When Death Was A Recurrent Campaign Theme

Mala Jay

Gandhiji’s murder, Rajiv’s assassination, Gujarat killings, Delhi riots, Pulwama massacre, jawans being brought home in body bags, the death curse on Hemant Karkare . . .

At times it seems that the 2019 election campaign by BJP's top leaders was held under the shadow of Death.  It is pertinent to note that all the deaths referred to were violent ones.   Bloodshed was involved.  Guns and bombs and other fearsome explosive devices.   And also, in the case of the killing of innocent civilians, swords, knives, lathis and rocks.   And Fire, the most powerful element of all, the most destructive when it comes to extinguishing the lives of fellow human beings.

The TRP ratings of election speeches focusing on past murders and deadly explosions was probably much higher than lectures on mundane matters like vikas, berozgari and brashtachar.   

Even the rallies where ruling party stalwarts  threatened to cut off tongues or chop off heads or have critics thrown into prison grabbed the attention of the audience much more than mere recitations of manifesto pledges and promises of achche din,  which conspicuously weren't even made this time round. 

Are voters really obsessed by blood and gore and brutality and revenge and hatred?  Is that what makes the proverbial ‘aam admi’ tick?  Is that what citizens want above all -  a government that can wield the stick, hit political rivals on the head and squash them like a rotten tomato? 

Or is it only what saffron politicians think the masses are yearning for?  Are Indians basically blood-thirsty?  Is it part of the national psyche, born out of strife and suffering through the ages, about which no reliable records exist?  Have the genetic memories of centuries of marauding invaders, which again is based on history books written by victorious conquerors, left such deep scars that only more bloodshed and cruelty can ease the itch?

Such questions have no answers.  It is wiser not to venture into the uncertain past.  Even a passing mention of the Aryan invasion theory is bound to turn Hindutva proponents purple with indignation. 

What is relevant is the on-going election to elect a new Parliament and thereby install a new Government for the next five years. What is of interest is the tone and content of the methods by which various competing parties are seeking to woo voters to their side. 

But even to do that is treading on hazardous ground.  The moment one begins to talk about the broken Vidyasagar bust, one is again talking about violent behavior, about history, about progressive reformers, about skewed media coverage of the incident and about the angry outbursts by Prime Ministers and party presidents.   The very things one wished to avoid -  hate, fury, finger-waving and bloodcurdling cries for revenge --  come promptly back to centre-stage.   

Far better to steer clear of specifics and take a look at how the massive exercise of public franchise has progressed so far.   Unfortunately once again one slips unwittingly into a quagmire of doubts, suspicions and allegations.  

The Election Commission has shot itself in the foot (there is the gun metaphor again) and covered itself in anything but glory by taking decisions that prima facie fail the test of ‘free and fair’ impartiality.   

Even the common man knows that if at all election campaigning needs to be abruptly curtailed because of mayhem and disorder, then it should be stopped with immediate effect.   It is illogical to postpone the banning of campaigning till after the Prime Minister has addressed his Dum Dum rally and then apply the guillotine 24 hours later.  

That apart, there is the festering issue of EVM machines and the new complication about VVPAT verification.   The fears expressed by more than 20 registered political parties about potential rigging,  the Commission’s stock stand that electronic voting is tamper-proof and the subsequent court order that at least a symbolic sample  of VVPAT paper receipts should be scrutinized are too well reported to need repetition.  

But what is of moment are the reports from the ground of the trend of voting in the six rounds that have been completed till now.   The general perception – which has been buttressed by reports of “leaks” of Exit Poll findings – is that a three-way split is on the cards.   

Broadly speaking, the regional parties that have not formally aligned with either the BJP-led NDA or the Congress-led-UPA seem likely to collectively send 150 or more MPs to the next Lok Sabha.  

The pertinent point is that the BJP tally looks certain to be far less than five years ago.  Precise numbers are not the issue at this point of time – that can wait till counting day.  

But here lies the rub. If on counting day an electronic miracle were to be enacted and  BJP and its NDA allies are shown to have obtained a clear majority on their own it would not just go against the general perception, but would trigger widespread disbelief.  

Bluntly speaking it would vindicate the fears of fixed elections.  In which case, there will be a great deal of commentary about the legitimacy and credibility of the outcome.  

In other words, unless there is a fractured verdict, death will once again dominate the national discourse - the Death of Democracy. 

May 18, 2019

Mala Jay [email protected]

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