Technology makes things easier and quicker. Forty-six years ago when I reached New Delhi in search of a job, I could not have imagined that one day most of my relatives and friends all over the world can be contacted by a click on my mobile phone. However, there is one sector where technology has made things complicated and slower.
Take the case of the general elections now underway in the country. The polling process in the second general elections in 1957 took less than 14 days. The third general elections in 1962 took a shorter period for polling. In fact, it was completed in less than a week.
Remember that the first general elections were held simultaneously to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies. Of course, the number of voters was smaller, though the challenges of holding elections were tougher. There were more candidates. Ballot papers with pictures of symbols and the names of candidates had to be printed for every Lok Sabha and Assembly constituency.
Printing electoral rolls for every constituency was a greater challenge. True, electoral malpractices were reported from some polling booths. On the whole, the way the elections were held did the nation proud. Ordinarily speaking, the election process should have become quicker and easier. What is the situation now?
As I write this, reports have come of a roadshow in Varanasi where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the BJP nominee. Even before he filed his nomination paper, campaigning and polling have ended in several states and constituencies. There is a huge gap between the first day of polling and the day of counting of votes.
Why could not the election commission complete the whole exercise in less than a fortnight as in the second and third general elections? Why have the electronic voting machines not quickened the whole process of elections? Why is it that elections are becoming slower and slower when we claim to be a super power in Information Technology by pointing out the huge profit tech firms like TCS and Infosys make year after year?
Slowness is not the only factor that made the elections noteworthy this time. It showed how incapable the Election Commission was to square up to the peculiar challenges flung at it by some of those in power. It stirred up only after the Supreme Court reminded the three-member commission of its duties.
Though the elections were announced in a routine manner after Narendra Modi completed his full term, they were made unique by the statements of such characters as Sakshi Maharaj. He said categorically that if Modi was elected once again, there would be no elections in 2024 and thereafter. What he hinted at was a core belief of the Sangh Parivar of which the BJP was just a constituent.
The RSS, which will turn 100 in 2025, never believed in democracy or elections. It has its own system of choosing the head of the organisation through nomination. All the Sarsanghchalaks beginning with Dr KB Hedgewar and ending with Mohan Bhagwat were nominated, not elected.
It believes in a system of elders choosing the leaders through a consensual process. It is the same manner in which Khap Panchayats in Haryana elect their leaders. Why Sakshi Maharaj’s comment did not shock many was because in its heart of hearts the Parivar does not want elections.
Ordinarily, he should have been barred from campaigning and sent to jail. The commission did not, however, think it necessary to strike at the MP who has many criminal cases registered against him. The 2019 elections will go down in history as the most viciously fought. The commission gave a warning against using the armed forces for electoral purposes.
It “called upon all political parties to advise their candidates and leaders to desist from displaying photographs of defence personnel or photographs of functions involving defence personnel in advertisements". However, no less a person than the Prime Minister had resorted to using the symbols of the armed forces to garner votes for his party.
If Modi’s speeches were littered with words like Pakistan, terrorists, Pulwama, Balakot, revenge, Muslims, Hindus, Harhar Mahadeva etc, the purpose was clear — to tell the people that he alone could safeguard the borders.
India had the capability to send missiles, acquired several years ago. In wanton violation of the electoral norms, Modi used a satellite-targeted missile to claim credit for the defence prowess and thereby earn some votes. The heavens would not have fallen if the government had waited for the elections to end before hurling the missile at our own satellite.
The commission could have taken Modi to task for violating the code of conduct politicians have to observe during the elections. It seemed to be fearful of the government, a far cry from the days when the commission under TN Seshan kept the government on tenterhooks.
Since Modi is the star campaigner in these elections, his speeches are brought home through the friendly government and private media. It is amazing that he can stoop so low while campaigning. He shocked everyone when he asked Rahul Gandhi why he did not contest from a Hindu constituency and why he preferred a ‘minority constituency’.
Amit Shah said that he visited 282 constituencies so far and everywhere he heard only Modi Modi. Nobody asked him why Modi did not contest from anywhere in the south. It was very improper for him to have described Vayanad as a minority constituency. For a Prime Minister to describe a constituency as Hindu or Muslim was the height of calumny. No, he said it with a purpose.
All his speeches have been aimed at creating a communal polarisation. He has not spoken a word about how he fulfilled his promises during the last five years. Nor did he speak a word about how he strived to usher in a cashless economy by demonetising 500 and 1000-rupee notes.
