Political Immaturity and Clientelism in Indian Democracy: Reflections from 18th Lok Sabha Election 2024

Vote Election

Background

India is the world’s largest democracy with a vibrant electoral process, yet it continues to be marred by deep-rooted problems such as political immaturity and clientelism and the 18th Lok Sabha elections 2024 once again proved it. This article argues how political immaturity and clientelism have influenced the electoral outcomes and set the tone for the future of Indian Democracy.

The 18th Lok Sabha election finally ended with 543 seats, resulting in the declaration in which two major blocks, the NDA led by the BJP, retained 291, and the India Alliance bagged 234, signalling for the coalition government, Mr Narendra Modi is swearing third consecutive terms as a Prime Minister of India. This election was made very special by infusing various narratives and propaganda to counter each other ideologically and strategically. Some of the trending hashtags were #VoteforChange, #VoteforDevelopment, #ModiVsOpposition, #ElectionFreebies, #SaveConstitution, #ModiGuarantee, #ReservationBill, #AyodhyaRamMandir #Agniveer #YouthForChange captured the dynamic of often heated discussions and debates around the election highlighting key issues, campaign promises and public sentiment. It is alleged that #BJP and Narendra Modi used communal cards to appeal to the majority instead of ten years of his government work. In contrast, the India Alliance and Mr Rahul Gandhi were labelled appeasement and freebies politics. Both groups have substantial proof and support, and many electorates are convinced to rally during the election campaign. There is a contrasting gap between #Andhbhakt (Modi, BJP) and #Chamcha (Rahul Gandhi, INC), typecasting its followers on the same line by blindly (unreasonably) toeing to their masters. Quite the contrary, there are people numerically inferior who are well-informed, educated, and governance-driven. If we look at the landscape of Indian demography, the majority of the population still lives in rural spaces (Census 2011, GoI) in which educated/skilled/semi-skilled are migrants, in urban areas it is much higher. It is estimated roughly 40 percent of eligible voters cannot cast their vote due to this. While the majority are living in traditional pockets have no exposure, political understanding, or democratic manoeuvring, consequently toeing into the conventional line of client patron (caste/ethnicity/religion/region bound) relationship. So, the majority of Indian electorates are either politically immature or toeing the traditional line of client-patron relationships.

How Political Immaturity is a Persistent Challenge

Political immaturity can be understood as when citizens lack critical engagement, awareness and informed participation in the democratic process. This issue has been a longstanding challenge in India and even continues to reflect in the 2024 general election. Despite substantial progress in literacy rates, many regions, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, still suffer from inadequate educational infrastructure, limiting voters’ ability to evaluate candidates and policies critically and making them susceptible to populist rhetoric and short-term promises like free electricity or cash handouts. High levels of poverty and economic inequality, especially in rural Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and the slums of Mumbai, lead many to prioritize immediate survival needs over long-term policy implications, making vote-buying and clientelist practices particularly effective; politicians distributing free rice or cash transfers can quickly secure votes from economically disadvantaged individuals. Furthermore, media influence during the 2024 elections was susceptible to sensationalism rather than substantive policy debates, with extensive coverage of personal controversies overshadowing critical discussions on issues like agricultural policy, rising poverty, unemployment and inflation rather than diverting public attention from essential policy matters further entrenching political immaturity.

Clientelism is the backbone of Political Strategy.

Clientelism, the exchange of goods, services, or favours for political support, are prominently on display during the elections in the Indian political system. Political parties and candidates extensively engaged in clientelist practices, leveraging them to secure votes. Reports of vote-buying and distribution of gifts, such as cash, household items, and even alcohol, were widespread, particularly in rural areas and economically disadvantaged urban neighbourhoods. For instance, in parts of Andhra Pradesh, voters received smartphones and household appliances to sway their votes. Politicians continued to exploit caste and community affiliations to consolidate their vote banks, promising reservations, targeted welfare schemes, and other benefits to secure the loyalty of specific groups. In Tamil Nadu, for example, certain caste groups were promised increased quotas in educational institutions and government jobs, reinforcing caste-based clientelism. The allocation of government jobs, contracts, and development funds often followed clientelist lines, where political loyalty was rewarded with tangible benefits. This practice was evident in states like West Bengal, where local leaders distributed government contracts to loyal supporters, creating a network of dependency that ensured continued political support (23 Dec. 2023, ET/ 9 Oct 2023 LiveMint/ 24 Dec. 2023 EPW).


