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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 22, May 16, 2009

Election time or tamasha time?

Monday 18 May 2009, by Sunita Vakil

Let’s face it. Every five years or even sooner we are subjected to a new circus called ‘’elections’’. Election time is mela time for politicians who have left no stone unturned to convert politics into a free-for-all political circus. Once on the electoral platform, they will do anything to shift focus from the real issues weighing on the voter’s minds. They will make funny speeches, raise heady slogans and make inflammatory and indecent remarks as a ploy to attract votes. We also see them spewing venom on their opponents and passing personal remarks about each other with the ever-obliging 24 X 7 media making sure that their hate-speeches get unparalleled attention what is worrying is that such offensive rhetoric and mud-slingling against their opponents is becoming an indispensable and accepted part of our political discourse.

Viewed in this context, election 2009 has proved to be one of the worst elections where all norms of decency and morality have been thrown to the wind by these unscrupulous politicians. Every other day harsh words are used in speeches delivered by them which gives an insight into their immature mindset. Keen on clinging to power these politicians have parted ways with their ideologies as well as that of their parent party. What matters most to them is to win maximum number of seats by hook or crook. They are only driven by self-interest with an eye on the ultimate goal of power. It is the upshot of such crass opportunism ruling the roost that has led to the lack of democratic practices within parties. This has consequently encouraged parochialism, nepotism and propagation of dynasty rule resulting in erosion of values, criminalisation of politics and proliferation of corruption. Is it any wonder then that crime and corruption have taken firm roots in Indian politics?

It must take a weird sense of humour to detect even a slight connection between the people and the politicians. Busy in their own survival in the political jungle, they have neither the time nor any burning desire to deal with the country’s problems like poverty, price rise and terrorism. Most of their public discourses are aimed at entertaining the masses who in turn find them irrelevant and lacking in substance. It is an unfortunate fact that the progressively deteriorating political environment in India has nothing to offer except mud-slinging and raising communal issues.

There is no sense of decorum. Only a mad zeal to grab power by any means possible can be seen. While a senior Cabinet Minister like Laloo Prasad Yadav feels no qualms about uttering the ‘’crushing-under-the-roller’’ remark, the irrepressible Mulayam Singh finds nothing wrong in threatening a woman official. In the same vein, Vaiko’s warning of a bloodbath in Tamil Nadu while supporting a banned organisation speaks volumes about such anarchy that has taken deep roots in our political system. Our polity has reached such a low that instead of engaging in healthy debates on key issues, our so-called worthy leaders are trying to score points over each other by indulging in weak versus strong, Ayodhya issue, Kandahar hijack and gudia-budia controversies. Such verbal duels which expose the true colour of our politicians indicate that the largest democracy doesn’t care a fig for its people.

The real tragedy is that elections are increasingly only about charges and counter-charges levelled by different parties at each other in a bid to prove itself first among equals. The war of words between the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani, that is hotting up with each passing day is definitely of no use to the common man. Instead of talking of development issues of national interest, the two contenders for the highest post are busy indulging in accusations and counter-accusations over non-serious issues. Do they seriously think that the common man is interested in keeping pace with this sleazy drama that has all the ingredients of an Indian potboiler? The truth is that these political gimmicks are beyond the comprehension of the common man who is only concerned with the issues affecting him in his daily life. Politicians of all hues need to remember that regional, communal and casteist rhetoric is not going to help in the long run. The Assembly results in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh provide ample proof of the same.

At a time when the nation wants its leaders to engage in healthy debate on vital issues, they are vying with one another to fool the common man once again. Isn’t it a bitter truth that we allow them to fool us, carried away as we are by their emotional blackmail? The onus is equally on the masses to choose the right kind of leaders. While the election manifestos of all parties talk tall about eliminating poverty and controlling price rise, the harsh reality is that social issues such as poverty, water scarcity, unemployment and price rise are rarely mentioned in their speeches. Instead, we hear them indulge in character assassination of their opponents. Having said that, one wonders when will our politicians move beyond wanton rhetoric and speak of nation’s interest instead of lambasting other parties? The so-called sops mentioned in the party manifestos are merely an eyewash. For once they come into power nobody will dare to question them on the implementation of their promises. What is worse is that these leaders cutting across party lines, who are at loggerheads with each other before elections, forget their differences to come together to form a new government. It is time the voters realised that their critical needs will only be met if there is hope for fair governance.

Most unfortunately, till date no mainstream political party has addressed the health care and educational needs of the common man. This is a pity for our country accounts for 20 per cent of the world’s maternal deaths. With nearly half of our children malnourished, in fact mortality rate together with gender discrimination have severely impacted the gender ratio. Globally, India accounts for one-third of the world’s poor. In India, despite great leaps in growth, a large number of people still do not have access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Polio is even now a big challenge. Epidemic outbreak like dengue and chickengunya have again reappeared after about fifty years. The HIV virus is also spreading by leaps and bounds. And yet, the actual amount spent on health care is woefully inadequate. Indeed, many underdeveloped countries have better health care systems. Initiatives like the National Housing Policy have failed to achieve their target. Industrial growth has slowed down and unemployment has increased. Why are our political parties not focussing on these issues? Moreover, the money squandered on these electoral tamashas could find better use if diverted to meet the educational and health care needs of the aam aadmi.

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