Premuim On Slander
By Poonam I Kaushish
Democracy is a conflict of interests masquerading as a contest of principles in this theekha-dhoondhar election season. An adage which nails our politicians’ lies as they spew vitriolic under-the-belt slander and acerbic gutter-sniping interspersed with the heady tinkle of money and cheap thrills over the last fortnight. Underscoring that sleaze, sully and smirch are the new rajnitik dialogues spiced by frenzied audiences’ seetees. In the hope this would bring them political nirvana!
Welcome Bihar and MP Elections 2020 wherein immorality is the flavour of the season and the lines between a rajnetik virodhi ya jaani dushman have got blurred wherein the power of trash talk, sordid and spiteful tu-tu-mein-mein and brazen innuendoes by our netagan accentuates political discourse is only about spreading abuse, rabble rousing, devoid of substance and widen the political divide to garner votes.
First of the mark was former MP Chief Minister Kamal Nath who commented on ex-Congress leader now BJP Cabinet Minister Imarti Devi’, “Our candidates are straightforward in nature, not like her, what is her name… why should I even take her name? What an item!” Countered a BJP leader, “Why is Vishwanath Singh hiding information about his first wife and mentioned his ‘Rakhail’ in the nomination papers?
In Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar patted himself for ending RJD’s ‘jungle raj’ and establishing ‘rule of law’. Stepped in Prime Minister Modi, “The Opposition has formed a ‘pitara’ which allowed Naxal movement.” Added a senior BJP leader “We are stuck between a Pappu (Rahul) and a jor-tor mandali (Mahagathbandhan).” Shot back Rahul, “Wherever Modi goes he only lies.”
Adding fuel to fire RJD’s Tejashvi averred that Nitish was “mentally and physically tired. He has no choice but to sit in a chair and spend the rest of his life.” Responded the JD(U) Chief, “ Kahan bhage phir rahey theh? Where did you stay in Delhi?”
Purely shock value? Scoring brownie points? Not at all. The nastier and slanderous a speech, the better. True, one can shrug it off as part and parcel of political dialogue. But the fact is that netas have perfected intemperate language down the years. Recall, the Congress calling Modi “Gandi naali ka keeda aur Ganguteli, ahankari Duryodhana and katil”, who in turn called it the “Spokespersons of Pakistan.”
More. “Mayawati khud roz facial karwati hain…..unke baal paka hua hai aur rangeen karwake ke aaj bhi apne aap ko Mayawati jawan saabit karti hain. 60 varsh umar ho gayi lekin sab baal kaale hain.” Trinamool’s Tolabaazi Tax’ enforced by Bhua Mamata and her bhatija.
In one fell stroke all trashed the Election Commission’s Moral Code of Conduct clause which bars Parties and candidates from criticizing private life and unverified allegations. After all, how would their art of double-speak succeed if the preachers of morality were to start practicing it?
Raising a moot point: Going by the low conviction rate, are MCC cases purely symbolic? Shouldn’t the EC take immediate action, as it is pointless to act on complaints post polls? Wouldn’t cases stemming from FIRs gain more strength if the Code was legal? Shouldn’t MCC stipulations get statutory status as suggested by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in 2013?
Alas, these questions have been niggling the EC. For by the time it arrives at an answer, votes have been cast. Whereby the violations became infructuous and die a natural death. Simply because the Code is only a voluntary compact arrived between the EC and Parties and has no statutory binding. With Parties and candidates wantonly violating it, the Commission is powerless.
Asserted a senior official, “The Code lacks legal sanction and is intended to work as a moral policeman to ensure free and fair elections. We can only freeze a Party’s election symbol or derecognize it as a national Party. Nothing more, nothing less.” In other words one can merrily violate the Code wantonly and yet get elected to the Lok Sabha and Assemblies.
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 blurs the lines between statecraft and witchcraft, what is correct and incorrect be condoned as said in ‘the heat of the moment’ or dismissed as all is fair in love and war?
Sadly, through this entire diatribe one thing emerges crystal clear: the political skullduggery indulged in mirrors the harsh and horrendous reality of our polity: Politics has denigrated to the sewer level.
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 acerbic hate speeches totals a mere rap on the knuckles.
Shockingly, “there are more than 3 crores cases pending across the country, which also includes cases filed for violating the poll code. So it is wrong to believe that most of those FIRs don’t lead to any conviction. Many cases are still on. The EC can’t ask the Judiciary to specially expedite these cases because it is beyond its domain,” asserts former CEC Gopalaswami.
Clearly, the time has come to take a good fresh look at the Code of Conduct and recast it. Importantly, there is urgent need to convert the Code into a law with the Commission having the power to take punitive actions. As another EC official confessed, “Presently our power is restricted to poll violations by Parties and cannot always be used. The Commission cannot withdraw the symbol every time.
“On individual candidates who violate the Code, the Commission could think of imposition of monetary penalty, disqualification and in an extreme case countermanding the election. Unacceptable behaviour by our netagan should be adversely publicized and the Government and Parties should publicly reprimand their candidate. But first we have to give more teeth to the Commission. Notwithstanding, that the Code might never become law as there are too many political interests aligned against it.”
It is simply stupid to lament about the falling standards of morality in politics in these Covid times. At the end of the day, the system, Government, Parties and politicians none cares a damn for decency and decorum and it matters little who wins the elections as we the people are the ultimate losers.
Who does one fault? Obviously, the blame for this descent of political discourse lies squarely with netas and Parties who have perfected intemperate language to inject poison in society over the years. Namely, immoral, dangerous and diabolical machinations of vote-bank politics, creating discordant tendencies.
Consequently, in this dog whistle politics of surcharged abusive election campaign the very idea of democracy has been vitiated. How long will we allow profligacy to be the bedrock of India’s democracy? Time our leaders tone down divisive and personal attacks, engage each other on issues affecting the people and nation and not personalities, put electioneering back on the rails of dignified debate and adopt a zero-tolerance stand on offensive language.
The aim should be to raise the bar on public discourse. India could do without leaders who distort politics and in turn destroy democracy. We need to stop voting for shameless, self-serving netas who put a premium on immorality. Can a nation be bare and bereft of all sense of morality? And, for how long? Think. —— INFA