Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.

Life after the Big E: It’s time to reclaim our rights and lives

The run-up to the elections and the actual contest has left not a few bruised and battered in body and spirit.

Once elections for the Lok Sabha 2024 are over, almost a billion Indians will try to resume interrupted lives. One is strongly tempted to refer to ourselves—ordinary ‘we the people’—as ‘election survivors’ following the politically correct terminology in vogue to describe victims of rape, acid attacks and those who have not succumbed to cancer the Big C.

The run-up to the elections and the actual contest has left not a few bruised and battered in body and spirit. One recalls the adage, ‘All is fair in love and war’ and who can dispute that elections in the largest democracy in the world have come to resemble mortal warfare where nothing is fair and possessive obsession threatens to destroy the object of one’s ‘love’.

From Ukraine to Gaza, Sudan and Yemen to Myanmar, violent conflicts rage where laws of war are routinely breached, war crimes committed and human rights violated. The supine servility of the Election Commission of India and a judiciary needlessly hesitant to protect the Constitution have created a climate where to talk of citizens’ rights or separation of powers has become meaningless. The myth of the level playing field has exploded.

Those entering the electoral battleground don war paint and try to terrify the opponents who are treated like vile enemies who have to be exterminated—not defeated. For the self-styled ‘just warriors’ this is not the festival of democracy they are participating in—they are head-hunting defenders of faith who don’t believe in taking prisoners. As the macabre war dance begins, everything is weaponised from statistics to religion. Masks and gloves are off—no holds barred. The frenzied febrile brain can’t process issues, ideologies or assess individual candidates any more.

The hustings resemble a Roman circus that presented a gory spectacle for the elite and was a life-threatening gamble for the gladiators. A hazardous tamasha that distracted the deprived from bread and butter issues. Lest we are accused of exaggeration, just look around and see myriad moneybags and musclemen strutting the stage. They are the ones who pull the strings and exercise power to add to piles of pelf. They have reduced the watchdogs into lapdogs, subverted institutions and shattered our dreams. What is most scary is the emergence of messianic saviours who blend narcissism with megalomania.

It was Mao who had famously said that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Retired bureaucrats, judges and generals in India have a different take. For all those bristling impatiently with ambition, power resides in the EVM. There is cutthroat competition to claim a seat in an engineering or medical college. The civil service examinations conducted by the UPSC are worse than other killing fields. The coaching institutions continued to publish full front page advertisements even at the height of electoral battles. The owners of these factories know that government service opens doors to the corridors of power.

Means of coercion and illegal persuasion help get one elected as peoples representatives—supremely privileged lawmakers virtually immune in their armoured cocoons. It was Henry Kissinger who had wisecracked once that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Many Indian politicians seem to have taken this literally. There is no shortage of serial offenders who are alleged to have sexually exploited minors under their protection or preyed on the helpless who came in their contact. If you belong to the ruling party or have patrons in the high command, the long hand of law can’t touch you. The accused doesn’t have to plead political vendetta. Like ex-MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, one can brazenly boast and brag of being a rogue bull not owned by anyone. Or, simply become invisible thanks to a diplomatic passport like Prajwal Revanna.

The filthy rich and uncontrollably powerful keep flaunting their clout. Their inebriated progeny drive fast cars killing hard-working breadwinners on footpaths and bikes and are let off shockingly lightly by judges brimming over with compassion for juveniles in conflict with law. The Porsche case in Pune is neither the first nor the last of its kind. The juvenile judicial system is in urgent need of reform. Juveniles on threshold of adulthood are recruited by organised criminal gangs to commit heinous crimes. The rich brats are told to write essays about safe driving, while the adolescent from the ghettos become hardened anti-social elements in the reformatory observation homes.

The third or the fourth largest economy in the world also has almost 800 million living on dole of food grains. Our eyes fixed on the future, we continue to live in memories of some Golden Age in the past. The present doesn’t seem to matter. We must avoid getting caught in verbal traps, fall prey to mirage of patently false promises of politicians and not cease striving to become more than survivors. We must reclaim our rights and lives.

Pushpesh Pant

Former professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University

The New Indian Express