Opinion

Another assault on India’s social fabric

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on April 08, 2019 Published on April 08, 2019

Whither positive campaign?   -  Nagara [email protected]

As voting day nears, electioneering is getting more vicious. The recent campaigning in tiny Slovakia is a study in contrast

In the cacophony of ugly charges and counter-charges, such as ‘Chowkidaar chor hei’ and ‘tera pura khandaan chor hei’, made by various political parties as Indian steps into another general elections, it comes as a surprise to find that there are countries, however tiny they might be, where elections are fought and won on a positive campaign and without hurling insults.

Last month, the central European country of Slovakia chose a female President for the first time in Zuzana Čaputová, a 45-year-old lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner. A political outsider, she won over 58 per cent of the vote by running her campaign on the plank of anti-corruption. She urged voters to stand up against and all that was wrong, and totally avoided personal attacks against her opponents. Instead, she kept talking about the importance of values such as humanism, solidarity and truth.

A political novice, Zuzana’s popularity rating was in the single digits a few months before the polls, but she kept stressing on the need for progressive values, political reform, and liberal ethos, and won in the end.

More surprising, she displayed both poise and grace after he victory, saying that it showed “you can win without attacking your opponents”. And win she did after fighting a positive campaign based on progressive values and political reform, and providing a moment of hope for liberal politics in central Europe.

Interestingly, her main political opponent was a votary of right-wing populism, whose campaign included ensuring Slovakia “retains its Christian values” and ill-masked rhetoric against LGBT rights.

But Zuzana said the country had to vote for liberal values and inclusiveness, and she stood up both for gay rights and a woman’s right to abortion. The burden of the song in her meetings was “unity and not division”. As an activist she had taken up many civic causes in the community and had participated in anti-government protests over the murder of an investigative journalist, Ján Kuciak.

A positive message

The call for inclusiveness and liberal values is in stark contrast to the clear attempts being made by our politicians to divide us, not only now but over decades, along caste and communal lines. What is more, her victory speech was devoid of any gloating or triumphalism. She told a crowd of her supporters in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital: “Let us look for what connects us. Let us promote cooperation above personal interests. I am happy not just for the result, but that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary.”

But then there is a huge difference in an exercise to elect a President in a country with just over five million people and one with 1.3 billion people.

Even though ours is not a presidential referendum, this time around it is mimicking exactly that process, with the ruling dispensation pitching it as a vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The rhetoric is simple: ‘Do you want to vote for the macho Modi (mercifully we don’t hear the 56-inch-chest bit much this time in the campaign) who is not scared to get into Pakistan and bomb terrorist camps or a wimp like the Congress President Rahul Gandhi, whose entire khandaan is mired in corruption scandals.’

New lows

And in the josh of this rhetoric all boundaries are crossed and our electioneering reaches one new low after another. Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh, a key player in the Babri Masjid demolition, flouting all Constitutional norms, said unequivocally that people should vote for Modi as he deserved a second term. And Uttar Pradesh’s sanyasi-CM Yogi Adityanath rechristened the Indian Army as Modi sena. Both have been indicted by the Election Commission, but the damage is done. The rent-seeking that is going on in the name of the ruling dispensation is shameful.

And in the run-up to the voting day, the pitch is only going to get murkier. Exactly opposite to what Slovakia’s new President said, or what New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is doing to ensure that the country remains united and devoid of hate-mongering following the terror attack on the Christchurch mosques. The shrieking, name-calling, jingoism, jibes and insults are only going to get more vicious; and aggressive attempts will continue to plant suspicion and hatred in our minds and hearts.

And victors, from whichever camp, will march triumphantly on the bruised and battered social, liberal and tolerant fabric of this country. No acche din or nyuntam aay yojanas will be able to mend that fabric for a long time. For, after all, how much hatred and assault can the backbone of any nation take?

Published on April 08, 2019
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