With 2023 coming to a close and the stage set for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, here are some of the major political developments over the past year.
On May 28, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the new Parliament building, with an expanded capacity of 888 seats (from 543) in the Lok Sabha chamber. The Rajya Sabha chamber was also expanded to 384 seats from the previous 250 capacity. The construction cost an estimated Rs 1,200 crore, though the exact figure has not been released.
However, the inauguration was boycotted by 20 Opposition parties accounting for 242 MPs in both Houses over the PM inaugurating the Parliament and “sidelining” President Droupadi Murmu, the constitutional head of the State.
But as far as Parliament working goes, it remained a tumultuous year, beginning with the disruption-ridden Budget Session that saw the second lowest time spent functioning for this government. The following two regular Sessions of Parliament also suffered in terms of productivity, though the Monsoon and Winter Sessions saw among the most Bills passed since 2019. But each Session was marred by disruptions and many crucial, and contentious, Bills passed with little to no discussion.
Pulling a pre-Assembly poll surprise, the government held a Special Session in September, where it introduced the women’s reservation Bill, which sought to allocate 33% of the seats in the Lok Sabha and state Assemblies for women. The Bill was passed by both Houses in this session.
Among the other notable legislation passed this year was the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners Bill, laying down how members of the poll agency were to be appointed – now, the Selection Committee will consist of the PM, a Union Cabinet Minister, and Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
Among the last Bills passed this year were the three criminal law Bills, which seek to overhaul the existing Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Indian Evidence Act.
The Winter Session, the penultimate Session of this government before the next general elections, was the most eventful. On December 13, the anniversary of the 2001 Parliament attack, two intruders jumped into the Lok Sabha and set off canisters emitting coloured gas.
Though no MPs were harmed and the intruders were apprehended, the Opposition’s protests and demand for Union Minister Amit Shah to deliver a statement on the security breach led to 146 MPs across both Houses getting suspended – a record high for suspensions in Parliament’s history. The Session also saw outspoken Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra getting expelled over cash-for-query allegations by the Privileges Committee.
In March, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi was disqualified from the Lok Sabha after he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison in a defamation case for remarks made in 2019 on the Modi surname. In August though, the Supreme Court stayed his suspension and he was reinstated to the House.
In the Monsoon Session, the Modi government faced a no-confidence motion over the PM’s silence on the ethnic clashes in Manipur. The motion was easily defeated, though Modi, in a two-hour speech, spoke briefly about Manipur. It was the second no-trust vote faced by the Modi government, after a previous one in 2018.
Nine states went to polls
Nine states held Assembly elections this year, with the government changing hands in five. While the BJP won in four states, the Congress won in two, with regional parties taking the remaining three.
In the first Assembly polls of the year, in Tripura, the BJP just about managed a majority with 32 seats. The Opposition bloc won just 14 seats, with the CPI(M) winning 11 and the Congress winning three. The TIPRA Motha, a tribal outfit that was contesting its first Assembly election, emerged as the main Opposition party.
In Meghalaya, the National People’s Party (NPP) came to power in an alliance including the BJP and United Democratic Party (UDP), which had a combined seat tally of 46 in the 60-member House. The Congress was reduced to 5 seats, from 21 in 2018.
In Nagaland, the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) won 25 seats, with North-East Democratic Alliance partner BJP winning 12 in the 60-member House. The Congress though failed to win a single seat.
Karnataka was the Congress’s best electoral outcome this year – it recorded a comfortable win with 135 seats, ousting the BJP from its only southern state. Its campaign was built around a series of “guarantees”, which went on to become the model for the remaining state elections in 2023. The BJP won 66 seats and the Janata Dal (Secular) won 19; the two parties would go on to form an alliance later in the year for the Lok Sabha elections.
Five states went to polls at the end of the year in the last round of state elections before the Lok Sabha polls. The results turned out to be a disappointment for the Congress, which was hoping to consolidate its position in the states ahead of seat-sharing talks with the INDIA bloc. It lost power in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh but managed to oust the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) in Telangana. For the BJP though, the year ended on a positive note with wins in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and surprises in its new CMs faces in each of these states. In Mizoram, newcomer Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) ended 36 years of a Congress-Mizo National Front (MNF) duopoly.
A key election-related development was the establishment of a panel headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind to explore holding simultaneous national and state elections as part of the Centre’s push for “one nation, one election”.
It was a notable year for the Election Commission too. Of the last 11 state elections, voter turnout increased in 7 states, as reported by PTI. On an aggregate basis, the voting percentage in 11 states was 73.41%. In a first since Independence, polling stations in 126 Naxal-affected villages, where turnout was 72%, were set up in Chhattisgarh. The EC also registered an additional 22 lakh first-time voters.
The poll agency’s seizures saw a 10-fold increase from the previous elections as the EC made a fresh push to curtail the use of money to induce the voters. Enforcement agencies made record seizures of over Rs 3,000 crore in the past 11 Assembly elections.
