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T K Thomas
T K Thomas
Opinion

BREAKING ALL BARRIERS!

Prof. T K Thomas

The ongoing 2019 General Elections would go down in history as unique and unprecedented. One does not remember such an acrimonious election which reflects the state of the nation and its political nay, moral temperature. Almost all barriers of conventions, codes, prudery and propriety have been broken in this election which is going on for over a month in seven phases. Here are some observations that may amuse us, shock us or even pain us. It indeed is like the theatre of the absurd.

So, where does one start? According to a hapless opposition the Election Commission was not using its powers to take action expeditiously for violation of the Model Code of Conduct by the ruling party. In fact the Supreme Court on 19th April came down heavily on the Commission on a case regarding NaMo TV and asked whether it is a ‘’toothless tiger”. Such comments from the apex court probably had sullied the image of the Commission and the media reported that the court had “nudged the Commission on the knuckles.” Since then the Commission became quite proactive banning people like UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, union minister Maneka Gandhi, Punjab minister Navjyot Sigh Siddhu and many others from campaigning for forty eight to seventy two hours; again a record of sorts.

The abysmal fall in the standard of political discourse points at the fears and desperation of political parties. Though every party puts up a brave front, there appears to be a lurking fear of failure to get the magic number of at least a simple majority in the Lok Sabha. Many of the surveys and opinion polls are alleged to be untrustworthy. No wonder the language of leaders from across the political spectrum has been unacceptable. Parties, starting from the ruling party and its leading lights were loud and blatantly ignored the Model Code of Conduct and periodic warnings from the Election Commission. Using the armed forces, their acts of valor and supreme sacrifices were disallowed by the Commission. But all those restrictions were either ignored or just broken, judging from the complaints filed by political opponents. Pulwama, Balakot, martyrdom of our fighting forces, use of religion, caste and community in speeches exhibited scant regard for the Election Commission. One would say that never in our electoral history phrases like ‘Modiji ke Sena’, speaking about the colour of female undergarments, referring to an entire community as anti nationals or virus, vulgar and abusive expressions like ’chor’ ‘haramza— or direct exhortation to the biggest minority community not to split votes were used so freely. Expensive audio visual productions, films, videos and publicity materials in fact came under the Commission’s scanner as examples of challenging the concept of ensuring a level playing field for all political parties. This General Election has indeed seen disregard to codes, norms and directives for free and fair elections.

Even on election day today[April23]in Gujarat, opposition spokespersons have alleged Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a ‘mini road show’ and addressed the media with references to terrorism and IED were violation of the Model Code. Well, it is for the Election Commission to decide the veracity of the allegation, if there are complaints.

This election season has seen heightened “Aya Ram Gaya Ram” activity or to put it simply, defections. One recalls how there were legislators crossing floor like bats jumping from one branch of the tree to another in Haryana in 1967! The term ‘’Aya Ram Gaya Ram’ became part of our political lexicon when a legislator Gaya Lal changed party thrice back and forth from the Indian National Congress to a United Front. The then Congress leader Rao Birendra Singh presented him before the press in Chandigarh when Aya Lal returned to the Congress a third time which prompted Rao Birendra Singh to quip, ”Gaya Ram is now Aya Ram.’’ There are plenty of defectors who moved from one party to another. For example the actor turned politician Jaya Prada, a former Samajwadi Party MP is now the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Rampur!

The “Aya Ram-Gaya Ram syndrome is in full play in the prestigious Allahabad constituency of Uttar Pradesh in this election. It is almost bizarre! The SP/BSP candidate is the former BJP MP, Shyama Charan Gupta who resigned from the party last month and joined the Samajwadi Party. The BJP candidate from Allahabad is Rita Bahuguna Joshi, a former national spokesperson of the Indian National Congress who resigned from the party in 2017 and joined the BJP ; became a legislator and joined the Yogi cabinet in UP. The Congress has fielded veteran BJP leader Yogesh Shukla from there. Allahabad thus has two former BJP leaders and a former Congress leader fighting on Samajwadi, Congress and BJP tickets respectively. Quite a political cocktail of Aya Ram- Gaya Rams!