Reflections from the 2024 National Assembly (Lok Sabha) Elections

The 2024 Lok Sabha elections are not an exception, but they proved the continuance of political immaturity and clientelism deeply embedded in Indian democracy. Many electoral victories were secured not based on robust policy platforms but through immediate material inducements, such as cash payments or free household items, undermining the development of long-term, sustainable policies to address structural issues. Critical policy issues like economic reform, healthcare, education, and climate change were overshadowed by populist promises and clientelist transactions, making it difficult to address pressing national and global challenges effectively (Check the results constituency wise). Clientelism, particularly along caste and community lines, exacerbated social divisions, perpetuating a cycle of dependency and exclusion where marginalized groups remained reliant on political patrons for access to essential services and opportunities. To move towards a more mature democracy, it is essential to enhance education and political awareness, ensuring voters can make informed decisions. This can be achieved through civic awareness campaigns and education programs. Strengthening democratic institutions, such as robust electoral commissions (ECI) and anti-corruption bodies (ED, CBI, CID, NIA), is vital for counteracting clientelist practices and ensuring fair electoral processes rather abusing these institutions. Promoting socio-economic equity through inclusive policies and programmes to reduce poverty and economic inequality so as marginalized communities would not reliance on political patrons. Another important is Media accountability (Print/digital), to fix it there is need to reform for balanced and substantive coverage of political issues, and are media literacy programs to help citizens critically evaluate information. Finally, enforcing strict laws against vote-buying, corruption, and nepotism through legal reforms and stringent penalties can deter political actors from engaging in clientelist practices (ADR, NEW, CMS, PUCL, TII, NEMO, GNDEM, and our SC observations).

To Conclude, Political immaturity and clientelism are distorting electoral outcomes and eroding the development of equitable and participatory political culture of Indian Democracy. There is a need of concerted effort to address these challenges with multiple fronts; educating citizen, institutional reform, socio-economic policies, and media fixing accountability. By fostering a more informed and engaged electorate, India can move towards a true democracy that values governance and policy over short-term gains and identity politics.

References;

Lok Sabha Elections 2024 Results, Election Commission of India (ECI). Available at: https://results.eci.gov.in/

BJP Manifesto 2024. Available at: https://www.bjp.org/bjp-manifesto-2024

Congress Manifesto 2024. Available at: https://manifesto.inc.in/assets/Congress-Manifesto-English-2024-Dyoxp_4E.pdf

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Manifesto 2024. Available at: https://aamaadmiparty.org/aaps-election-guarantees/

The Hindu. “Parties Shower Freebies in the Run-Up to 2024 Lok Sabha Elections.” Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabaha-elections-2024-political-parties-promise-housing-scheme-to-voters/article67866997.ece

NDTV. “Election Freebies 2024: What Parties Are Offering to Woo Voters.” Available at: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/election-commission-of-india-potential-of-quid-pro-quo-poll-body-bars-voters-enrolment-for-schemes-5572648

Times of India. “Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Freebies Galore in Campaign Promises.” Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/election-guarantees-galore/articleshow/105341563.cms

Kumar, A. (2024). Freebie Debates and Budgetary Priorities: Economic Growth-led India or Inclusive India. The International Journal of Community and Social Development, 6(1), 97-114. https://doi.org/10.1177/25166026241237325

The Wire. “Freebies and Populism in Indian Elections: A Deep Dive into the 2024 Campaigns.” Available at: https://thewire.in/media/backstory-world-indian-elections-mainstream-media

Scroll.in. “Understanding the Impact of Freebies on Indian Democracy.” Available at: https://scroll.in/latest/1029710/offering-freebies-to-voters-will-have-adverse-impact-on-economy-centre-tells-supreme-court

Bajpai, R., & Sáez, L. (2022). Winning big: The political logic of winning elections with large margins in India. India Review21(1), 21–52. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/14736489.2021.2018200

Kenny, P.D. (2017). Populism and Patronage: Why Populists Win Elections in India, Asia, and Beyond, Oxford University Press, Available at: https://books.google.co.in/books?id=83QzDwAAQBAJ

Dr Md Afroz is a faculty in the department of Political Science, (MANUU), Hyderabad.  Afroz has good research abilities, worked in many research projects, written many articles in books and journals, presented many research papers in national/international seminars and conferences on his area of interest like; federalism, ethnic conflict, Nation-building, democratic decentralization and governance. His upcoming Books are, “Federalism, Ethnic Question and Nation-Building in Post Conflict Societies: From Bosnia to Iraq” and “Comparative Government and Politics in the Digital Agein the year 2024. Dr Afroz has also penned many popular Articles on socio-political subjects that have been published in different domain like South Asia Journal, The Avenue Mail, Roundtable India, Down to earth, Muslim Mirror. Two Circle. Net, Countercurrents, Sabrang India, Good Morning Kashmir, the Cognate. Com, Tasair Urdu Daily, Roznama Al-Hayat, and so on.He has diverse subject knowledge as learnt in different disciplines as it reflects in his writings.

Contact,

Email: [email protected].

Twitter: @khwajaafrozsidd

linkedin.com/in/dr-md-afroz-a8314322

https://manuu.academia.edu/DrMdAfroz

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Md-Afroz

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