By K.N. Pandita
Electioneering for the 16th Lok Sabha is markedly different from previous elections in some aspects. Though personalities with charisma always play important role in election campaigns in any democracy including ours, yet in our case, by and large, this aspect did not overshadow the stature of political parties to which personalities belonged. The party and not the personality remained the engine for generating ideas and perceptions.
A string of stalwarts from Nehru to Atal Bihari Bajpai — personalities with great charisma — neither pretended nor let their sycophants project them an entity outside the matrix of organizations they nurtured with deep nationalist orientation.
In current election campaigns, strangely, the prime ministerial candidates are stealing the show albeit by dint of their person and not the party. Interestingly, it is not party versus party but dynastic cult versus personality clout. The parties as such have lost their sheen. In contemporary public perception political parties come only second.
Paradigm shift from party to personality has happened because of many reasons. Primarily, erosion of ethical values, which had endeared traditional political parties to the masses of people in India, has given rise to personalities becoming centripetal force capable of overriding party decisions and undermining considered decisions. For example, a draft ordinance duly approved by the cabinet could be “torn up” by party heavyweight — a non- government entity — before it received President’s assent or dissent. This centrality of power badly mauls and bruises ethical values and sycophants for personal aggrandizement make the chief boss believe in his own lies. Such is the fore of sycophancy.
Corruption has seeped so deep into our polity that any leader sincerely trying to put things on proper rails once again finds it difficult to convince his audience that wrong can be rectified and erratic or wayward attitudes can be corrected. Such thinking appears puerile to a new generation that stands distanced from the philosophy of democratic dispensation.
Secondly, the big difference in election campaigning is de-prioritizing of vital national issues of economic development and social transformation of far-reaching consequences, and replacing these with mundane and degraded narrative focused on vendetta and hatred. When politics of hatred is made the order of the day, democracy begins to lose its lustre.
The third difference is that contesting parties have no qualms of conscience in inducting renegades from opposing parties into their rank and file despite their known criminal credentials. This insidious posturing stems from the vote- bank politics which has taken lead over the fundamentals of the philosophy of parliamentary democracy. It is also a blatant reflection of eroded moral values and brazenness of political manoeuvring. Obviously our democratic culture has become prisoner of numerical jugglery and head-count, oblivious of what the counted head contains or does not contain in it.
The concept of identities and demand for rights surfaced when in late 1970s and early 80s Indian economists and policy planners found that our socialist oriented economy needed silent transformation to market economy but through guarded steps. In fact in late 1970s the erstwhile Soviet Union, too, was looking for a transformation of sorts and Perestroika and Glasnost were symptomatic of that change.
The leadership of the movement for recognition of identities in our political dispensation was taken over by people who failed to understand that recognition of an identity had necessarily to be made subservient to the over-arching imperative of nationalism. It could not thrive in vacuum and nationalism was the only instrument with power to deliver. If the seekers of identity had understood these basics, deep polarization of society along social-economic parameters would have been averted.
In a bid to seek recognition of identities through political instrument nationalism gas come under great stress in our country in recent years. This was despite the fact that central and state governments are mandated to concede genuine rights and privileges to the groups categorized in the Indian Constitution. Additionally, there is the freedom of bringing in fresh legislation if more concessions were desired to be provided to weaker sections. There was no sense in subverting nationalism while sponsoring identities as power points.
In this process, not only regional but even mainstream parties began to dilute the spirit of nationalism just to win local populist vote. They became myopic about the significance of national issues. Those who were charged with scams and bribery scantily realized that they were bringing bad name to the nation.
The first mass reaction to undermining of nationalist spirit was to be seen in Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement. The real reason for mass popularity of this movement was not actually that huge monies had been embezzled but that nationalism was being subverted rather imperceptibly.
The crisis deepened when resurgence of nationalism was sought to be identified with Hindu revivalism, something far from the truth. Those who have upheld the cause of nationalism as the main plank for parliamentary election of 2014 naturally come into direct conflict with those who feel that identities will get submerged under nationalism, and would be relegated to their early days of deprivation and deficiency.
The effective weapon to suppress resurgent nationalist urge has been found in branding it something like preponderance towards majority assertion, especially against the largest minority community in the country whose vote-bank strength is deliberately given hype. This explains why the 2002 disaster in Godhra is analysed and evaluated quite differently from how 1990 Kashmir Theo-fascism is analysed. Unfortunately, this counter attack is carried to disgraceful extremes. One traditional national level party candidate avers that if it’s rival party icon becomes the Prime Minister that would spell “total disster” for the nation forgetting that it will be the nation that will make him the prime minister. Imagine how national election is reduced and downgraded to hypocrisy and vendetta. What a sad day for Indian electorate to be brainwashed with such perverse and wicked narrative.
It shows that Indian democracy is still not out of its embryonic stage. Total disrespect for political opponents and the vicious forebodings attached to the success of the rival candidate are dangerous moves threatening our nation’s stability and integrity.
In this stupendous game of trading accusations and counter accusations, political parties lose sight of the destination to which this nation needs to head on. One important facet of impending elections is that the manner in which identities are pitted against nationalist forces exposes the rivalries and bickering within the parties which they can no more wrap under folds. It is now confirmed through various proofs that majority of candidates running around for party tickets have absolutely no nationalistic orientation but are driven by selfishness and vested interest.
The impending election is extraordinarily crucial for the future history of our country. We have to decide now and for all times whether we area willing to put the country first and party or persons last? Personality cult is poison to a nation of heterogeneous character.
Let us pray that our party stalwarts have the grace to respect their opponents and be respected in return. It is the duty of the people to say big NO to politicos who have only one-point agenda of issuing tirade after tirade against the rival candidate in stead of concentrating on what his party plans to do to bring economic strength to the people at large.