Political narratives becoming acutely shrill

It is sad indeed that politics in the country is getting uglier and uglier. There is deception and negativity all around. The slugfest between the BJP top brass and Congress bigwigs is getting more and more crass. In fact, many parties are getting into the act of hitting below the belt without regard to proprieties. Political narratives are becoming acutely stark and shrill.

The audio-visual media is spewing venom all the time. For days together there is no positive news in news channels. It is negative news all the way through. Momentous decisions affecting the nation are being passed over for sensationalist news of murders, sex scandals and cheating. Discussions on TV are outlandish and loud with news anchors brazenly taking sides.

All this bodes ill for the country and one shudders to think what would be the consequences because this coincides with an erosion of basic values among the people. It is all building up to the prospect of a very dirty electoral campaign in the run-up to the upcoming Assembly elections in some states and elections to the Lok Sabha.

The Gandhis (Sonia and Rahul) suffer from a pathological dislike of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and he has his own ways of getting back at them which are more subtle. While Sonia speaks little these days though her contempt for Modi is no less, Rahul is at his outrageous best, caring little about dragging the office of prime minister into mud. Unhealthy precedents are being established at alarming speed. Decency and decorum are thrown to the winds as unsubstantiated allegations are bandied about with characteristic irresponsibility.

It should indeed be no surprise if the electoral campaign for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is dirtier than ever before, with no holds being barred. Many of us were aghast when the US presidential campaign turned ugly with Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton breathing fire at each other. But in that country, once the election results were out, a measure of civility returned to the political scene, despite Trump’s persistent defiance of some time-tested norms.

In India, it is a big question mark whether there would be any difference after the elections are done with because there is too much bad blood and rancour. But let us worry about the pre-election situation first which is characterised by unmitigated negativity. One cannot deny that one is being grossly negative while condemning negativity but one cannot but give vent to one’s honest feeling of exasperation. With the elevation of Rahul Gandhi as party president in succession to his mother now only a formality which is expected to be fulfilled in the next few weeks with Congressmen falling over each other to be seen as being on the right side of the Gandhis, there is intense speculation over what kind of a leader of the Congress party he would be.

The culture of sycophancy has taken such deep roots in the Congress party that subservience is only likely to increase. Several Congressmen may mock at Rahul in private but in real terms they take special pains to nourish his ego. While it is a hard reality that the Sonia-Rahul duo wants to hear only good things (after every major election any ‘introspection’ leaves the Gandhis out) the utter lack of spine that Congressmen are prone to show is doing much damage to the party and the country. In the BJP, there is no nepotism at the highest level but there is a high level of sycophancy and Narendra Modi has been raised to the status of a demi-God. The recent broadsides against Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley by former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha showed how acerbic senior leaders can be when they are not accommodated in senior positions. Yashwant Sinha’s outburst as also the earlier fulminations of another Sinha (Shatrughan) are manifestations of a suppressed emotion with any dissent being considered taboo.

In such an atmosphere, public discourse is bound to suffer and the deterioration in standards of discourse is there for all to see. Recent events in Kerala where the BJP is striving to polarise Hindu voters in its favour through means that are debatable point to the falling standards of public discourse. That the BJP fielded polarisers like party president Amit Shah and U.P. chief minister Yogi Adityanath to damn the CPM only bared the level to which political debates have sunk. The BJP has picked up cudgels against ‘love jihad’ conversions to corner the CPM, hinting at a CPM government nexus with the dreaded terror outfit IS (Islamic State) and this is motivated by a desire to achieve communal polarisation. It was a time-honoured convention that prime ministers and opposition leaders when on foreign trips desisted in criticising each other on foreign soil. But that convention, like so many other conventions, has been given the go-by. Rahul Gandhi’s fulminations against the ruling NDA and Prime Minister Modi in particular were in rank poor taste but he got away with them.

We sorely need to introspect and see where we are going. By running the country down before foreigners we are getting nowhere. Indeed, we are demeaning our status abroad and harming the country grievously. It is time we pull ourselves up to certain minimum standards of behaviour. That applies as much to politicians as to the electronic media which is not wanting on enthusiasm and enterprise but is caught in the web of TRP competitiveness and crass sensationalism.

The author is a political commentator and columinst. He has authored four books.

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