The BJP spokesmen tell the people, during the debates on TV News channels, that ‘every thing is fair in love and war’ and the election in Gujarat is a war as far as the ruling party is concerned. No rules are followed in this war, winning somehow being the single object. Even in the epic battle of Khurukshetra in Mahabharata, which was a ‘dharma yuddh’ fought to defeat the evil, the warriors agreed upon certain mutually agreed rules before the battle began.
What is happening in Gujarat elections is unprecedented, spreading of canard and falsehood, violating all norms of democratic elections. It is a low level politics. How could the Prime Minister capitalise on his exalted position for electoral gain, forgetting his national duty? Why should he act as a linguistic chauvinist, invoking his caste, projecting as a victim, whip regional sentiments and seek mercy of the people, ignoring the fact that he represents the country of 1.3 billion people of multiple identities and cultural diversity? And practically the entire union cabinet is camping in Gujarat, neglecting the governance of the country. The government machinery is abused for political campaign. Or else how does one understand the breaking of the convention of holding winter session of Parliament just for a state election? Is winning the election by hook or crook an end itself?
Our democratic political discourse is at all time low. To fight elections in Gujarat, Modi and his party have been attacking the rival party and its leader Rahul Gandhi day in and day out with all kinds of inappropriate language, abusing him of being ‘Babur bhakt’ and ‘Khilji’s kin’, making provocative comments like ‘return to Aurangzeb Raj’. Any criticism of Modi’s policies and programmes is latched out to construe as an insult to him and Gujarat asmita. What we see is unabashed bashing and lampooning of Rahul Gandhi, as a pass time occupation of the ruling party members.
It is a strange logic that Modi and his party can use any foul language and abuse Rahul Gandhi and his party and get away with immunity, but anything the rival party says against him is intolerable. Modi seems to believe that the gullible people and the hard core ‘Hindutvavadis’ would accept whatever he says, however falsified and unpalatable it might be. He knows that the Congress party cannot match him in this diatribe. Rahul Gandhi says that he respects the post of prime minister and that he would not hurl a single abuse against Modi. He asked his party men not to do so also, no matter what abusive language Modi might use against him and the party. Mani Shankar’s jibe of ‘neech kisam ka aadmi’ continues to be Modi’s focal point of campaign in spite of him apologising for his remarks.
Polarising people on religious lines has been a central theme in all election campaigns of Modi. That is how he talks of Pakistan, Kashmir, surgical strikes and the like while the main issues of Gujarat – unemployment, impact of demonetisation and flawed implementation of GST on small businessmen and traders, loss of lakhs of jobs and collapse of unorganised sector, unaffordable education due to massive privatisation, poor public health system, falling human development indices and the like – are pushed to the backburner. It is his election strategy to invoke imaginary fear of minorities and appeal to crude sentiments of the majority community.
Now, he has crossed all limits of dignity and decency. He charged the Congress party of holding a secret dinner party on December 6 at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence and conspiring to destabilise the elections in Gujarat with help from Pakistan and to make Ahmed Patel the chief minister of the State. He knows that it is a lie. He thinks that he is not accountable to anybody. The dinner party was attended by 18 people, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Vice President Hamid Ansari, former Army Chief Deepak Kapoor, ex-Indian diplomats, former Pakistan FM Khurshid Kasuri and former DG of its Army Arshad Rafiq. All of them vouched that the Gujarat elections did not figure in their conversation, it was confined to nitty-gritty of Indo-Pak relations, of improving the strained relation. To say the ex-PM, VP and the Army Chief were conspiring against the Modi government is to disgrace the nation. It is highly deplorable. He denigrated the institution of prime minister.
Manmohan Singh said in a statement: “I did not discuss Gujarat elections with anyone. Nor was the Gujarat issue raised by anyone else present. Mr Modi is setting a dangerous precedent by his insatiable desire to tarnish every constitutional office. I sincerely hope that he will apologise to the nation for his ill-thought transgression to restore the dignity of the office he occupies”. Arun Jaitley, in the press meeting, did not refute what the former PM has said. It is indeed ironical that Modi – who paid an uninvited visit to Lahore to attend Nawaz Sharif daughter’s wedding, welcomed the ISI to inspect the strategic airbase in Pathankot, in spite of terrorist attacks on Udhampur, Gurdaspur and Pathankot – is accusing the previous government of hobnobbing with the enemy. For, he believes he enjoys immunity from any scrutiny of his irresponsible utterances and actions.
In a constitutional democracy, committed to the rule of law, winning and losing elections is a normal process. But winning at any cost, resorting to unethical and foul means, is a death-knell to democracy. No doubt Pakistan – a failed state – has the last laugh at India’s expense.
The author is Professor of Political Science and retired Principal, who published his autobiography ‘The Trial by Fire: Memoir of a College Principal’.