By Poonam I Kaushish
Democracy is a conflict of interests masquerading as a contest of principles in this theekha-dhoondhar election season. A saying which aptly nails our politicians’ lies as they go about spewing vitriolic accusations, threats and coercion against their rivals spiced with the right caste and communal combinations. All depending on which side of the Hindu-Muslim coin one is. Swaying to the heady tinkle of money, cheap thrills and seetees, with the devil taking the hindmost!
The power of rhetorical public abuse by our candidates underscores political discourse is only rabble rousing, devoid of substance, spreading hatred and widening the communal divide on religious lines to garner votes. First of the mark was UP Chief Minister Yogi who asserted Hindu and Muslim voters are in an “Ali-Bajrang Bali” contest and then called an SP rival ‘Babar ka aulad’. Countered BSP’s Mayawati, “I want to make an open appeal Mere Muslim bhaiyoin apne vote humain de….Ali is ours, so is Bajrang Bali.”
Stepped in Prime Minister Modi, “Rahul is scared of contesting from constituencies dominated by the majority population and is taking refuge in places where the majority is in a minority….Hindus will teach the Congress a fitting lesson for coining the term “Hindu terror”. Adding fuel to fire BJP President Amit Shah wondered whether Rahul’s Wayanad rally was in “Pakistan or India” referring to Congress ally Indian Union Muslim League’s green flags. Later tweeting: “We will remove every single infiltrator (Muslim) from the country except Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs”
More communal-speak. Union Minister Maneka Gandhi said she would be disinclined to help Muslims if they do not vote for her. “I am winning the election…But if I win without help from Muslims….Then when Muslims come seeking jobs, I will think let it be, what difference does it make? After all, jobs are a kind of trade. We are not like Mahatma Gandhi — that we will keep on giving, and then keep getting beaten in elections.”
Responded AAP’s Kejriwal, “BJP considers minorities as ‘infiltrators’….mob lynchings is taking place in the county under the guise of cattle theft which is actually organised murder.” Added Telangana Chief Minister Chandrashekar Rao, “These (self-proclaimed) Hindus are useless and disgusting…They want to stoke fire in the country and belong in the gutter.”
Punjab Minister Sidhu went a step further and brazenly solicited Muslim vote as did J&K Congress leaders who asked voters of a “particular religion” to vote for the Party. Topped by SP leader Azam Khan’s repugnant remark on BJP rival Jaya Prada, “she wears a khaki (RSS colour) underwear.” Sic.
Purely shock value? Scoring brownie points? Not at all. The nastier and hateful a speech, the better. In one fell stroke all trashed the Election Commission’s Moral Code of Conduct clause: “There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, churches, temples or other places of worship shall not be used for election propaganda.”
Unfortunately, instead of asking rivals what they bring to the table and their vision about India’s future all are falling prey to poll exigencies. Nobody wants to address questions on why discourses are becoming more venomous and toxic? Can such intemperate language which blatantly deepens religious cleavages by pitting Indians against each other be condoned as said in ‘the heat of the moment’ or dismissed as all is fair in love and war?
Clearly, the blame for this descent of political discourse lies squarely with Parties. Quick to crack the whip and complain to the EC all shy away from demanding the same discipline for crude and repulsive swipes at rivals. Barring a warning or ban on electioneering for two-three days the EC’s action against communal hate speeches totals a mere rap on the knuckles.
Who does one fault? Given our netas have perfected intemperate language to inject poison in society over the years. Namely, dangerous and diabolical machinations of vote-bank politics, pitting Hindus against Muslims, creating fissiparous tendencies resulting in a communal divide.
The Congress accuses the BJP for engineering a Hindu majoritarian communal style of politics in India by using tactics like attempting to electorally marginalise Muslims to patronising communal violence, especially around the emotive issue of cow protection and love jihad. The Hindutva Brigade slams its rival as a ‘Muslim party’ part of the “tukde-tukde gang” which protects terrorists and is “working on Pakistan’s agenda” and belongs there.
Undeniably, we are watching cut-throat communalism at work. Whereby, our netas have made nationalism and the Hindu-Muslim vote-bank the tour de force of politics. With every leader propounding his self-serving recipe of ‘communal’ harmony harbouring the same intention: To keep their gullible vote-banks emotionally charged so that their own ulterior motives are well-served. Never mind, the nation is getting sucked into the vortex of centrifugal bickerings.
Raising more questions: How does one control the hate mongers and blunt them? Has our polity realized the ramifications of their actions? Would it not only further divide the people on creed lines but is also antithetical to hope of narrowing India’s burgeoning religious divide, thereby unleashing a Frankenstein.
Clearly, in a milieu of competitive democracy, if caste politics ensures convergence of electoral booty, politics based on religion has better chance of polarising voters via vicious poison tongued speeches inducing raw emotions of hostility and hate. Who cares if it is destructive and stokes communal violence and sows the seeds of rabid communalism.
Importantly, no quarter should be given to those who fan hatred among people and communities. Be it a Hindu ‘messiah’ or a Muslim ‘mullah’. Both are destroyers of the State, which has no religious entity. Thus, our moral angst cannot be selective but should be just, honourable and equal.
In a mammoth one billion plus country there would be a billion views whereby one cannot curtail people’s political beliefs and rights. One is free not accepting another’s view as it is a matter of perception. A statement objectionable to one might be normal for another. However, no licence should be given to anyone to spread hatred or ill-feeling towards any community or against atheists who do not see themselves as Ram-Rahim-Jesus children.
In this dog whistle politics of surcharged communalised election campaign with dangerous ideas expressed in fissiparous and communal language which appeal to baser emotions and promises unapologetically sectarian and communal beliefs, the time has come for our petty-power-at-all-cost polity to think beyond vote-bank politics and look at the perilous implications of their insidious out-pourings which inject poison in society.
Today, the country is facing an existential crisis —- a pluralist, inclusive India is defending itself against communal divisive electioneering. Our new representatives in Parliament should adopt a zero-tolerance stance on offensive and disruptive language. The message has to go out clearly that no leader belonging to community, caste or group can spew hatred, and if they do, they lose their democratic right to be heard. Such rhetoric has no place in a civilised polity.
In the ultimate netas need to realize a nation is primarily a fusion of minds and hearts and secondarily a geographical entity. India is a big country with enough room for all to live in peace and goodwill. The aim should be to raise the bar on public discourse, not lower it any more. India could do without leaders who distort politics and in turn destroy democracy. They must desist from using caste and creed as pedestals to stand on to be seen. Will they heed? —— INFA