Lok Sabha election: Low-level talks at the hustings can irreparably damage democracy

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Published: April 18, 2019 1:03:54 AM

Upping the ante for other worthies in the ruling party was Ramesh Kataria, a Gujarat MLA, who said that the prime minister himself had gotten CCTV cameras installed in voting booths and every vote will be “watched”, and those who vote for the Congress will be identified and not given work.

BJP leader Maneka Gandhi

BJP leader Maneka Gandhi suggesting that villages should be graded on the basis of how they voted for the BJP should be a dipstick measure of how low the electoral discourse has sunk this poll season. In fact, parsing what leaders across the political spectrum have said, one wouldn’t be faulted for thinking many of them would not just be willing to jettison cherished Constitutional principles, but the Constitution itself. Maneka Gandhi followed up her reprehensible “won’t work for Muslims if they don’t vote for me” with the ABCD proposal—a pro-BJP votes-based priority scale for government work in villages. It is as if the elections are not about the exercise of democratic choice, but merely about sealing the ruling party’s victory, and coercion and threats are all part of the game. Upping the ante for other worthies in the ruling party was Ramesh Kataria, a Gujarat MLA, who said that the prime minister himself had gotten CCTV cameras installed in voting booths and every vote will be “watched”, and those who vote for the Congress will be identified and not given work. It is akin to disenfranchising those who don’t vote for the BJP. And, it is not just the ruling party leaders who have debased the polity. BSP supremo Mayawati openly appealed for Muslim voters to vote for the BSP-SP combine, clearly an attempt to polarise the electorate— and in complete violation of the Model Code of Conduct. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot didn’t shy from flinging muck at the highest office in the country, terming Ram Nath Kovind’s appointment as president the BJP’s attempt to curry favour with the Dalit electorate. Karnataka chief minister HD Kumaraswamy thought nothing of commenting on the prime minister’s camera-ready appearance and got compared with the bovine, in return, by the BJP. A TMC leader was caught on camera criticising the armed forces post the Balakot strike, thereby politicising the forces themselves, and SP’s Azam Khan’s shameful comment on BJP’s Jaya Prada is the pits of misogyny.

Ditching civility at the hustings has a trickle-down effect. The top leadership does it or tolerates it in the fringe, and suddenly, it is open season. So, when the prime minister has a blatantly communal explanation for Congress fielding Rahul Gandhi from Wayanad—after angering Hindus with the Hindu-terror charge, the PM said, Gandhi had fled to a constituency where the “majority community was in the minority”—it makes an Adityanath stoking Ali-Bajrangbali passions par for the course. Similarly, the awkward casteism of Gandhi’s “thieves with the Modi surname” emboldens a Gehlot’s overt fanning of caste politics. At a time where petty divides are widening globally, and distrust between communities has become the lifeblood of divisive politicians, responsible leadership should be calling for civil, conciliatory dialogue from all stakeholders. Else, if the filth was to trickle down in substantial measure to the electorate, India’s diversity, which should be its strength, and its democracy could both get corroded beyond repair.

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