Elections are described, habitually by our super articulate anchors, as the Festival of Democracy. Unfortunately, most of us accept this proposition mindlessly. The result is that we have become blind to bitter reality that this ‘festival’ has over the years become a dangerous and cruel spectator sport where innocents and the desperate risk their life and limb, and the winner—first past the post by hook or crook—takes all. What we are witnessing this time is a dance macabre with an emasculated Election Commission (EC) leaving the citizens in no doubt about its visual impairment, challenged hearing and speech impediments.
Whatever had been done by the EC in past two decades to rid elections of corrupt practices and violence has been undone in the past few months. The ugly and frightening scenes telecast on the small screen have exposed the breakdown of law and order in Didi’s Bengal and partisanship of the state bureaucracy.
Unfortunately, the last hope—the judiciary—has become the lost hope. The way the CJI, rattled by allegation of sexual harassment by a junior member of his staff, has handled the issue is as good as shooting oneself in the foot. There is general agreement among jurists that principles of natural justice were needlessly violated and efforts at course correction after widespread criticism appear not enough and a bit late.
But why blame the institutions that have failed us? It is well said that people get the government they deserve. Dr Ambedkar had observed long ago that a constitution is only as good as the individuals that man the institutions. It is not only the elected representatives who have repeatedly disappointed us. The supposedly ‘the best and the brightest’ who join the civil services lose no time in mutating into chameleons.
Another myth that has been perpetuated about elections is that the common man knows better than any pundit what is good for him. He remains silent but delivers a hard kick when the time comes to get rid of those elected representatives masquerading as ‘servants of the people’ but living as feudal overlords and ‘new maharajas’. The man or woman on the street continues to be swayed by ‘the wave’, be it unleashed by a charismatic Modi or many moons ago, by Mrs G. There is much hype every time about the new ‘first time’ young voters who are free from caste or creed prejudice and are concerned only about their future bread and butter issues, inclusive development. Can we state with some certainty that this indeed is the case? If this were really the case, why would major political parties busy themselves forging alliances balancing casteist and communal equations? The youth comprises the largest segment of India’s population today. They are the undisputed majority. Why do they remain silent when they are needed most to speak out?
It perhaps needs to be underlined that the ‘constituency of youth’ is fractured by many faultiness. Do the rich and poor, the urbanite and rural, the educated unemployed and restless unlettered, and the downtrodden and social stigmatised think alike? Are their dreams shared? Alas, it is not possible to answer this in affirmative. The youth is perhaps more prone to be swayed by passion than decide the course of action listening to the voice of reason.
Most distressing has been the decline in the level of political discourse. Neither the ruling BJP-NDA nor the parties in opposition have bothered to mind their language. Vulgar vile abuse has become the norm. Sadly, the ‘winnability’ of the candidate seems to weigh more than anything else. The BJP fielding Pragya Thakur, Sakshi Maharaj and Giriraj Singh are prime examples of this. Pragya Thakur is probably going to end up causing more damage to the BJP than an adversary like Diggy Raja could. Her comments on Hemant Karkare were totally uncalled-for and constrained the hurt family of the martyr to state that they would be happy to return the Ashok Chakra awarded to the police officer who had made the supreme sacrifice fighting terrorists.
Loose canons and unguided missiles can only lose battles. Zipping lips after shooting from the hip cannot bring back to life the casualties from friendly fire.
The Congress, meanwhile, has acquired an unenviable reputation for predictable launching of damp squibs—duds instead of scuds. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has once again demonstrated that she cannot swoop from the sky to conquer. She may enthuse family retainers who continue to see in her the image of her grandmother, to our mind she only distracts from the exertions of forever striving Rahul Bhaiyya.
We await further rounds of voting across the land and the results on May 23 not exactly with bated breath but with much despair and sense of deja vu.
Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University