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With assembly polls to five states approaching, dignity and harmony have taken a back seat. Will the polls leave new scars on India’s reputation? What we are witnessing is an increasingly polarized society. Just watch the prime-time TV debates. Thumping of desks, every now and then, by loudmouthed anchors, who call themselves journalists, is an everyday occurrence. We were taught in our early days that a journalist is neither a friend nor a foe to anyone. Objectivity is essential for this profession. Since the advent of television, the pen has been replaced by expressions. Its side effects are here for all to see. Journalists have become a TRP machine.

Earlier, it was different. In 1997, when an illustrious editor of a TV news show died, there was an atmosphere of mourning in the editorial department. Even the anchors were not able to prepare themselves for the evening bulletin, but the show must go on. A well-known journalist, who used to be young back then, took the responsibility and performed with full dignity, patience and seriousness, which used to be the hallmark of our profession.

Without going too far, let’s watch the 20-year-old debates in Parliament since the live telecast of the proceedings started in the 1994. Even then, ‘walkouts’ were common, proceedings of the House were adjourned and sometimes the debate went beyond the limits of decency. Somnath Chatterjee had made a strong observation on this as the Speaker of Lok Sabha. Some columnists back then had said that such MPs must be reined in, but compared to what is happening today, it was much gentler. In the past decade, those watching the proceedings in Parliament have been disheartened. We expect much better from our honourable MPs.

The expectation is not unfair from people of this august house—let us not forget, the MPs guided the society by banning child marriage, female foeticide, child labour, dowry system and triple talaq. How big a change these MPs have brought to society must be felt. This is the same Parliament where the Untouchability (Offences) Act 1955 was passed and equal rights were given to men and women. It was here in November 1949 that the original copy of the Constitution was presented. Just imagine how India would be today if all this had not happened? Today, MPs start their term by swearing by the same Constitution. But do they live up to their promises?

The monsoon session of Parliament was to run from 19 July to 13 August, but was adjourned sine die on 11 August. The Lok Sabha worked for only 21 hours and 14 minutes out of the stipulated 96 hours, or only 22%. The Rajya Sabha could utilize only 28% of the time. In the session, the Lok Sabha passed 14 bills, which were discussed for an average of 10 minutes.

Even in the current winter session, we have lost a lot of time due to disruptions. Today, those who are being accused of disrupting were in the government seven-and-a-half years ago. Today’s ruling party used to sit in the opposition benches back then, behaved similarly. In such a situation, how can we say who is right and who is wrong? We have a foundation of splendid traditions, but what are we doing to it? The degeneration is not unique to journalism and politics. Even our educational institutions are in this quagmire. Different statements from vice-chancellors, academicians and professors show that the ideological divide is now out in the open. The same is the case with the government machinery. It happened some time ago in a town in the Hindi belt. A police officer was trying to stop a fierce clash between two bloodthirsty groups. He found that a section of policemen was not making the required effort. Subsequently, during the investigation, it was found that the inactive policemen belonged to one of the groups. They did not want to be strict with their own people. How far and to what extent are we divided?

Ideas have now been replaced with fabricated narratives. In this era, the first casualty of this war is truth. Every political party is involved in this crime. How can this be stopped?

With all due respect, I would like to remind the political fraternity that in a democracy, the people are ruled by elected representatives. The honourable representatives have the responsibility to run the country. We abolished monarchy, but there were some good lessons of governance in that system that we failed to learn. There was a time when kings who were above the worldly allures used to plough the farm just to send a meaningful message. Will those who draw their support from the favourite interpretation of stories of history ever learn from them?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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