Murky poll campaign

Men, Matters & Memories
M L Kotru

For someone who has witnessed every general election in the life of our republic, the first one as a cub reporter and others from close, the present elections to five key States, a prelude to next year’s general elections, I reckon give us an ominous warning of what things may be like in another six months. The campaign so far this year has been most bizarre, marked by lots and lots of bickering, exchange of abuse, and sheer bad temper. One has to be grateful that there has not been much violence so far except the odd incident in Chhatisgarh.
We did have elections in the past which were marked by bad temper but nothing more. Not the kind of slander, vituperative misrepresentation you see now. Skipping the Nehru era, a wholesome experience though it was, and hearing Nehru complimenting a young Atal Bihari Vajpayee after listening to his gripping oratory seems so unreal today! He would go far, may be end up as the PM, Nehru had observed.
The first signs of tension in a poll campaign had appeared with the appearance on the scene of Indira Gandhi and his Socialist nemesis, Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia. But even Lohia, who was unsparing in his criticism of the Nehrus, including Indira, once described her in parliament as ‘goongi gudiya” (dumb doll). Indira had at the time just about started finding her feet as Prime Minister.
The declaration of Emergency by Mrs. Gandhi put an end to all that and the “goongi gudiya” transformed herself into an Iron Lady, a la Margaret Thatcher. She looked unstoppable those “heady” days (for her) even as men like Jayaprakash Narayan worked hard to push the yoke of Emergency off. And when Indira lifted the emergency and chose go to the polls, I happened to visit Rae Bareli and Amethi to cover the contest there between her and the ebullient Raj Narain Singh, who was the Health Minister in the Janata government.
I saw the calculations of Mrs. Gandhi’s high-powered team of campaign managers, among them two senior partymen, going woefully wrong. The two good men, M.L.Fotedar and Yashpal Kapur, were convinced that “Indiraji will come out with flying colours”. “Don’t be taken in by the Raj Narain campaign. We have put one worker incharge of every ten houses throughout the constituency”, they argued, pointing at the constituency map, creating a war-room-like ambience.
Raj Narain was simultaneously moving from house to house, from village to village, reciting something resembling the “Hanuman Chalissa”. The Indira man were not bothered by my reminder about the several thousand people packing a large maiden and melting away immediately after Indira’s helicopter handed, kicking off a virtual dust storm, thanks to the whirring rotors of the chopper which sent mounds of dust into the air. And as the air cleared the people for the most part were gone or going, a reminder that they had not forgotten the Emergency and the fear of them being caught for ‘nasbandi’ (forced vasectomy), which had for a long time ensured their taking detours to reach their rural homes, away from the “marauding” officials whose job it was to meet their fixed quotas of men brought for the “operation”. The victims would, of course, be given a transistor and some cash. That seems to be so long ago now.
At the moment you are dealing with a campaign that borders on the vulgar. The principals seem intent on giving electioneering in India a totally new dimension, its tone and content abrasive, abusive and everything that a poll campaign in a democracy like India should not be. Narendra Modi the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate has touched new lows in mounting personal attacks on Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and inevitably the Sehzada, Rahul Gandhi, to wit. Needless to say that the Congress trumpeteers like Manish Tiwari and Digvijay Singh are always ready to return the compliment.
The terms of discourse and debate are foul, even abusive more often than not. Even if you are not a rally type, mostly hired, offered free rides to the venue, you would not have missed the ill-tempered discourses on the mushrooming T.V. channels where being abusive has become the norm. For those in the Congress party upset by the generally poor attendance at some of their rallies (not all, mind you) they may derive comfort from recalling Indira Gandhi’s experience in Rae Bareli earlier. Don’t lose heart.
Narendra Modi has already been served with a notice by the Election Commission for his description of the Congress Party’s election symbol, the hand, as ‘khooni panja’ or the murderous paw. Rahul has tried to explain away his inappropriate reference to the Pakistani ISI agents seeking to establish contact with local Muslim youth in the wake of the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar. And that may not be the last we have heard of the riot- ravaged town.
The UP unit of the BJP honoured its three MLA’s allegedly involved in the riots which rendered hundreds homeless and many killed and injured. How perverse can you be!
Given the general tenor of the campaign one may have expected a certain degree of ugliness as it gained momentum but just imagine Congress party workers asking for withdrawal of Bharat Ratna to iconic melody queen Lata Mangeshkar for her open endorsement of Narendra Modi’s candidature, as if it was a party award.
A generally murky poll campaign has become even murkier with two investigative websites bringing to light Narendra Modi’s trusted lieutenant and former Minister of State for Home in the Gujarat, ordering illegal surveillance of a young woman and an IAS officer in Gujarat in 2009. While Shah, according to the taped conversations claimed the surveillance was being done at the behest of ‘Saheb’, the episode has offered enough material to rivals to pillory Modi for having ordered illegal intrusion into the private life of a woman. The phone tapping, it is argued, was illegal, based on verbal orders by Modi and Amit Shah’s obsessive pursuit of the job assigning ATS, CID and Crime Branch to shadow the woman round the clock, because the “Saheb” had other means as well of keeping tabs on her. Amit Shah didn’t want to be seen wanting and hence his “hot pursuit” of the senior police official assigned the job. The official is currently in jail sacrificed at the altar off Modi. Shah is in charge of BJP campaign in Uttar Pradesh and out on bail in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case. I for one find the BJP’s arguments favouring dismissal of the tapes case unacceptable. Murkier details are bound to surface if and when the tapes come up for judicial consideration, if at all.

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