DIRT, DIRTY, DIRTIER,
The state of acrimony and hatred generated this poll season has gone beyond all past records etched in the memory of both the old and the young who keenly witnessed this electoral democracy gradually taking shape during the post-Independence period. Even the 1977 general election, held immediately after the Emergency which saw the emergence of dictatorial powers and extra-Constitutional authorities, when the poll pitch was ordained by a combination of our entire people, remained logically muted and noticeably in low key.
Leaders like Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Kriplani, Morarji Desai, Jagjivan Ram, Raj Narayan, Charan Singh, Atal Behari Vajpayee and many more political stalwarts spearheaded an intense movement against the excesses of that black period, feeling terribly anguished with the anti-people actions initiated by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that systematically robbed the people of their basic liberties in the name of enforcing discipline in society.
Those leaders forcefully pleaded with the masses to oust Indira Gandhi’s "anti-people" regime which was hell-bent on unlawfully perpetuating its hold over the nation even after her election had been struck down by the court. The crusading leaders were angry over the draconian measures that the Emergency regime had enforced, but they wanted her ouster through the power of vote. They never slurred their tongues and stopped short of indulging in dirty tricks during the heat of that poll campaign, even though hundreds of leaders had been put behind bars.
Decades later, the present election has brought to the fore everything that a democracy despises and sends fie upon our depressive polity. But the breed of present power-hungry, greedy politicos playing dirty games is not ashamed. They remain full-throated, lip-rhymed with abuses, reviling and outrages that are apt to disgrace the nation. Two typically aggressive-looking leaders who the other day hurled choicest abuses on each other at public meetings were later seen drinking and dining together at a private place. One fails to understand what this means. Are they strange, psychic bed-fellows who live by nasty clamour and rejoice being blessed by the class of their own love-hate syndrome?
It's unfortunate that senior leaders, including the prime ministerial candidates, focus on the negative aspects of opponents. Mudslinging and character assassination have become a common feed, because they erroneously conclude that debate on the positives doesn't work much. All political parties indulge in irresponsible behaviour. Name-calling has become a rule rather than an exception. FIRs are lodged against hate-mongers under IPC sections, such as for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs, but concrete action seldom comes forth. Inaction, in effect, takes the Election Commission's authority away and leaves it fuming like an ineffectual angel. So, what do we do with this genre of leaders who repeatedly misbehave, yet roar back to power?
If Narendra Modi says he would not allow anybody to lay hands on the public treasury to loot, once he becomes "chowkidar" of the nation, Rahul Gandhi promptly retorts, "even chowkidars loot". If Modi calls Rahul "Shehzada", Congress' newly found marauder Beni Prasad Verma calls Modi "the biggest goonda of RSS". A "secularist" Muslim candidate threatens to cut Modi to pieces, but Rahul Gandhi prefers campaigning for him rather than handing down reprimand. BJP's Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje repiles to this secularist's fulmination in similar vein. SP's Azam Khan doesn't even spare the Kargil heros and obliquely undermines the bravery of Hindu soldiers. Much-touted Samajwadi leader Mulayam Singh Yadav defends Azam Khan and even takes time to plead for rapists. Sample this :" Rapists should not be hanged. Boys will be boys; they make mistakes."
Talking of rapists, Mamata Banerjee chose to make lighter of the grave offence and said: "Sometimes boys become naughty." Amit Shah asks the voters to "avenge" the wrongs done to them through the voting machine, his opponents paint him as a "revenge-seeking butcher. "In calling Modi and Shah "monsters" and "butchers" referring to the 2002 Gujarat riots, are the Congress and SP leaders really forgetting the 1984 mass killing of Sikhs and the recent riots in Muzaffarnagar? Over 100 riots have tragically disturbed UP's peace since SP's Akhilesh Yadav became the state's Chief Minister.
When Congress thought of fanning the snooping scandal with the idea of tainting Modi's prime ministerial ambition, it had not gauzed the public mood like a novice, outdated outfit in the field of sharp-shooters. Last time Sonia Gandhi's "Maut ka saudagar" jibe had fallen flat, this time " zahar ki kheti" slur is seen effectively recoiling on the party. Mud-slinging may or may not work, but Congress, BJP or any regional party are all banking on this base format of electioneering. So-called secularists have their propaganda machinery trained on Modi 24x7. But the question that is tormenting the Congress campaign managers is whether getting dirtier is really helping the party!
But this culture of dirty tricks may be new to our country, these have worked amazingly overseas too,in the US as well as in Europe. Do we remember the most infamous instance of this was in 1972 in America when five musclemen had barged into the Democratic Party's headquarters at Watergate. Actually, these activists had links to President Richard Nixon's re-election. Thank God, Watergate may still be away from us, but poll violence is much in evidence.
Its time for the Election Commission to get more effective in dealing with such nonsense. If it takes a lenient view of every enormity, suggestive of a passing phase with innocuous reading, democracy will take a miserable hit and no honest, well-meaning person will step in to enter politics, leaving the space wide open to hate-mongers, criminals, high-profile thieves and musclemen. Is Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath listening ?