build coordination and fill in the lacunae in the campaigns led by the major political parties. INDIA was indeed a people-driven rather than leader driven initiative. The whole process energized a whole generation who are now poised to play a key role in shaping the future of the country.

Common citizens not only campaigned but also actively kept a watch on the elections. Several representatives of civil society organizations held meetings in Bengaluru and Delhi to discuss the manner in which the Lok Sabha elections were conducted and vowed to prevent any kind of malpractices or manipulations during the counting of votes. A Vigilant Voter Task Force was formed to make sure that the elections were conducted in a free and fair manner, and a Transition Watch Commission was formed to keep a check on horse-trading other malpractices after the results were out.

In a resolution called the Delhi Resolution, passed on 21 May, political parties and civil society organizations agreed on the need to challenge the pro-BJP Exit Poll narrative and prepare for mass mobilization all over the country in case of manipulation of the results. Initiatives such as these have played an important role in pressurizing institutions like the Election Commission of India and the judiciary to uphold the constitution in letter and spirit.

Peoples’ initiative and successful attempts at self-organization are major gains of this election. Right now, there is a need to build on and consolidate these gains and strengthen the anti-fascist struggle, in tandem with the parties who are willing to do so.

Peoples Movements