The election campaign in Uttar Pradesh has been intermittently jarred by low political rhetoric and vicious verbal barbs against opponents, reminding us yet again that all is not well with our polity. A degenerative political discourse should make us reflect on the quality of our democracy itself. Those of us who celebrate the ‘stubborn persistence’ of democracy as our proudest achievement are, therefore, duty-bound to resist the debasement of political discourse. In what should be a national endeavour, we must begin by rebutting all argumentations that violate both national conscience and established facts.
The provocation for these reflections is the vicious propaganda against the Nehru-Gandhi family and intemperate remarks about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Rahul Gandhi’s comments on the campaign trail, intended to convey a sense of pride in contributions made by Congress stalwarts, have been deliberately distorted to mount a personal attack on the young parliamentarian. Rahul Gandhi’s emphasis on the contribution of his family members cannot, in fairness, be faulted as a negation of the contributions of other national stalwarts. If inheritors of the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Sardar Patel, Subhas Chandra Bose, et al were to invoke their heritage, the nation would share in their pride. And a statement made in an election rally cannot be construed as one with diplomatic implications. Our foreign policy rests on firmer foundations.
The principal Opposition party has deemed it fit to invoke the repeatedly debunked charge against the Congress of promoting ‘dynastic politics’. In pursuit of its compulsive obsession, it has chosen to denounce even Jawaharlal Nehru for the present situation in Kashmir. Questionable suggestions have been advanced about Indira and Rajiv Gandhi as well. Intellectual integrity and political honesty demand that we repel an untruth, lest it finds acceptance for want of timely rebuttal and persistent repetition.
For the record, and by way of a gentle reminder, it needs to be reiterated that Nehru’s contribution as the architect of modern India and as the leader of the freedom movement is firmly established in the annals of modern Indian history. Nehru’s pre-eminence is assured for his idealism and for being the one who articulated in his vision the will of his age and redeemed his promise through ceaseless service of his people.
Democratic to the core, Nehru did not will or plan that Indira Gandhi succeed him as PM. It was Lal Bahadur Shastri who was chosen through a democratic process to lead the nation after Nehru. Likewise, Indira Gandhi was first elected president of the Congress in the late 1950s by party stalwarts.
The nation has also not forgotten the tragic circumstances in which Rajiv Gandhi succeeded his mother. Rajiv Gandhi, thereafter, secured the largest-ever political mandate in our history in a free election. His initiatives to strengthen panchayati raj institutions, for global disarmament and computer literacy can never be minimised. The ghost of Bofors stands buried in the dustbin of history through repeated judicial and popular verdicts.
Sonia Gandhi could have become PM for the asking after her husband’s assassination, but chose instead a life of political oblivion. She refused prime ministership again in 2004, when the people of India gave her party the mandate to lead a coalition government at the Centre. Yet again, following the office of profit controversy, Sonia Gandhi resigned her seat in the Lok Sabha and had her leadership re-affirmed in the ensuing election with a record margin of victory. The political status of the Gandhis has thus been repeatedly endorsed by the people in fiercely contested elections.
There is also the question of the quality and idiom of political communication. It is indeed unfortunate that senior Opposition leaders have chosen to hit out against the PM, who, as leader of the nation, is entitled to elementary courtesies in the finer traditions of parliamentary democracy. The only reason for an assault on Singh is that as a senior party leader, he chose to encourage a younger leader for his commitment to the development of UP. The Opposition is certainly entitled to a different view, but by what standards of political morality can the PM be faulted for his “belittling subservience”?
Let those who cannot, and will not, desist from indulging in their favourite pastime of pursuing a propaganda to advance their quest for power for its own sake, remember that selective amnesia does not alter the facts of history. Politics that seek to stand above history are doomed in any case. And those who have a role to play in sustaining and strengthening our democratic process must choose their words with care. Unjust insinuations and vicious accusations can cause irreversible anger and permanent hurt. In the process, it can foreclose civilised discourse, resulting in the derailing of democracy itself.
Reasonable self-restraint in expression is a minimum imperative for civil debate.
Ashwani Kumar is Minister of State for Industry