In any election that is as closely fought as this one, the campaign deteriorating into a communal one is always a possibility especially since, while the Model Code of Conduct prevents appealing to voters along religious lines, the fact is that major political parties—and this is not just the BJP—have aligned themselves with various religious/caste groupings.
Even in the context of the BJP’s campaign against the Congress party’s corruption—the CAG report on some instances, like A Raja’s 2G telecom case, provided enough independent proof of this—prime minister Narendra Modi saying the late Rajiv Gandhi was ‘bhrashtachari number one’ was a new low in a campaign that, on all sides, is plumbing new depths with each passing day. One wrong cannot justify another, but it is equally appalling to see how Congress party chief Rahul Gandhi repeats his Modi-gave-Rs 30,000cr-to-Anil-Ambani allegation with gay abandon every other day despite having zero evidence. Indeed, even the Supreme Court’s contempt notice to him was for his lawyer’s disingenuous attempt to argue that Gandhi’s ‘regret’ for having distorted the SC’s ruling was really an ‘apology’; it was not for Gandhi making statements about Modi’s alleged complicity without proof. And, with equal aplomb, Gandhi found it easy to distort one of the BJP’s proposed Bills as one that gave more powers to forest officials to “shoot Adivasis with impunity”. If top leaders like the BSP’s Mayawati polarised voters by asking Muslims to vote in one block against the BJP, Union minister Maneka Gandhi made it abundantly clear she wouldn’t help Muslims if they didn’t vote for Modi.
And, if the BJP polarised the elections by fielding someone like terror-accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, is it to blame more than former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh who first came up with the term ‘Hindu terrror’ as if to counter the globally recognised phenomenon of Islamic terror? Indeed, Singh had even claimed Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare had told him—before Karkare was killed in the 26/11 attacks—that he feared Hindu extremists would kill him; Karkare was in charge of the investigation that eventually led to Sadhvi Pragya’s arrest. Singh, in fact, made this statement at the launch of a book that claimed 26/11 was actually an RSS plot, not one hatched by Pakistani terrorists. It is obvious the prime minister has the greatest responsibility to conduct himself with a certain dignity during elections, but can it be said the responsibility is only his?
In any election that is as closely fought as this one, the campaign deteriorating into a communal one is always a possibility especially since, while the Model Code of Conduct prevents appealing to voters along religious lines, the fact is that major political parties—and this is not just the BJP—have aligned themselves with various religious/caste groupings. While that is something political parties and the country’s intellectuals need to think about once the heat of the current battle is over—is asking for votes on religious grounds a bad thing if asking for them along caste lines is kosher?—in such a situation, the role of constitutional bodies is critical. While the Supreme Court did ask Rahul Gandhi to apologise for his remarks on the SC having declared that there was corruption in the Rafale deal and that Modi had given Anil Ambani a Rs 30,000 crore contract, it did so only after BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi filed a criminal complaint against Rahul Gandhi before it. The Election Commission (EC), similarly, was slow to act on incendiary speeches. It is true that, when all political parties choose to violate the rules, it is difficult to act against them all. And if the EC is to bench either a Modi or a Gandhi, it is difficult to say where this will go, but in this context, the response of Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa—who was, sadly, outvoted by his colleagues in the EC—is commendable. While not spelling out what the EC should eventually do, going by a report in The Economic Times, Lavasa was of the view that the EC should write to the prime minister asking for his cooperation in implementing the Model Code of Conduct as a first response to the complaints about some of his speeches.