Others also took a cue from the Prime Minister. Maneka Gandhi threatened the Muslim voters of her constituency that she would not be able to help them get votes if they did not vote for her. As an MP and minister, how many job opportunities has she created so far? She should have been reprimanded for her comments.
Yes, Yogi Adityanath and Mayawati were barred from campaigning for 72 hours and 48 hours respectively. Did they learn any lessons from the punishment? Far from that, the UP Chief Minister said far more atrocious things as soon as the 72-hour-period ended.
There is a saying that however long a dog’s tail is kept in a barrel to make it straight, it will regain its bend once it is released. The so-called Yogi is incorrigible and to expect some measure of decency from him is to ask for the moon. That the BJP does not care a hoot for ethics was apparent when Pragya Singh Thakur was fielded from Bhopal.
Accused of planting bombs in Muslim places of worship, she secured bail on the plea that her health was in a terrible condition. She seems to be as fit as a fiddle. She claimed that it was her curse that resulted in the killing of the much-decorated Mumbai Police office Hemant Karkare who investigated some terrorist cases against her.
When I read it, I wondered why Modi had not taken her to the India-Pakistan border from where she could have cursed all the Pakistani terrorists getting their training at Balakot. The Indian Air Force could have saved some bombs and a MIG aircraft and a helicopter.
Amit Shah gave her a clean chit. She may or may not win but the point is that her candidature is proof that the ruling party is not at all bothered about civility in politics. This election has also seen lies as a political weapon.
In Kerala, Modi claimed that if Ayyappa’s name was mentioned in public, the person concerned would be arrested. The fact is that tens of thousands of people who go to Sabarimala utter this name a thousand and more times during their visit to the temple situated on the Western Ghats.
The BJP’s MP Subramaniam Swamy demanded in a TV interview that, if necessary, the services of the Indian Army should be used to let women of all age groups to enter the Sabarimala temple. The party’s attempt to fish in troubled waters does not seem to have evoked a good response from the voters, unless proved otherwise when the counting takes place.
During the first elections, leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru never attacked their opponents. They only spoke about the issues facing the nation and sought votes on the basis of the solid work done on the field. Even leaders like AB Vajpayee refrained from personal attacks but Modi has been showing no restraint.
He claims to be a chowkidar but chowkidars are not employed by ordinary people. Their job is to protect the wealth of the people who have employed them. A chowkidar’s job is not all that commendable. In 2014, Modi was able to use the chaiwala reference Mani Shankar Aiyar made against him to organise “chai pe charcha” and thereby get a large number of votes. His overuse of the term Chowkidar does not seem to have found a resonance with the people.
Those in the Opposition like Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal have not done well to personally target Modi during the campaign. Gandhi had been overusing the chowkidar term to call Modi a thief. He has been mentioning the Rafale deal every time he opens his mouth.
He could have, instead, narrated one by one the promises Modi made in 2014 and which he failed to fulfill during the last five years. He could have cautioned the nation against letting Modi have one more chance. By his failure to reach a sharing of seats in UP and Delhi with the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, he has given the BJP seats which they would have, otherwise, lost in a straight contest.
The villains of the piece in these elections are not confined to the BJP alone. The elections also saw how blatantly politicians are switching loyalties. If Shatrughan Sinha left the BJP, it is understandable as he has been taking an anti-Modi stand for quite some time. What about Udit Raj? It was as clear as daylight that this Scheduled Caste Leader would not be given a ticket this time. The moment he did not get the ticket, he joined the Congress.
Of course, there are many Congressmen and Congresswomen who joined the BJP on grounds that forced Udit Raj to severe his ties with the BJP. There are also people like Jayaprada who has no compunction in hopping from one party to another to find a seat in Parliament. The Khan who spoke about the Khaki underwear she wore did not crown himself with glory but her own conduct was anything but commendable.
For Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is Tushtikaran Mafia Corruption. How would she have reacted if someone had called her party Bharatiya Jhoota Party?
As if this was not sufficient, her colleague in the BJP Mahadev Sarkar used sexually abusive words against TMC candidate and former investment banker Mahua Moitra. This had forced her to approach the Supreme Court. A CPM leader in Kerala used a similar language against the Congress’ lady nominee at Alathur.
If the standards of the campaign have plummeted to the lowest level, the blame can be pinned on Narendra Modi, who showed no reluctance in stooping lower and lower to hit out against his rivals. What a tragedy that India’s democratic credentials have suffered a major dent thanks to such obnoxious conduct! One can only hope that the voters would have given and would give just desserts to those who vitiated the election campaign.(Published on 29th April 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 17 & 18)