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“When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken, giving views to passion without that proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities.” Philosopher David Hume could just as well be writing about the results of the 2024 general election in India. 

Arrogance, the leitmotif of this election, is twice cursed. Not only does it produce “ignorance by silencing others” but it also breeds “self-delusion in the arrogant themselves,” as explained more recently by Alessandra Tanesini. In Greek tragedy, arrogance was seen as one of the essential flaws of the tragic hero. In our times, however, heroism itself is a casualty of arrogance. This election has been a moment of reckoning for everyone who wore arrogance as a second skin. It won’t be hyperbolic to say that the humble, vulnerable, taken-for-granted voter had the last word, delivering a coup de grace. 

One must remember, however, that arrogance was not the sole domain of one or more political parties in this election season. All stakeholders are guilty of displaying different signs and shades of it. Here are some lessons for those who badly need to relearn: 

1. Never Take The Voter For Granted.

The voter in the world’s largest democracy remains extremely vulnerable, putting her neck on the line for the favourite candidate. Respect that. The Congress party has paid the price, time and again, for thinking of its voter base as captive and this time it is the BJP in the same dock. 

2. Do Not Raise The Electoral Pitch To Uncomfortable Levels. 

To begin with, the expectations were unrealistic for both the Congress and its allies and the BJP. 400+ and 295 scores demanded an almost 90% strike rate in the total number of seats contested. The BJP particularly set itself up for failure by making this grandiose claim which also ended up irking and intimidating its core voters.

3. Always Take Uttar Pradesh Seriously!

It’s the legendary unpredictability of UP that brought back the fight in the 2024 general election. None of the exit polls or electoral assessments of parties captured the surprise that Uttar Pradesh sprung up in this election. 

4. Move Away From The Cult Of Personality.

Indian voters are vulnerable and punishing in equal measure. They may not know who or what they want, but they certainly know what/who to reject. 

5. Referendums Are Risky.

Rural distress – despite social welfare schemes – has been one of the biggest deciding factors in this election. Jobless growth, flawed schemes like Agniveer (short-term military recruitment), the heavy-handed treatment meted out to political opponents, and an uneasy feeling around the potential absolute majority made the voters look for other options.

6. Collaborationism Compromises Credibility.

Media, policy wonks, scholars and intellectuals not even pretending to be neutral need to soul search. Secondhand arrogance has much worse consequences when the time of churning comes. 

7. Cultural Snobbery Won’t Save Anyone.

Hailing one region or culture as superior to others is almost always a temptation to the fates.

8. Accept That Predicting Voter Behaviour Is Next To Impossible.

There are analysts, strategists, and journalists who changed their predictions, theories and analyses faster than they blinked on the counting day. They are fooling nobody.

9. Bureaucrats need to find the drawing board and go back to it.

Ingratiating oneself with the political players is damaging to your career and credibility. When the tables turn, Comeuppance may not use a white towel. 

10. Have Faith.

The arrogance of the faithless is the worst kind. It often masks laziness and incompetence. 

This last lesson is for all those political leaders, their supporters and even non-committed voters who willingly furthered the propaganda around allegedly manipulated EVMs. The present verdict is a stern reminder to all the naysayers that a selective belief in systems and institutions is a zero-sum game. Political leaders who had started questioning the veracity of the verdict even before it was out should be ashamed of their manipulations.

When you discredit the process, you also discredit the participants, the voters. This is not to say that the 2024 elections were free of all glitches. The election commission’s silence over violations of all codes of conduct will not be forgotten. Attempts at vitiating the atmosphere through conspiracy theories or acts of violence won’t be forgotten, too.

Just because the victims of arrogance stay silent can often be misconstrued as acceptance. For convenience, let us blame this misunderstanding on Plato. In Cratylus, Socrates addresses Cratylus thus: “I shall assume that your silence gives consent”. An arrogant person often lives in a make-believe world – believing in his invincibility and desirability. Needless to say, it is injurious to physical, emotional, and professional health.

As for the 2024 general elections, we are back to normal after two anomalous elections in 2014 and 2019. Coalition governments are nothing new to India. So-called invincible brands have taken a beating. One hopes these results will usher in an era where electoral arrogance will give way to humility and collaborative governance. 

(Nishtha Gautam is a Delhi-based author and academic.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author