Indian Politics: Where are we going?
The third phase of the General Elections, 2019 has completed and fates of many leaders of the country has been sealed into the EVMs. As the poll fever is rising day by day, many politicians have stooped so low that the political narrative is going below the belt — at times, literally. While the league of such inglorious men and women has got the usual blabbermouths like Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party (SP) commenting on the colour of a rival’s “underwear”, there are also hardened politicians like Kamal Nath of the Congress making remarks about the time when the Prime Minister was yet of the age to learn wearing trousers. Khan, who was slapped with a campaign ban by the Election Commission of India (EC), an FIR by the UP police, a notice from the National Commission for Women, has remained unapologetic by saying that he did not take any name in his remarks, despite the viral video of his speech being apparent about actor turned politician Jaya Prada being the target of his jibe. Along with Khan, UP CM Yogi Adityanath, Union Minister Maneka Gandhi and Bahujan Samajwadi Party(BSP) supremo Mayawati also faced the EC ban, but no apology has come forth from any of them.
“Hate speeches have become the main fodder for social media campaigns of all major parties. At times, such strategies are made for individual leaders, while in some cases, it is done at the party level,” said one “poll strategist” who has worked for two different parties in different elections and is now advising multiple politicians in separate states for the ongoing Lok Sabha polls while talking to the Business Standard.
Derogatory remarks against all the senior leaders across political parties has been the norm in social media, the menace seems no less serious in campaign speeches. Campaign managers working with different political parties are of the opinion that often such controversial remarks are strategically made, including at the behest of rivals for obvious gains, to polarise voters and they are circulated widely through a well-designed social media publicity mechanism.
India i.e. Bharat has the distinction of being the largest democracy of the world. Elections are the most important and integral part of politics in a democratic system of governance. While politics is the art and practice of dealing with political power, election is a process of legitimisation of such power. Democracy can indeed function only upon this faith that elections are free and fair and not rigged and manipulated, that they are effective instruments of ascertaining popular will both in reality and in form and are not mere rituals calculated to generate illusion of difference to mass opinion, it cannot survive without free and fair elections. The election at present are not being hold in ideal conditions because of the enormous amount of money required to be spent and large muscle power needed for winning the elections. While the first three general elections (1952-62) in our country were by and large free and fair, a discernible decline in standards began with the fourth general election in 1967. No such events were reported till the fourth general election. Over the years, Indian electoral system suffers from serious infirmities. The election process in our country is the progenitor of political corruption. The distortion in its working appeared for the first time in the fifth general elections, 1971, and multiplied in the successive elections especially those held in eighties and thereafter. Some of the candidate and parties participate in the process of elections to win them at all costs, irrespective of moral values. There has been very sharp erosion in the ideological orientation of political parties. Party dynamics in India has led to the emergence of valueless politics much against the ideals of the so called father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who suggested that the Congress party should be disbanded after the achievement of Independence and its members should engage themselves in the service of the people. While Gandhi taught us tremendous selflessness, self sacrifice and service, to the people, such inspirational values, the democratic norms and institutions have been destroyed systematically over the last years of the working of the Constitution. In the process, both the politicians and political parties have lost their credibility, the ultimate value that should bind them with the masses. There seems to be a crisis of character amongst the politicians, as the system does not encourage the honest leader. Because of the falling moral standards both in the public and among the leaders, criminalisation of politics and politicisation of criminals has become the norm. Due to degeneration of leadership, parties have been entangled in power struggle for the sake of personal ends. In a moral pursuit of power politics, every major player seems to be playing a no holds barred game. The Gandhian value of the spirit of service to the nation has become completely extinct from the present day politics.
Chaiwala : In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Modi had repeatedly played up his humble origins. Congress leaders Mani Shankar Aiyar and Bhalchandra Mungekar referred to him as ‘chaiwala’ in a derogatory manner.
