Politicos And The Poison Ivy Poll Narrative
The howitzers of the hustings have boomed and bottomed out. The outcome has exultant victors celebrating and the vanquished in sullen silence.
As the dust settles and new governments go to work in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur it is time to look back and ponder. Was it at all necessary for the exalted political leadership of an emerging India to sully public discourse to such putrid levels as happened in these elections?
A cost-benefit analysis will show there were actually no winners even if the BJP beat competition by a mile in UP and Uttarakhand and the Congress snatched Punjab from the Akali-BJP combine only to be pipped to the post in Manipur and Goa despite being the single largest party. It is not only that when you cheat the mandate through questionable methods you lower the bar a wee bit more for the next contest but also that when pollside discourse goes gutter low, political pollution only sinks to subterranean levels. Gujarat, next in line, is already warming up to it.
A gracious prime minister rightly earmarked a Rs 20,000 crore programme for cleaning the river Ganga over 5 years and Rs 20,011 crores in union budget 2017 for ‘Swachh Bharat’. And then, without batting an eyelid ,waded into the verbal muck of electioneering in a ‘give and take’ that hardly does justice to his position either as the repository of the modern nor heir of the ancient .
Does it behove prime minister Modi to target ex-prime minister Manmohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha on February 8,2017 stating ”Only Dr(Manmohan)knows the art of taking bath wearing a raincoat”?.Maybe there was nothing unparliamentary about it .May be it was meant to serve only short term goals like the targeting of muslims did during his infamous 2002 “Miya Musharraf” speeches on his ‘gaurav yatra’ taken out in Gujarat in the aftermath of the statewide communal riots that followed the Godhra train carnage. Cut to Solapur , Maharashtra in April 2004 during an election campaign with the Gujarat chief minister (Modi) terming Congress president Sonia Gandhi as a ‘jersey cow’ and Rahul Gandhi as her ‘hybrid bachhda’(calf).This when I have often heard BJP bigwigs harping on the values of ‘sabhyta, suchita aur samrasta’ (decency,cleanliness and politeness).
The horrifying, targeted trolling of a 20 year old Kargil matryr’s daughter,Gurmehar Kaur including threats of rape for criticizing ABVP is an example of how the innocent are exemplified to build poll atmospherics in the age of social media. Corraborations come from union minister Kiran Rijjiju’s fast paced reaction and BJP MP Pratap Simha comparing her to Dawood Ibrahim.
What it unleashed this election was a welter of reposte. When public discourse of the high and mighty enters the bathroom in a shower of unsavoury utterances the only outlet is a flush of political excreta or a clogged drain that throws back the dirt.
And that is exactly what happened, particularly in UP. Each gave as good as he got. Neither the then Samajwadi party chief minister Akhilesh Yadav nor alliance partner Rahul Gandhi of the Congress or Mayawati of the BSP were prepared to step back. Lesser minions were more garrulous and utterances slipped from the asinine to the abhorrent.
Sample this. ”ek gadhe ka vigyapan ata hai.Main is sadi ke sabse bade mahanayak se kahunga ke ab aap Gujarat ke gadhon ka prachar mat kariye(There is an ad in TVs which shows donkeys. I appeal to this century’s biggest star to stop endorsing donkeys of Gujarat) inviting a retort from the prime minister that he appreciated the animal for it’s hard work. A samajwadi minister stoked controversy by calling Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah as terrorists.
Shah had his own take referring to the urgent need to get rid of ‘kasab’ from UP, a word rendered notorious as the name of a Pakistani terrorist who was hanged in India. Shah clarified here it stood for Congress,Samajwadi and BSP inviting a retort from Akhilesh that ‘ka’ actually stood for’kabootar’, the BJP pigeons set for release post-elections. Prime minister Modi alluded to SCAM (Samajwadi, Congress, Akhilesh and Mayawati) which UP needed to be saved from. Akhilesh, however, felt it stood for ‘Saving the Country from Amit Shah and Modi’ while Rahul Gandhi interpreted it as ‘Seva, Courage, Ability and Modesty’.
BJP, UP chief Keshav Prasad Maurya who had switched sides from the BSP before the polls had no hesitation in calling his old party ‘naag’(cobra) and the SP and Congress as ‘saap’(snake) and ‘black cobra’ respectively. Others brought in the monkey as well. Should the national head of a ruling party be invoking a terrorist, even if as an acronym ,to target political entities ?Is this the ‘sanskar’ that the top political leadership of the country seeks to impart?
Then there was communal cleaving as a conscious election strategy. Prime minister Modi speaking at a rally in Fatehpur (February 19,2017 said that the government was biased.”If a village gets a graveyard, it should get a cremation ground too. If there is electricity during ramzan, there should be electricity during diwali too”.. and so it went on. Nothing wrong as such. Only that he was alluding to muslim appeasement by the Akhilesh government as he had done during the Bihar elections (Buxar October 26,2015) when he said” the grand alliance leaders are conspiring to take away 5 per cent from the dalits, mahadalits, backwards and give it to particular religious groups….I will not allow such a plot to succeed even if it involves sacrificing my life”.Again,the reference was obviously to the minority.BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj went a step further when he said on February 28 at lucknow that muslims should be cremated as there was no space to bury 20 crore people. He was alluding to the muslim population in the country. Yogi Adityanath (now chief minister of UP) speaking on January 31 at Bulandshahr asked voters to remember the riots and rapes when they went out to vote.
Polarisation efforts also saw counter-polarisation moves in the UP polls. There was R.Javed of the RLD quoted as stating that the muslims are suffering because of creation of Pakistan, otherwise there would have been 50 crore more muslims in India and consequently more administrators from the community and BSP’s Haji Yaqub Qureshi saying that muslims would lose their voting rights if the BJP came to power.
Time for the political class to pause and ponder as to where the poll narrative is headed . The unquenchable thirst for power at all costs is cleaving communities-even the majority community-,fraying the national fabric itself.
The irony is that the inmates of our political zoo-like showcase, in their mutual name-calling, are now defaming wild life as well !