As we enter the penultimate round of the ongoing general elections it is becoming evident that the campaigning is becoming more and more hectic. Look at the star campaigner of the ruling party itself. The indefatigable Prime Minister himself has traversed the length and breadth of our vast subcontinent; according to an article published last week on he travelled to 27 states and union territories and attended over 200 programmes in 125 days. These programmes of the PM comprised town halls, road shows, rallies, meetings, temple visits, interviews and so on. It is worth mentioning that according to his detractors, the few interviews that were broadcast were perfectly rehearsed and the interviewers handled him with kid gloves. The only exception was the non political one with ‘Bollywood Khiladi’ and Canadian citizen Akshay Kumar which was hagiographical. One however has to appreciate the PM’s grit and stamina to withstand such a gruelling campaign schedule.
The 2019 elections have been really acrimonious and are media people’s delight. Even before the Election Commission announced the long schedule we were fed with a staple of animated discussions, ridiculous and illogical debates, colourful and mammoth rallies and road shows and what have you. What stood out have been the totally one sided coverage by the media and a feast of mutual abuses by political parties. The model Code of Conduct was observed by political parties with almost scant regard. The Election Commission was inundated with complaints and counter complaints and probably, for the first time was accused of partisan attitude. Congress itself has filed 11 complaints mostly against the Prime Minister and the BJP chief Amit Shah out of which only two nave been answered with clean chits. The Commission has sought more time to decide the cases. The Congress lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the apex court that ,the speed at which the Commission was disposing off their complaints ‘’it would take 270 more days, much after the elections’’ to take a call on the 9 pending complaints. The Supreme Court will examine the EC orders passed in the complaints by the Congress against the Prime Minister and Amit Shah.
There are allegations of bias against the Commission by opposition parties and the image of this constitutional body may further be sullied if unbiased decisions are not taken. Any alleged partisan decision by this regulatory body and any negative public perception would question the credibility of this institution which has a track record of fairness. Shouldn’t Caesar’s wife be above suspicion?
As the campaign enters the fifth phase it is noticed that the PM does not appear to be fresh and shows clear signs of fatigue, the stings of attack, oratory, satire and usual histrionics notwithstanding. Political observers hint at visible lack of confidence and even a wee bit of doubt on the part of the BJP leaders about the ruling party getting a clear majority this time around. Here are some of the purported reasons for this lack of confidence:-
During the first five phases of the elections, the issues focused by the ruling party seem to have changed from ‘Vikas’ or development issues to emotional and sectarian to their brand of nationalism and national security. The latest is bringing back a 28 year old case against the martyred father of the present Congress president. One wonders whether this is a ploy to sidetrack bread and butter issues of the average citizen of the country.
The Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh contesting from his Lucknow constituency yesterday [6th May] was not oozing with confidence and said, “I can’t predict anything…. I leave the decision to the voters in Lucknow”, the otherwise confident Home Minister exhibiting the indelible ink mark on his left index finger said rather nonchalantly. One may add that there is no question on his losing in Lucknow against Poonam Sinha, wife of actor Shatrughan Sinha of the Samajwadi Party [the BJP rebel Shatrughan is the Congress candidate from Bihar’s Patna Sahib!] and Acharya Pramod Krishnan of the Indian National Congress.
Ram Madhav, National General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party has hinted that there are prospects of a coalition as the BJP may not reach the magic number of a simple majority. Ram Madhav in an interview with John Micklethwait, News Editor in Chief of Bloomberg last Saturday said, “If we get 271 seats on our own, we will be happy” and added, “with NDA we will have a comfortable majority.” This observation of the National General Secretary of the ruling party has been interpreted by opposition parties and the media as an indication of the ruling party’s lack of confidence and fear of not faring well in this important election. Ram Madhav later dismissed any such apprehension of not getting a clear majority.
Some of the comments and observations of the star campaigner of the ruling party, the Prime Minister used to rhetoric, hyperbole, and acerbic personal attacks went a step further and told his bit noire, the Congress President Rahul Gandhi who has given the PM a not so civil sobriquet, “Your father was termed, ‘Mr. Clean’ by his courtiers, but his life ended as ‘Bhrashtachari No:1’, ”
A senior Hindi journalist said sarcastically; “the very edifying observations by the Prime Minister on the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi seem to be in tune with the Indian culture or Sanskar his party follows !”. One is tempted to quote from the edit page article by Raj Mohan Gandhi in today’s [7th May] Indian Express without any further comments:-
“If there were some in India in 1991 who thought of Rajiv as India’s most corrupt person, I did not meet them. No MP, whether in government or opposition, seemed to think of Rajiv as personally corrupt. All were shaken by the brutal assassination of a fine human being and grieved over it. Even if someone then believed that Rajiv had tolerated corruption, would say to his son 28 years later that, ”your father ended his life as India’s most corrupt man?”
Even some of the most loyal followers of the Prime Minister have confided that he has crossed the Lakshman Rekha of propriety and probity. “It is not like showing alleged utter disregard to the Model Code of Conduct of the Central Election Commission’’, said a friend who is a known Modi Bhakt; but added that “this is transgressing an unwritten Indian moral code which does not appreciate disrespect to people who are no more, that too, a former Prime Minister who was assassinated by foreign terrorists.” Another person opined that the country’s political discourse has touched the nadir with senior leaders disregarding time tested moral tenets.
One recalls in the 1970s, a scene of an unknown dead person lying under the over bridge that connects the Church Gate station towards the Regal side in Bombay- now Mumbai. Hordes of office goers disgorged by the Western Railway local trains rushing towards the Sachivalaya[ Maharashtra Secretariat ] and Nariman Point had slowed down near the dead body, bowed their heads, folded their hands or made a sign of cross and offered a coin or two and then proceeded. This is the kind of respect in Indian culture towards an unknown, unclaimed body is in our ethos. It is an accepted fact that by and large people desist from abusing a departed soul.
There was a spinoff from the above incident. Back in the radio station there was a friend from the Times of India, Patanjali Sethi who dropped in one’s cabin. One narrated the above scene. A visibly sad Sethi commented, ”This is a heartless city; people only respond emotionally and won’t take any action”. “Is Ours a Heartless City?’’ was a documentary we later did depicting the lack of proactive response from citizens to someone in distress or dead. Of course emotionally people do show some sympathy if not empathy. Raking up the alleged misdeeds of a leader almost after three decades after his assassination for electoral gains is not appreciated. Well, if elections are considered a war, the old quote “all is fair in love and war” seems applicable!
Some of the observations in an article by the former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi in today’s [7th May] edition of the Hindu need to be taken seriously by his successors in the Commission and of course by our political leaders:-
“it is sad that the debate now is about the Commission rather than the appalling and unconstitutional conduct of our leaders.
The EC has repeatedly found itself at the receiving end of scathing attacks from the Opposition, the public, the media and the judiciary. This is unprecedented for what was until now the most trusted institution in the country.”