Indian politics needs to go beyond verbal duels
After many weeks, I breathed a sigh of relief on the evening of 14 December. The reason? The kind of language being used during the Gujarat elections over the last few weeks had left me distraught. This is bound to happen when politics turns into impolitic conduct. If you think the disaffection spread across the country will end with the election results that are revealed on Monday, your assessment is far from true.
The manner in which elections are fought these days leaves an impact on people’s hearts and minds for a long time. If you disagree, just take a look at several previous elections. The last Lok Sabha elections witnessed a number of high-decibel verbal duels. As a result, the government in Delhi changed. The aftermath of the regime change ushered in a new grammar for Indian politics. From that time to today, politics has transformed in its functioning, character and façade. Even after winning power, our politicians these days want to keep the oven of controversial and meaningless issues hot all the time.
Here, I am not talking about any particular party or politician, but the repercussions are staring us in the face. Ever since Indians began paying more attention to leaders and their politics than the real issues, their problems have compounded with every round of elections.
Though our politicians have been talking about development and social strengthening since the first elections held after Independence, they get busy preparing for the next elections instead of implementing these lofty ideas on the ground. Some of them begin filling the party’s coffers to achieve this while others stir up passions on an assortment of subjects. Convenient definitions of caste, religion and history are dished out in a way that diverts the attention of the people from the real issues.
That is why 70 years after Independence, only a person who earns less than Rs32 per day is considered poor in the country. Is this amount enough to even have two square meals? Of course, the descendants of Adam and Eve need much more than food to survive that cannot be procured in just Rs32. A nation in which around 200 million people are compelled to sleep on an empty stomach is bound to experience despair.
I am often reminded of a dialogue from the Hindi film Upkaar that I watched in my childhood. “Ration par bhashan bahut hain, lekin bhashan par ration koi nahi (A lot of people give speeches on rations, but there is no ration on speeches).” It is the 50th anniversary of the film’s release. The conditions should have changed by now, but unfortunately, the harsh truth of that dialogue rings true even today. This misfortune continues because our politicians forget all the statistical jugglery and hollow statements they made during elections as soon as they take the oath of office. Self-damaging hysteria has become an important part of democracy and the blame for spreading it lies equally with every political party.
But our political class has become smarter. They have changed their tactics. The language they speak before they come to power changes beyond recognition once they assume office. Take the example of Jammu and Kashmir. When Mehbooba Mufti sat in the opposition benches, her views on stone-pelters and terrorism made right-thinking people squirm. But today, she speaks a different language. Similarly, Farooq Abdullah, who has embraced both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress in the past, is speaking the language that Mehbooba used to speak earlier. Isn’t this a role reversal? The ideological U-turns of politicians have become the stuff of legend. Not only have they made fun of the country, our culture, hunger and poverty, they have also put national security at risk at times.
Take a cursory look at the war of words during the Gujarat elections. Body blows were inflicted upon institutions, people and beliefs time and again. Why don’t our politicians realise that whatever they do or say in the digital age is recorded for posterity? A thousand years from now, when enthusiasts hear or read about this, a question is likely to bother them: Was there no difference between the Mahabharata fought during the Dwapar era and the elections fought in the 21st century? Does the mindset of Indians remain the same irrespective of the passage of time? Obviously, we’ll have to break free from this reputation, but how can this be done?
Let us pray that whoever wins in Gujarat today, after assuming power, will honour the promises and claims that have been made. This is necessary to keep democracy intact.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hind