Neech aadmi : Mani Shankar Aiyar went at PM Modi again in December 2017, calling him ‘neech admi’. That quickly went sour considering its casteist overtones.
Chowkidar chor hai : This is from this elections season. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi passed this remark repeatedly, in reference to the Rafale deal controversy and allegations of Modi’s favourable treatment of some industrialists. Again, the controversy was sparked by the apparently ‘lowly’ reference to the PM.
Naamdaar : Narendra Modi dishes out personal attacks just as he takes them. His response to the ‘chowkidar’ remark was to belittle Rahul Gandhi as ‘naamdar’.
Shahzada : Modi has time and again made fun of Rahul Gandhi as ‘shahzada’, or prince. This was a regular feature of his tirades against the apparent nepotism of the Congress’s brand of politics.
50-crore-rupee girlfriend : Modi called Sunanda Pushkar, wife of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, a ’50 crore rupee girlfriend’. The inscrutable Tharoor quipped back that his wife was priceless.
Goongi gudiya : Socialist icon called Indira Gandhi ‘goongi gudiya’ (dumb doll). However, he wouldn’t live long enough afterward to see her first take over her party with an iron fist, then seize the country with the Emergency.
Actress, mistress, lesbian: Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa fought more than just the rugged political battles, she had to stand up to the misogyny that’s inherent in our politics. From attacks on the actress’s allegedly loose morals early in her career to the nature of her relationship with her political mentor MG Ramachandran, she weathered heaps of personal abuse and then some. Later in life, she would even become the subject of hushed speculation that she was a lesbian.
Italian barmaid : In Indian politics, pasta is apparently not kosher. Former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has faced waves and waves of criticism over her Italian heritage. Her relatively humble beginnings before her marriage to a scion of India’s top political dynasty is an repeated insult by her opponents.
Digvijaya Singh and Amrita Rai : The senior Congress leader and the television anchor came in waves of snide remarks in 2015, when they acknowledged their relationship in public and later married. Much of the personal tirade against the two centred around the age difference between them.
Khaki Rang : Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan apparently saying about the colour of the underwear of his opponent Jaya Prada, from BJP. He said “ main 17 din me pahchaan gaya ki inke neeche ka underwear khakhi rang ka hai.”
In her book Friends of Voltaire Evelyn Beatrice Hall had wrote a phrase, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”? To many, this sums up what a democracy means. Elections as an integral part of democracy creates an environment where various political honchos and parties get their say and the people, the electorate, get to listen to all sides before making an informed decision. In many countries, a spectacular display of the above said phrase is help up. In the US, for example, prior to the presidential elections, the main candidates engage in a number of public debates. If one would have ever seen one of these debates, the speeches of modern day Indian politicians may stand out in stark contrast. While these are about as different as chalk and cheese, for those who wish to know the one most important difference, here it is – our politicians are among the most abusive anywhere on the planet. Their speeches are overflowing with foul-mouthed personal attacks rather than any contentious issue that they may wish to resolve once elected to power. The use of wit, humour, and subtle sarcasm is non-existent and one may be thankful if expletives are trimmed in these speeches. One can only stop to wonder, “Where is Indian political system going?”
Moral rot in today’s electioneering
There is a world of difference between legal and ethical actions. Morality depends on social norms and society approval. For example a person fighting for revolution might be moral but it might conflict with law of the land. Law is based on the approved actions as laid down in the charter of the law of the land. There was a time when morality had value and was upheld in many occasions. Gandhi ji going into fast upto death is morally justified for a cause but may not be legal as per the law of the land. Every action cannot be classified into morality but it depends on what values a society cherishes. Telling lies was much condemnable act till very recently but now in the age of fake news and political fuzzy climate anything and everything seemed to be acceptable and not much hue and cry is raised. Society has become much more materialist than years of struggle and sacrifice that we saw during freedom movement. But what I see in this election is the apex of that rot which we are witnessing in actions and speech of the public figures. Social media has rendered it easy to indulge in vulgar and dirty talk of persons in social field especially politicians. It is positive step that voluntarily media and users have approached Chief Election Commissioner for evolving a common code of conduct. It is very creditable that twitter and other sites too are joining them and ready to take a voluntary code. Many serious breaches of morality need to be debated.
