Contradictions have defined India for centuries as an indefinable entity where the past and the present clamour for attention. By 2020, independent India will be the youngest country in the world, but it also ranks No. 2 in the post-sixty department. The country is a septuagenarian. But its political class speaks like a denarian. Even as the nation matures, its netas squabble like nasty neophytes. They seek to excel not in consensus, but in the choreography of belligerence. None of the New Age leaders speaks for harmonious India, or a positive agenda.
Their syntax is not the doctrine of governance. Instead, they hold forth on caste, community, reservation, temple and freebies. The world’s largest democracy, with over 900 million voters, is no longer a theatre of ideas and counter-ideas. There is no memorable clash of ideological titans. In the raging electoral war, an eye for an eye translates as abuse vs abuse.
Leaders of all political parties are delving deep into the nauseating pit of invectives to scrounge for labels to paint their adversaries black and blue. Congress leaders categorise Prime Minister Modi as a combination of Masood Azhar, Osama, Dawood and ISI. The Congress president has lampooned the BJP slogan as ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai.’ A few weeks later, Modi hit back at his first election rally in Meerut, terming the SP-RLD-BSP alliance as ‘Sarab’ (liquor). The pun used the first alphabets of the three parties’ names to warn voters that the combined opposition was not a sober choice.
Since the countdown for the 17th Lok Sabha elections began, all the national, regional and smaller outfits are engaged in a revilement competition. Neither grassroots workers nor national leaders discuss issues and ideologies. There is hardly a party or an individual who hasn’t picked up the noxious new narrative. Not good, but bad and ugly are the new normal. Freelance lyricists, local academics and entertainers have been roped in to invent the choicest invectives and adjectives to smear political opponents. Sticking to a respectable code of conduct is conceding defeat without a fight.
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Dialogue decadence has reached such an abysmal low that political rivals even abjure social contact with one another. Instead they settle scores on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp. Misogyny is the toxic glue that binds them as women become the most convenient target to get public ratings. The moment a woman enters politics or speaks for or against any leader or ideology, she becomes the victim of poisonous personal attacks. Priyanka Gandhi’s skin colour was mocked. When film star Urmila Matondkar plunged into direct politics, her character was viciously trolled. Jaya Prada, an experienced politician, wasn’t spared either. Political players depend on the art of abusive adjectives to get plum party posts. It is simply not cricket: a fifty or a century of abuses used or invented by a politician earns them laurels and attention from their bosses. They are rewarded not for attracting more voters but for shaming and defaming detractors of their leader.
From Kolkata to Calicut, and from Chandigarh to Chennai, populist hawkers offer their parties like street vendors selling vegetables. The content, tone and tenor of these election warriors clearly reflects the anarchic absence of ideological education. Their words do not revolve around track records or legacy, nor do they offer updates of their performance. The developmental cartography of India’s future is absent from their vocabulary. Ever since Campaign 2019 began, both Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi have unleashed personal attacks on each other. Ironically, there is enough material for both to talk about their commitment to the development of India as a superpower. Modi has delivered on many of his promises. He can legitimately claim that his government has exceeded expectations in many critical areas in five years compared to Congress governments in the past six decades.
Yet, he is convinced that elections are won with verbal duels and not by using statistical evidence of progress. Though the ignominious past of UPA sarkars haunts the Congress, its president can dwell on the rise of India as a modern state during his party’s rule. He can also assert that his grandmother and father died to protect the idea of an inclusive India. However, Rahul’s high-voltage personal offensive against Modi is relentless. The demeanour and body language of both indicate they are on the road to the perdition of politeness.
Why has the poll debate hit such a dismal low? Is it because of demographic changes? Does new India espouse the culture of confront-and-affront to score brownie points? The India of Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, EMS Namboodiripad, Ram Manohar Lohia, Indira Gandhi, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jyoti Basu, Chandrashekher, P V Narasimha Rao et al. had a cordial ethos in the worst of times, thereby maintaining national cohesiveness. They questioned each other’s political philosophy but never raised doubts about the other’s integrity.
Some sociologists believe that the unusual aggression in Indian political engagement today reflects the changed nature of the Indian population. With over 65 per cent of Indians being below 35 years of age, the younger leadership is reaching out to the temper of mores in a style and manner that would ensure instant connectivity and dividend—young blood boils faster. Another reason could be that the social and economic background of the new political entrants is dissimilar to that of their predecessors, which was dominated by the urban elite or landed farmers whose upbringing was more refined.
The political class struggle has brought victory to the ignored and the oppressed who had been denied their due in the hierarchy. Moreover, social connectivity between political rivals has almost vanished in the past decade. Previously they would fight inside Parliament or the Assemblies, but dine and wine together after sunset. Today, national leaders or chief ministers meeting for an informal dinner or lunch is unheard of, and met with suspicion. The Constructive Contrarian has been replaced by the Coerced Conformist. India’s USP as a country with unity and diversity as its core beliefs is threatened. If parties cannot ensure a nationally acceptable minimum agenda for governance, they should at least evolve a civilized code of communication. Democracy survives through dialogue, not diatribe.
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