February 09, 2017

India: 'We need to tell our leaders that they cannot sow bitterness and hatred' - Apoorvanand

The Tribune, Feb 6, 2017

The pot calls the kettle black

We need to tell our leaders that they cannot sow bitterness and hatred in their desperation to tempt people to their side. It is far too easy to appeal to the base instincts of people. The task before political leadership in a democracy is also to educate people and help them make a rational choice.

The pot calls the kettle black
POWER POINT: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal at the Vijay Sankalp Yatra rally for the Punjab Assembly elections in Jalandhar. PTI
THE supreme leader is pained. He is disappointed by the fall in the standard of political discourse. Campaigning in Punjab, he told his audience that in his long political career he had never come across the kind of language he was forced to hear in Punjab. How can one say, he wonders, that so and so would be jailed once they are unseated from power. The supremo is shocked. Things are going beyond civility. And he is right. It would also be right however for him to first confess, that it was in fact he who started the lowering of the social and political discourse to such a low level, that his opponents just didn't know how to match him.  The man does not need go back far in time. It was only a few days ago when he mocked and lampooned the leader of the Congress Party in a congregation at the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), which was not political at all. It was a gathering of academics and students in a university campus, where he misused his position as a Prime Minister to attack his opponent. That his audience laughed and cheered at this abominable performance is a sad commentary on the state of our institutions where civility should be taught. That the Prime Minister should think it fit to campaign in state elections is something people have noted, not very favourably. But when he complains that Arvind Kejriwal sounds like a dictator, he conveniently forgets his own diatribe against Kejriwal during the election campaign in Delhi. In meeting after meeting, he told the electorate of Delhi that they should elect a BJP government as it would work because of his fear. It is quite different a matter that the people of Delhi refused to be terrorised by him. But he did not take their rejection of his warning very kindly. This is evident from the way he unleashed the Lt Governor, the police and intelligence agencies on the AAP government. It was unprecedented that a Prime Minister should even entertain the idea that fear would make state governments work. If there was anything dictatorial it was this.The dictatorial and authoritarian inclination of the leader has never been hidden. One should not forget that in his election campaigns and elsewhere too he had always referred to Rahul Gandhi as Shehzada. The connotation the adjective carries is outright communal. It mocks him and connects him with a particular religious community. Thus, this word arouses the base instincts of Hindus. Sonia Gandhi was always called with her full name to emphasise her Italian origins. Similarly, we have not forgotten that when the Election Commission under JM Lyngdoh took some decisions which were not favourable to him as the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, he made it a point to claim that Lyngdoh was against him as he was a Christian. Men can always change. But his record as Prime Minister demonstrates that his veneer of sobriety falls off the moment he faces a serious challenge. The people of Bihar witnessed it as the campaign progressed. That they felt disgusted by his thinly veiled communal and authoritarian language became clear from the verdict of the state elections. He made the campaign casteist and anti-Muslim when he made repeated claims that he comes from Dwaraka and is, therefore, specially beholden to the Yaduvanshsis. It was a brazen attempt to woo the Yadav voters which failed miserably. And then he went to his tested formula of scaring the Hindus by attacking Nitish for being on the side of cow killers and beef eaters. It is definitely not right that Kejriwal promises that he would jail the corrupt leaders  of Punjab once he is given power. Because, he is not a monarch. We know it too well that Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers cannot jail people. They cannot even prosecute them. Worse is to ask the people as Chief Minister whether criminals should be killed in encounters or not and exhorting them to say “yes” to encounters. When he attacks Kejriwal for trashing the process of law, it would be better to recall his own instinct. It is as wrong to tell the people of Punjab that being a border state they need to choose  a party in whose hands national borders would be safe. He is invoking the threat of Pakistan in a state election. We need to say that this is unacceptable because all political parties are committed to protecting the territorial integrity of India. Moreover, securing borders is not the job of a state government. The man once fought a state election pasting the posters of Pervez Musharraf all over and turning his entire campaign into an anti-Pakistan tirade. A Prime Minister who does not shy from raising the scare of Pakistan to frighten the electorate into submission is doing worse than what Kejriwal is accused of. Of course, we need to tell our leaders that they cannot sow bitterness and  hatred in their desperation to tempt people to their side. It is far too easy to appeal to the base instincts of people. The task before political leadership in a democracy is also to educate people and help them make a rational choice. It was reassuring to recently see Rahul Gandhi telling his party people not to raise the slogans of murdabad against his opponents.  It takes a lot to remain sober in the face of uncouth and violent attacks. But that is a challenge one must accept if democratic civility is to be restored.  When the conscience of the man felt bruised by the undemocratic language of Kejriwal, an admonition came from Sharad Pawar, directed not at Kejriwal but the complainant himself. Pawar said that it was extremely violent to give the slogan of a Congress-mukt Bharat.The language of eradication of one's critics shows the criminally intolerant mind behind it. The writer is a Professor, Department of Hindi, Delhi University