“Tommy Thomas has erred on what Malaysians can learn from Modi’s below par India’s GE2024 outcome”

FORMER attorney-general (AG) of Malaysia Tan Sri Tommy Thomas has argued quite eloquently that Malaysians should draw important lessons from India recent general elections.

Thomas thinks the 650 million people who voted in the elections taught the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) an important lesson by not giving it the requisite seats to gain a simple majority.

The “invincible” Narendra Modi had to eat the humble pie by having to negotiate with the partners in the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) coalition to make up for the required numbers.

Even though Modi was installed as the Prime Minister, his BJP party that once governed India on the basis of parliamentary majority was reduced to the dependence on coalition partners in the NDA.

Thomas is under the impression that the fanatical pursuit of Hindutva ideology was the primary reason why the BJP did not perform as expected. The minorities comprising Muslims, Christians and others voted for the opposition.

The former AG is glad that the Indian electorate gave a fitting reply to the BJP in its attempts to tamper with the secularism of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawarhalal Nehru, India’s first prime minister (PM).

The argument against the BJP in general and Modi in particular seems to operate on the assumption that there are limits to the pursuance of Hindutva ideology, an ideology that has no place for religious minorities in India.

Denial of majority for BJP

I think no Indian politician whether in the BJP or the Congress Party really understands fully the workings of the Indian democracy. India is too diverse and complex to be reduced to BJP’s Hindutva politics. Within the Hindu right wing, there are forces that do not subscribe to the electoral ideology of BJP.

To say that BJP represents the homogeneous forces of the Hindu society is poor and shallow understanding of the Indian society, especially with the embedded civilisational differences between the north and south.

Modi might have been the chief minister of Gujerat and later as the India’ PM but I seriously doubt that he or anybody for that matter understands the functioning  of Indian politics, especially the pull and push of the centripetal and centrifugal forces with their roots in the civilisational history.

It is questionable on the part of analysts including Thomas to claim that BJP lost crucial support because of its arrogance and the relentless pursuit of the Hindu ideology.

By the way, the term “Bharat” is in the Constitution of India and not something created by BJP as asserted by Thomas.

Supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cheer after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadshow in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India (Image credit: Reuters)

Any analysis of the recent electoral performance of the BJP cannot be reduced to the non-acceptance of its right-wing ideology. India is too complex and diverse for reductionist analysis. Thomas should not pretend that he understands the nature of Indian politics.

BJP makes no pretensions that it is a Hindu party. But there are other factors such as poverty, lack of employment, grievances of farmers and many others that combined in complex ways to deny the majority to BJP.

Tommy lacks understanding

The Hindu population in India is not a homogeneous entity for there are vast cultural civilisational differences between the north and the south.

What is considered as Hinduism in the north might have different cultural and linguistic interpretation to what is practised in the south especially in the so-called Dravidian states.

South Indians relate to the civilisational influences differently from the North Indians. To say that the BJP was obsessed with the Hindutva ideology shows that Thomas lacks an understanding of the civilisational and cultural complexities of modern India.

Mahatma Gandhi (right) and India’s first PM Jawarhalal Nehru (Image credit: Quora)

Opposition to BJP could have stemmed from the imposition of Hindi on the southern states, the disrespect for vernacular languages, differences interpretations to Hinduism, the caste factor and others.

Gandhi and Nehru are greatly revered as founders of the modern secular India. The politics of the BJP might be a threat or not to the secular foundations of India. The ballot box is always there to check those political forces bent on moving India towards a theocratic state.

Whether BJP is there or not, the country is firmly entrenched in secular politics. India has a secular constitution. It would be difficult to dismiss the contributions of Gandhi and Nehru in the creation of Modern India.

But at the same time, let us not forget the present territorial division of India in the creation of Pakistan was the brainchild of both Gandhi and Nehru with the consent of the British colonial power.

In states like Tamil Nadu, the BJP lost the seats it contested in the recent parliamentary elections. It is not that Tamil Nadu is a non-Hindu state. Even in Punjab, the two independent candidates won against the BJP or the NDA candidates. Of course, one can say that Punjabis are not Hindus.

No special rights and privileges

With or without BJP, the Indian electorate is so diverse and complex that it cannot be tailored to fit the political designs of any political parties. Once it was unthinkable to imagine the future of India without Congress Party. Today, the same Congress Party has a diminished role.

Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy

Apart from the fact of their forming the majority, Hindus have no special privileges as the case of Malays in the country. This is the reason why religious communities in India do not have permanent stake in the political system.

In Malaysia, the majority – the Malays – have special rights and privileges accorded to them. Race and religion combined with the special privileges have made Malaysian politics immutable to progressive changes at least in the foreseeable future.

What lessons can Malaysians learn from the electoral experience of the BJP when we have the worst and more extreme forms of majoritarianism in the country. Unlike Malaysia, the majoritarianism in India is not tied to special rights and privileges.

Thomas was one of the better and more efficient AGs we had the country. It was just too bad that he could not last in the “hot” seat for long. He resigned after being in office for less than two years.

Must certainly thank him for the signing of papers for the release of the 12 Indians who were charged under Security Offences (Special Measures) Act of 2012 or SOSMA.

But unfortunately, he has yet to explain as to why he signed the papers for their detention in the first place on the grounds of their alleged involvement in the activities of the banned Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka.

Even before Malaysia banned the LTTE in 2014, the organisation ceased to exist after it was eliminated in the civil war in Sri Lanka that ended in 2009. – June 14, 2024


Former DAP stalwart and Penang chief minister II Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy is chairman of the United Rights of Malaysian Party (Urimai) interim council.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.


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