The writing on the wall could not be clearer. But the only people who don’t seem to have understood it are our netas. People want to hear how the next set of leaders will pull India out of the economic morass, create jobs, woo back foreign investors, make social welfare schemes work, reduce poverty, improve healthcare and universalise education, to name just a few things. But, our electoral aspirants seem far more engaged in unseemly verbal fisticuffs, largely to score personal points. Harking back to the old days may be a bit boring, but we don’t recall our great leaders ever resorting to the kind of language or personal insults that we hear today.
The BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant, Narendra Modi, recently said that the Bihar chief minister’s arrogance was higher than Mount Everest. Which led the latter to respond saying that “arrogance is dripping from every inch of Modi’s body”. Then Mr Kumar mentioned that he came from a poor family to counter Mr Modi’s origins as a tea vendor. Rahul Gandhi did his party no favour by referring to certain leaders as akin to Hitler, nor did the external affairs minister cover himself in glory by saying Mr Modi was ‘impotent’ in reference to the 2002 Gujarat riots. This sort of name-calling brings our democracy into disrepute. People are clearly fed up with the kind of physical violence that our elected representatives tend to unleash in Parliament and legislatures. But instead of trying to usher in a modicum of decency into politics, the trend seems to be to conform to the lowest common denominator.
When was the last time that we saw a meaningful public debate on any issue which is relevant to the people? Television channels are replete with politicians who seem to do little beyond trade insults and shout each other down. Whenever a voice of reason is raised, it is quickly drowned out by the rabble rousers. Though our political system is different, we should take a cue from the way debates between candidates are conducted in the US. Barring the odd exception, they come to the stage after having conducted extensive research into various subjects and are able to argue and counter each other with facts and logic. Here, the main aim appears to be to discredit each other by raising their origins, as Mani Shankar Aiyar did with Mr Modi. Any attempt to point out genuine shortcomings in a leader by another or even the media is labelled a conspiracy by caste or class enemies. Mamata Banerjee is a past master at this.
It may be too much to hope for, but as campaigning gets into full swing, it would be a wonderful change to listen to some real discussion and debates shorn of personal references and over-the-top rhetoric.