Prominent among party hoppers during the ongoing elections are two of Indian National Congress’ official national party spokespersons Tom Vadakkan and the party’s communication Convener Priyanka Chaturvedi following the footsteps of Rita Bahuguna Joshi, their illustrious predecessor. While Tom Vadakkan was disillusioned with the party as he was reportedly not given a party ticket from his native state of Kerala, the well groomed Priyanka Chaturvedi quit accusing the Congress of shielding lumpen elements; she actually was assaulted or heckled by ‘Congress goons’ who were suspended and then last week were taken back by the Grand Old Party. The BJP has not yet rehabilitated Tom Vadakkan after he joined the BJP, a party he had been attacking relentlessly for over a decade. To everyone’s chagrin Priyanka Chaturvedi chose to join the regional party of Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena. Her colleague from the GOP almost justified her move as a career advancement initiative! While there have been visuals on the media of a beaming Chaturvedi with the Siv Sena chief Uddhav Thakeray, her male counterpart who joined the BJP in the presence of BJP president Amit Shah, now appears to be rather sheepish!

Meanwhile the BJP and opposition parties are busy inducting film and sports personalities. Already the BJP’s Hema Malini, candidate from Mathura as heroine of block buster film, Sholay’s Basanti, sometimes in the company of Veeru, aka Dharmendra was campaigning to retain her seat. BJP has fielded Malayalam film’s action hero Suresh Gopi from Trichur in Kerala. A Bollywood style electoral battle is on in West Bengal’s Asansol parliamentary constituency between sitting BJP MP and union minister Babul Supriyo, popular Hindi film playback singer and actress Moon Moon Sen contesting on a Trinamul Congress ticket. The late Kannada film star and Congress leader Ambarish’s wife and actor Sumalatha is contesting as an independent candidate supported by the BJP from Karnataka’s Mandya constituency against JD[S]’s Nikhil Kumaraswamy, the actor son of the state Chief Minister S D Kumaraswamy. There are rumors that Dharmendra’s son and action hero Sunny Deol who has joined the BJP is likely to be pitted, probably from Gurudaspur in Punjab.

There is almost an Olympian clash in the Jaipur Rural constituency in Rajasthan. The union Sports Minister and sitting MP Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, an Olympic silver medalist in shooting is challenged by Congress candidate, three-time Olympian and the first Indian woman to bag a Commonwealth gold medal in track and field event Krishna Punia. Punia was elected to the Rajasthan Legislative Assembly last year from Sadulpur. Former cricketer Gautam Gambhir is the BJP candidate from the East Delhi constituency and boxing champion Vijender Singh is fighting on a Congress ticket from South Delhi.

The BJP Delhi chief, sitting MP and well known Bhojpuri actor and singer Manoj Tiwari is the BJP candidate from Chandni Chowk in Delhi. Another popular Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan is contesting on a BJP ticket in Gorakhpur, the former Parliament constituency of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath which was wrested by the opposition in the by election in 2017. Incidentally, Praveen Nishad, the Nishad party man who defeated the BJP in the by election in 2017 is contesting the nearby seat of Sant Kabir Nagar as part of the NDA! Interestingly, the sitting BJP MP of Sant Kabir Nagar Sharad Tripathi was dropped for his muscular display of beating with sandal, a BJP legislator at a public meeting ; this incident had gone viral.

The Indian National Congress has fielded former Hindi actress Urmila Matondkar from Mumbai North. Both the Tamil superstars turned politicians Rajanikanth and Kamal Hasan are not fighting this election. International footballer Bhaichung Bhutia is contesting from two constituencies to the Sikkim Legislative Assembly from his own Hamro Sikkim Party. There are plenty of film personalities dabbling in politics from the Telugu film industry. Thespian N. T Rama Rao, who formed the Telugu Desam Party in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, became Chief Minister of the undivided Andhra Pradesh. During the current election one of the forces to be reckoned with in Telengana is Konidela Kalyan Babu, popularly known as “Power Star” Pawan Kalyan whose Jana Sena Party is giving a tough fight to the established parties.

Whatever may be the outcome; whoever may be the winner, the 2019 General Election seems to go down in history as an example of political opportunism, disregard to India as a nation, political immorality and skullduggery.