Electioneering inevitably means high-decibel rhetoric, with the rival contestants vying with one another to persuade the voters by pitching their wares on a higher and still higher pedestal. Voters also realize that the verbal slugfest is part of the electoral process. Not for nothing then have the elections become the festivals of democracy, more so due to the widespread poverty and illiteracy. Yet, even after making due allowance for the heat and dust kicked up by the fierce battle for votes in Gujarat, the campaign this time has plumbed newer depths of irresponsibility and indiscretion.
It is appalling that Pakistan should figure as a player in the Gujarat poll, but in the dying days of the campaign, the charge that our hostile western neighbour is poking its dirty nose in the election has been levied by none other than the top-most BJP campaigner himself. We wish he had avoided doing so. We know that the agent-provocateur of the Congress Party, Mani Shankar Aiyar, now suspended for calling Modi neech, has a soft spot for Pakistan. We know that he has called for the nth time for an ‘uninterrupted and uninterruptible’ dialogue with Pakistan.
We know that he has a lot of personal friends in high places in the Pakistani establishment. Yet, even for Aiyar to host a dinner for a former foreign minister of Pakistan and a former director-general of ISI and Intelligence Bureau of that country a couple of days ahead of the polling for the last phase in Gujarat was to offer an opportunity to the BJP to exploit his private dinner diplomacy for electoral purposes. Modi, wearing his BJP hat, lost no time in kicking up a storm, referring to the high-powered meeting at Aiyar’s house at the weekend. The presence of the serving Pakistan High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood and former foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri at the dinner lent weight to the verbal fusillade. Indian guests included the former prime minister Manmohan Singh, former vice-president Hamid Ansari and a former army chief, besides a smattering of retired diplomats.
The appearance of posters in parts of Gujarat calling for the Congress leader Ahmad Patel to be made chief minister further bolstered the BJP charge of Pakistan meddling in the election. A Facebook post by the former ISI boss, who was present at the Aiyar dinner, added to the provocation for the BJP to cry anti-India conspiracy. The post, since removed, read: “Our leader and mentor Ahmed Patel (Rajya Sabha member and Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary) must be made Gujarat Chief Minister”. Yet, the fact that the Pakistanis were here in connection with an Indo-Pak conference, an off-on feature of the informal dialogue between concerned citizens of the two countries, was of no concern to those who cried conspiracy.
Nor did it seem to matter that the host has been something of a peace-hawk on Pakistan. In their anxiety to whip up passions ahead of the last phase of polling on Thursday, December 14, they seized upon the Aiyar dinner diplomacy to paint the Congress Party in the Pakistani corner. The strongly-worded rebuttal by Manmohan Singh, which uncharacteristically used harsh invective against Modi, too seemed to be accounted for by the on-going poll in Gujarat. Both sides seem to be engaged in a no-holds-barred contest, with the Congress Party sensing its chance, thanks to the trio of freelance agitators, each representing the Patel, Dalit and OBC caste-groups.
Admittedly, Modi’s attempt to give the Aiyar dinner diplomacy an anti-national colour could be still condoned were it not for the fact that as prime minister, he is expected to unearth and penalize any anti-India plot. But, in his capacity as the campaigner-in-chief of the BJP, Modi could still get away saying what he did on the stump in Gujarat. So, much of the hand-wringing that he has diminished the constitutional office of the prime minister also reflects the biases and prejudices of the commentators arrayed against the BJP leader. Hopefully, the trading of vile abuse and innuendoes would cease now that the campaigning in Gujarat has ended before the polling on December 14.