NDA vs INDIA: Their numbers and their conflicts
On July 18, 26 parties came together under the banner of the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA, with the goal of creating a nationwide Opposition bloc against the BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. But the INDIA bloc, led by the Congress, has suffered from several instances of infighting and poor coordination.
With just months to go for the general elections and after the Congress’s defeats in the November-December state polls, there has been little progress on seat-sharing negotiations, with regional parties hoping the Congress will compromise. In many states, members of the bloc are in direct contest, including in states like West Bengal and Kerala, further complicating seat-sharing talks.
In terms of legislative strength, the INDIA bloc has 142 MPs in the Lok Sabha, 98 MPs in the Rajya Sabha, and 1,637 MLAs and 120 MLCs across states. This leaves it facing an uphill task against the BJP-led NDA, which has 323 LS MPs, 109 Rajya Sabha MPs, and 1,834 MLAs and 177 MLCs.
Over the course of the year, the Opposition and the Centre clashed over several issues.
One such conflict was the India versus Bharat issue. Ahead of the G20 Summit in Delhi, the government sent out invitations for a dinner hosted by the President of “Bharat” rather than “India”, sparking speculation that the BJP may officially change the country’s name. Though Article 1 of the Constitution uses the two names interchangeably, the Opposition alleged the change was the result of the formation of the INDIA bloc.
The two blocs also clashed after remarks from Udhayanidhi Stalin, son of Tamil Nadu CM M K Stalin and a state minister in the DMK government, saying ‘Sanatan Dharma’ should be “eradicated”. Union Home Minister Amit Shah lashed out at the INDIA bloc for “insulting this country’s culture, history and Sanatan Dharma”. Udhayanidhi stood firm on his comments and INDIA bloc partner CPI was among those to side with him. But the Congress and the TMC, for instance, distanced themselves from the remarks.
One issue that may play a role in the Lok Sabha elections is the caste census. While some members of the Opposition have been calling for a nationwide caste census since the first half of the year, the debate really kicked off in October, when the Bihar government released a caste survey, putting the Backward Classes population at 63% of the tota
As Opposition parties chase the OBC vote, which has largely been cornered by the BJP, the saffron party has remained lukewarm on the issue. The BJP government at the Centre is wary that a caste census could give rise to contesting demands as well as arouse other dormant quota calls, shattering its delicate caste balancing.
The Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile has been raising the ‘Jitni aabadi, utna haq (rights according to numerical strength)’ slogan in an attempt to add OBC support to its minority vote consolidation. But the calls for a caste census do not appear to have resonated among voters in the recently concluded Assembly polls. Several other states have since announced plans to conduct their own caste surveys.
Manipur violence: 7 months, 175 deaths
Since May 3, Manipur has been ravaged by ethnic violence between the Kukis, a tribal group who are largely Christian, and the dominant Meiteis, who are mostly Hindu.
The conflict began over the Meiteis demand for tribal status, which the Kukis opposed over fears that it would further increase their influence in government and society, and allow them to buy land in Kuki-dominated regions and get a share of jobs reserved for Kukis.
Meiteis make up about half the state’s population and hold 40 of the 60 seats in the Assembly. CM N Biren Singh is a Meitei. While the Meiteis are concentrated in the Imphal valley, the Kukis reside in the less-developed surrounding hills.
As per the latest figures from the Manipur Police, the state has seen 175 deaths, 1,118 injuries and 32 cases of missing persons. At least 60,000 people have been left homeless. There were also 5,132 cases of arson, within which 4,786 houses had been burnt and 386 religious structures had been vandalised. During the violence, over 4,000 arms were looted from state armouries, of which 1,329 were recovered, along with 15,050 ammunition and 400 bombs.
Though the violence has eased in recent months, life has remained disrupted in Manipur. Schools and colleges have been unable to operate normally, transportation and communication networks have been hit, hurting agricultural and other economic activity.
Four years on, Supreme Court upholds Article 370 abrogation
In a year of milestones, the Supreme Court delivered a melange of seminal verdicts in 2023 including those that upheld the Centre’s decisions to scrap Article 370, which bestowed special status on Jammu and Kashmir, and the demonetisation of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 currency notes.
Under Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, the top court created a record by disposing of 52,191 cases between January 1 and December 15, 2023. It had disposed of nearly 40,000 cases the previous year.
To round off the year, on December 11, the Supreme Court upheld the abrogation of Article 370, more than four years after it was scrapped. But the apex court ordered the government to reinstate J&K statehood and hold Assembly elections by September 2024. Since the abrogation of Article 370, which split the state into two Union Territories, the region has been under President’s Rule and has held only two local body elections.
The region has not had an Assembly since it was dissolved in 2018, with the last state polls taking place in 2016.
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