Polls and democratic politics are always intertwined. The former is in fact a key act in the play, or its central dramatic device—one that should unlock the real themes of people’s rule. Ideally, what political parties should be campaigning about is their manifesto, what they plan to do on policy issues, at the micro and macro levels. And whoever presents a better template, convincingly, should be getting vote. That’s the theory.
In reality, electoral politics does not follow the textbook anywhere in the world. It necessarily navigates a dynamic set of complexities, with realpolitik always in the frame. But judged even against that duality, we seem to have hit rock bottom. Shallow and shrill public discourse, inflected by coarse rhetoric and scaremongering, seems to be the new normal. Social media is often blamed for the new low that we witness.
Yet, the troll is a faceless, disembodied creature—like with the shadowy members of a ‘mob’, responsibility is not only difficult to fix, doing that will not suffice. The real determinants of political discourse, those who sanction the vocabulary, are all public leaders. A veteran like Vilas Muttemwar referencing the prime minister’s parentage is inexcusable. It reeks of elitism, a social prejudice that perhaps Muttemwar’s own politics does not reflect. Nor does it have any bearing on the proposed governance or policy matrix of any party.
Similarly, a newlyminted political gadfly like Sambit Patra, a spokesperson of a national party, calling the first prime minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and two subsequent PMs the ‘Thugs of Hindustan’ is an insult to Indian democracy. It neither qualifies as true ideological politics, nor does the momentary derisive laughter it evokes in a TV debate cover anyone else in contrastive glory. It’s plain abuse and drags everyone down.