Reprinted from Mainstream Weekly
By Amitava Mukherjee
The ongoing 17th general elections in India have already proved two points conclusively. First, the quality of the political leadership in the country has abysmally gone down. Secondly, democracy in India is now under peril. For every right thinking citizen the time has come for taking note of these two deadly cankers.
West Bengal, the State known for its political volatility, has remained true to its reputation in the second phase of the election process. Although the Election Commission observers have tried to pass it on as a peaceful election exercise, field reports point to a different story. The most serious allegation has come from Phulbari in the Raiganj parliamentary constituency where voters of a particular community are said to have been prevented from casting their votes. Then there were the violent incidents in Chopra. Satellite channels have shown footages of open hooliganism in the presence of the State Police. Remarkably in almost all the footages local people are seen to be demanding the presence of Central forces for conducting a proper poll process.
How can the West Bengal Government deny that this is a telling comment on its credibility? More devastating and shocking is the incident when two journalists of the local TV channel were mercilessly beaten up as a result of which Parthasarathi Ghosh, one of the above mentioned two, did receive a serious head injury. Due to the serious injury, the sincere young man discharging his professional duty, was seen to be finding it hard even to move.
Under these circumstances the run-of-the-mill statements from Partha Chatterjee and Sadhan Pandey, two senior Ministers in the Mamata Banerjee Cabinet, that they never support attacks on journalists looked pathetic and lacking in conviction. Attacks did take place. What were the two Ministers doing when the journalist was being beaten up with bamboo poles?
But West Bengal is no isolated case. It is a telling commentary on the Indian political leadership that the Election Commission had to forbid Mayawati, Yogi Adityanath and Azam Khan from electioneering for certain days. Nor is the Election Commission, once commanded by no less a person than T.N. Seshan, free from blame. The Supreme Court had to step in to shake this lethargic constitutional institution. Its face changed immediately after the highest court in the land held out a veiled threat. No doubt the role of the Election Commission, in this case at least, is a bad omen for the country.
In this vitiated atmosphere one’s mind goes back to the 1977 elections when sentiments ran high in the wake of various omissions and commissions during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. There were arrests of senior Opposition leaders and, above all, the high-handed shadow of Sanjay Gandhi. Still there were very few unparliamentary words from either the Congress or the Janata Party stalwarts. One can easily recollect Jaya Prakash Narayan’s massive election rally at Chetla Park in Kolkata. Neither Jaya Prakash nor Acharya Kripalani had uttered any strong word about Indira Gandhi. Similarly Indira was also educated and sophisticated enough not to hurl any personal attack on the leaders of the Janata Party some of whom were her father’s friends and colleagues.
On the contrary what are we witnessing today? Narendra Modi is calling Rahul Gandhi, the principal Opposition leader, as a Naamdar. In return Rahul is raising the slogan ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’. Both the persons are demeaning Indian democracy. There is considerable communal tension on all hands. Whether the Balakot air strike was successful or not is immaterial. The relevant point is that the Indian Air Force did give a response. There was no point in trying to question its necessity. Similarly raising a feverish bogey of nationalism and then trying to cash in on nationalist sentiments is equally infra dig.
What kind of a message does the nation get when Pragya Singh Thakur or Sadhvi Pragya is pitted as a BJP candidate against Digvijaya Singh of the Congress in the Bhopal parliamentary constituency? Sadhvi Pragya is still an accused in the Malegaon bomb blast case and she is presently out on bail. She was given the BJP membership only on Wednesday last. Obviously electoral calculation triumphed over decorum.
The threat to democratic values is real. But no single party should be held responsible for it. Our political parties are too ready to jettison moral values.
[Amitava Mukherjee is a senior journalist and commentator.]
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