HAVING CLOSELY watched and covered elections for the last forty years I can safely say that the ensuing Lok Sabha elections are proving to be most bitter and have brought down the electioneering debate standards to a new low.
There have always been exceptions in the past and some of them were dealt with in accordance with the law but the malice has spread across the political parties this time. Top leaders of these parties appear to be themselves endorsing the trend and thus encouraging others to cross all limits.
Even the previous general elections in 2014, which the BJP had contested with great vigour and aggressive manner, had not witnessed the kind of abusive rhetoric. Perhaps because it was clear that the Narendra Modi led BJP was well on way to form the government and the other parties had more or less reconciled to the wave generated by Modi.
The absence of a wave this time and the uncertainty over a clear mandate has certainly added to the anxiety among the parties and candidates but in the process the level of debate has plummeted. The use of abusive and strong language against political opponents has never been so blatant and derogatory.
This is the time when the nation is missing former Chief Election Commissioner, T N Seshan, who had put the fear of the Almighty in the hearts of politicians by initiating strict action against violations of model code of conduct.
Perhaps the seeds of hateful campaign were sown with the references to ‘pappu’ and ‘feku’ in the social media and general debates. As the polling dates came closer there has been a sharp increase in the vitriolic campaign and most unfortunately the Election Commission of India, which has vast powers at its disposal after the elections are announced, remained a mute spectator. It made no effort to pull up leaders or initiate disciplinary action when it was authorised to do so.
It was only after the Supreme Court pulled up the Election Commission and indicated that it might ask the Chief Election Commissioner to present himself in the court that it suddenly woke up and cracked whip on some leaders.
These leaders, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati and Union minister Maneka Gandhi had been making communal references and inciting voters in one way or the other. The statements for which they have been banned from campaigning for various periods of time are now too well known to be elaborated here.
Taking a cue from such leaders, even those at junior levels have been indulging in abuse. A shocking instance is that of the Himachal Pradesh BJP President Satpal Singh Satti who openly abused Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. The party’s Kerala unit chief Sreedharan Pillai too came out with a communal statement.
Prime minister Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi must share the blame for initiating a hate campaign against each other and not reining in their leaders. Modi’s repeated references to Rahul as an immature boy or even mentally retarded (as he hinted at an interaction with school children) was not in good taste. Rahul, on the other hand, had been harping on his somewhat unconvincing pet slogan "Chowkidar Chor Hai”. Thus instigating the BJP leaders to go into an over drive. The Supreme Court has now put him on notice for misquoting a judgement related to Rafale deal and attributing comments never made by the highest court.
But besides the personal attacks on Rahul Gandhi and his family members, the prime minister has been dragging in the army into politics. He first questioned the patriotism of the Congress and then appealed to first time voters to dedicate their vote to air strikes in Balakot and the surgical strikes earlier. Now he has said that sacrifices by jawans
can be an election issue just as suicide by kisans
could be an election issue. Of course there can be comparison between the two. The Election Commission is silent on such references and even to an earlier one by Yogi Adityanath who had described the army as ‘Modi sena
The Election Commission should have stepped in much earlier to check the leaders and should not have waited for a reprimand from Supreme Court. This is the time when the nation is missing former Chief Election Commissioner, T N Seshan, who had put the fear of the Almighty in the hearts of politicians by initiating strict action against violations of model code of conduct. The current Election Commission needs to follow the example set by him.
(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)
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