No shame is left in fake news for example Arvind Kejriwal has made unproved charges against people and they went to court. Once he saw he is in trouble he apologized and he did it with Arun Jaitley and Gakari as well others. Making lose allegations to some extent are illegal but a lot cannot be proved in court of law. There used to be time when people felt shame and avoided public appearance. Not now the same man continues again to make the lose talk in public and call names. No Prime Minister has been abused so much as Narendra Modi. I recall that someone made insulting remark in electronic media against Manmohan Singh was promptly hauled up but nothing happened in BJP ‘s time and
Modi has been most tolerant to abuse and filthy talk. To call a PM a thief brazenly may not be illegal but certainly immoral especially when there is no proved material in the public domain against him. Even Supreme Court is perplexed at this bizarre conduct and has issued a notice for explaining it. No one so far in the history has addressed a PM of the country as thief. It is not BJP or the other it is a question of national honour and respect of electorate’s wishes. Again to be on bail is not considered an action involving shame and many leaders on bail are openly campaigning about opponents. Convicted Lallu Prasad is an eminent example of corrupt leaders brazenly in action.
Another immoral or morally questionable issue is politicians without any ideology pursuing self interest without any shame.Those who claim to be working for the social good are actually working for self only. Take Kejriwal who was begging Congress for an alliance. What is morality left in his condemnation of Sheila Dixit as most corrupt leader and fighting against the corruption, now joining the same? Eating one’s own words is no shame. Was he fooling public when he said he is fighting the corrupt? Socialist Party in UP has alliance with BSP who was its arch enemy. In Himachal Pradesh the case of Sukhram, who was cabinet Minister in the centre and caught in graft case with cash in his bedroom, is in news. He changed his parties five time when in power for personal gain. He got his son elected and lobbied to make his son a Minister. He does not stop here but now seeks MP ticket for his grandson and when BJP denies it he joined Congress successfully bargaining for a ticket of chosen home constituency. Moral shame is thrown to winds when the Minister father refused to resign from Cabinet in rival party of BJP. On refusing to compaign against his son which he had to do he resigns as Minister but continues as MLA which he thinks is his right. BJP treated him with soft glove and failed to enforce proper discipline which does not give credit to the Chief Minister in his flip flop.
It is essential we follow law but equally important is that political leaders must maintain honorable conduct.
By Prof. NK Singh
(The writer is International Management Adviser)
Personal Attacks in Politics
The personal ethics of a politician or a leader is always in question in the minds of the electorate when it comes to casting votes. In India, however, personal attacks have become the norm, irrespective of the political stand taken by any politician over issues faced by the country. What’s an election season without over-the-top campaign rallies and some wildly bizarre statements from netas so determined to get elected or re-elected, that they sometimes breach even the low bar set for believable declarations by saying things that repeatedly imperil our sanity? The social media age has certainly scaled up the volume (both in decibel and sheer quantity) of what we experience in the run up to the polls and the high-stakes results at the other end. When reality can be warped, or opinions shifted or amplified according to the precision with which a hashtag can be crafted and how popular it can become, the nature of our political engagement has gone through a re-modelling, even as it sets up yet another barrier for the most marginalised to engage. Right from his ascendency to political upper echelons, incumbent PM Narendra Modi has bore the brunt of most personal attacks from his opponents. As the poll fever rises, many politicians have stooped so low that the political narrative is sometimes hitting below the belt.
