Politicians need to stop vitiating the poll debate - Hindustan Times
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Politicians need to stop vitiating the poll debate

May 19, 2024 11:27 PM IST

Divisive and poisonous campaigning has long-term consequences. The Election Commission must step in

With the conclusion of the fourth phase of polling for the general elections, the results of nearly 70% of the constituencies lie sealed in EVMs. Against this backdrop, have you observed any shift in the rhetoric of the nation’s political figures leading up to the fifth phase today? Bitterness in their discourses is peaking, with fresh claims and promises as attention turns to the remaining 30% of seats.

Lucknow, India May 19, 2024:::Electronic voting Machines (EVM's) kept at the distribution center before they are distribution to polling officials on the eve of the fifth phase of the General Election at Smriti Upvan Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh India on Sunday, 19, 2024. (Photo by Deepak Gupta/ Hindustan Times) PREMIUM
Lucknow, India May 19, 2024:::Electronic voting Machines (EVM's) kept at the distribution center before they are distribution to polling officials on the eve of the fifth phase of the General Election at Smriti Upvan Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh India on Sunday, 19, 2024. (Photo by Deepak Gupta/ Hindustan Times)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies are making big claims to have won the elections and that they are swiftly approaching the target of 400 seats set by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi. In response, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav addressed journalists in Lucknow, stating that the BJP had lost the elections and that “our seats” had increased significantly in all phases. While PM Modi talks about dedicating his third term to the country’s quick advancement, home minister Amit Shah reiterates his determination to make Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK) a part of India again. Modi said at a public meeting in Bihar: “Ham Pakistan ko choodiyaan pahana denge.” (We will make Pakistan wear bangles).

This is the first time Modi and Shah have used such strong words in public forums. Previously, due to international pressures, such things were served with prudence in velvet-coated words.

Kharge, on behalf of the INDIA bloc, promises to double free grain distribution to 10 kg and increase the job reservation limit to 50%. Are these possible? When I asked a senior Congressman on this subject, he used Brazil as an example. He claims that freebies have had outstanding outcomes in Brazil, so what’s the harm in doing similar experiments in India?

Mamata Banerjee, who took the lead from the Congress in West Bengal, has also altered her tone. Until a few days ago, she had reduced the Congress to less than 40 seats on a national level. Now she argues that the INDIA bloc will get 300 seats nationwide and that her party, the Trinamool Congress, would support it to form a government, from the outside.

What sort of game are they playing?

Meanwhile, divisive and poisonous terms such as temple, mosque, Hindu, Muslim, kabristan-shamshan (graveyard, crematorium), Aurangzeb, colour, and caste are creating bitterness. Our politicians do not realise politics based on caste, religion, region, language, or sect, played consciously or otherwise, poisons the minds of future generations. What happened in Punjab in the 1970s and 1980s, and in Kashmir during the two decades that followed, is a horrible example of this. This lethal sequence must be stopped immediately.

I’m not disputing the Election Commission’s motives or its machinery here, but why doesn’t the Commission, which is supposed to be neutral, double down to prevent this? In a growing and healthy democracy, a variety of issues will arise that can’t always be ignored.

There is another crucial question. How can some of our politicians speak so irresponsibly?

I want to tell such politicians a story. Last year, while I was tracking developments in Kashmir Valley in the wake of the repeal of Article 370, I met this person. He had a paralysed leg and was struggling to walk even with the help of a stick and his brother by his side. Terrorists had shot at his legs multiple times for voting in the district panchayat elections. He said terrorists had warned residents of his village against voting, but he ignored the warning, thinking it was just bluster. The third day after he voted he faced the attack.

If you are wondering why terrorists had not killed him, it was because they intended to use him as a living example of what voting at elections “sponsored by India” entailed. Such elements have failed at the current elections, and the enthusiasm the Valley’s inhabitants have shown in the fourth round is a slap in the face of terrorism sponsored from across the border. (Srinagar, which voted in the fourth phase, recorded a turnout of 36%, which is the highest since 1996, when 41% polling was reported. To put the figures in perspective, the polling in the 2019 general elections was as low as 14.4%.)

Such cases are not exclusive to Kashmir. There are dozens of such people in the secluded areas of India’s northeastern states and the Naxal-affected districts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Maharashtra. They have made great sacrifices to reinforce the foundations of democracy. I’d also like to remind you of the families of deceased personnel of the armed forces who never hesitated in sending their loved ones to sacrifice their lives to protect the country and its law and order. Who says our democracy can survive without such efforts? How come our politicians forget this so easily?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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