Fear of defeat makes people take extreme steps. On the political field, the situation looks similar. Leaders, especially of the ruling clan, are increasingly spewing venom; wooing people in the name of gods, rituals and Army operations; and asking people to come together in the name of religion to vote. This has forced the Election Commission to take the unprecedented measure of banning Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and others from electioneering for a couple of days. It is a rare action by the Commission, taken only a few times in the past. Some more could face the Commission’s axe as the poll body is seized of several violations.
Elections are occasions for parties and leaders to place before people their report card; what they have done and what they are planning to do. The focus should be on people’s agenda. Unfortunately, the scores in their report cards are so poor that people are bound to discard them. Hence, they take recourse to the safe trenches of religion, rituals, regionalism and caste. Evoking such feelings is apparently the best bet for winning elections.
The maliciousness of such campaign touched new heights when Yogi Adityanath compared Lok Sabha elections to a contest between Ali, revered by Muslims, and Bajrang Bali, the Hindu God Hanuman. Maneka Gandhi went to the extent of warning Muslims not to expect anything from her if they do not vote for her. Not to be left behind, Mayawati tried to strike a chord with Muslims asking them not to split their votes between BSP-SP combine and the Congress. BJP candidate for Bhopal, Pragya Singh Thakur, an accused in blast cases, stooped to the level of saying that the death of Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, who fought terrorists during the 26/11 attack, was the result of her curse. The vituperative electioneering scaled further heights when BJP chief Amit Shah, referring to Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Wayanad in Kerala, said he could not make out if it was India or Pakistan because of Muslim League’s green flags.
What is more surprising is that the leaders punished by the Election Commission have no remorse over the spiteful campaign they are leading. Instead they have taken the same venomous path once they returned to electioneering after the ban period is over. Thus, Yogi Adityanath described a Muslim candidate as a ‘successor of Babur’. The Election Commission has to continue to strike hard against those who are out to vitiate the election process. Undoubtedly, EC has the power, according to the Constitution, to control, oversee and conduct free and fair elections. It has the power to ban candidates pouring out venom against any particular community. In 1995, powerful Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray was banned from contesting election and casting vote for six years as he flouted norms time and again.
It is not surprising that The Economist had kept India in the category of ‘flawed democracy’ in the Democracy Index 2018, published last year. This report revealed that the world’s largest democracy fared badly on parameters like electoral process and pluralism. The Election Commission has the power to set things right; but it should have the guts to take the bull by the horns as T. N. Seshan, former Chief Election Commissioner, did. Or else, we will witness the death of democracy.(Published on 29th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 17 & 18)