Abusive Language-A Global trend
Use of abuses has been a global trend and politicians in nations supposedly the most civilised ones, too resort to profanity with aplomb. From Indonesia to Turkey and Britain to the USA, more and more political leaders, including heads of state, have been using expletives to deride opposition and to aggressively make a point. Hence, there is little surprise when the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slams protesters, calling them “looters,” or the Opposition Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli calling the ruling AK party leaders “half-intellectuals, terror peddlers, blood barons, death mongers…” In the year 2014, on May22, the BBC had been forced to apologise following a “f**kwit” remark by former police minister and Conservative MP, Nick Herbert, during a live lunchtime politics show.
Old habits die hard and foul mouthing is one such habit. In an interview on June 8, 2010 on the Today show, US President Barack Obama raised many eyebrows by using the term “whose ass to kick”. Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush too was recorded describing a reporter a “major-league a—hole”, during the 2000 election campaign. Late Lyndon B. Johnson, who was the US president during the Vietnam War, had famously dirty mouthed Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson for his anti-Vietnam stance by saying, “You pissed on my rug”. Even the current president of the USA, Donald Trump, is a known bad-mouther. He once said about his predecessor, Barack Obama “”Our great African-American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!”
Dignity and Sophistication – What the hell?
By the time India had gained independence, the earliest crop of political leaders emerged and taught the nation valuable lessons in grace and dignity. What did quite help was the fact that most of them were highly educated and those who did not gain any formal education gained their dignity by placing national interests above petty political ambitions. By no means do we expect the current generation of politicians to mimic a Rajendra Prasad or Gokhale or Tilak but the least expectations of refraining from mud throwing and hurling abuses seems too much to ask. While none of our children seem to be stuck to radios and transistors to listen to the Prime Minister’s Mann ki Baat, nor do any of us congregate in masses to deliberate on our national leaders and their promises, it is a fact that most of us do not wish to put ourselves or our families through the pains of hearing abusive political speeches.
The Indian Parliament has come to be known for its violence, and for any lack of grace in conduct. Frequent disruptions and name calling are common but this is not surprising, perhaps, given that about one- third of all the members elected to the Parliament have criminal cases pending against them including charges of murder, rape, and communal disharmony. From being caught snoring during session to watching pornography in the house, Indian politicians have done it all, said it all. Protests and sit-ins in the Indian Parliament have become almost an every-day affair now. It is almost a dream to expect our political leaders to ever let a session go by smoothly with them giving each other time to speak and voice their opinions. According to PRS Legislative, a think tank and research group, lawmakers in the lower House of Parliament Lok Sabha spent a dismal 21 per cent of their time in parliamentary business while their counterparts in the upper House, Rajya Sabha, worked for 27 per cent of scheduled time—all of it paid for by frustrated taxpayers. Further broken down, the figures show Lok Sabha MPs spent a niggardly 1 per cent of their time on actual legislative
business, while their colleagues in Rajya Sabha did marginally better at 5 per cent. The frequency of disruptions in Parliament is so alarming that they not only present a television spectacle, they have become a source of study for researchers. As livemint highlights Carole Spary of the School of Political Science and International Relations in Nottingham University, UK, argues disruptions in India “highlight the symbolic significance (people’s) representatives attach to performing parliamentary rituals.” Punishments are rarely enforced by the Speaker, she says in a chapter on India in Ceremony and Ritual in Parliament, edited by Shirin M. Rai. This “accommodative approach”, says Spary, is surprising and “suggests disruptions have become institutionalized as an informal ritual of representation in the chamber.” We, the people, have been left wondering if we are merely moving from the frying pan to the fire between political parties and leaders in India.
In a political environment where every leader seems to be in a race to outdo the other in abusing and bad mouthing the others, the common man is the ultimate loser. It is in times such as these that we start to miss the subtle, self-deprecatory humour of leaders such as AB Vajpaee and the ability of Narasimha Rao to speak eloquently in 16 languages. But then, perhaps, such leaders were misfits in India’s political system.
By Nilabh Krishna