I sometimes wonder whether the problem besetting Indian politics lies in the fact that many of our politicians lack a sense of propriety. For them, it’s literally anything goes. There are no bounds of decency or decorum they will not cross.
Recently we have seen proof of this in abundance. The Telangana debate in both Houses produced little that was worth hearing but a lot that was a shame to see. Last week Mr Chidambaram told me he was “mortified” by the scenes of deliberate calculated violence in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. In fact, he went further. He said he was “ashamed”.
Alas, it wasn’t just the behaviour in Parliament that was so embarrassing. What happened in the Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh assemblies was equally damning. Together this suggests there is something rotten at the very core of our political system. When I put this to Mr Chidambaram he bluntly replied “You are probably right.”
The rot, however, has spread far. The rhetoric we hear from the hustings suggests a similar lack of restraint. As the election approaches and the political competition becomes more intense this will only get worse.
How else can we explain Arvind Kejriwal’s comments? Is it really acceptable to brandish Mukesh Ambani’s alleged Swiss bank account numbers without any proof to substantiate the claim? Is it fitting to state Ambani controls Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi? To call Bhupinder Singh Hooda “a property dalal”? Or allege the media — which not so long ago built him up — is paid to criticise AAP?
To be honest, Kejriwal’s rhetoric is no different from Modi’s shahzada taunt or Sonia Gandhi’s “zeher ki kheti” and Rahul’s “khoon ki rajneeti” descriptions. Worse, perhaps, but Modi and the Gandhis can hardly claim to be better. Remember “maut ka saudagar” or “James Michael Lyngdoh”?
My conclusion is simple: our politicians don’t ask themselves a simple question the rest of us grapple with every day of our lives: Is it right to say this? Is it proper to behave in this way?
Just because you’re addressing a campaign rally or fighting for Andhra Pradesh unity doesn’t give you the licence to behave or speak without restraint. Yet many of our politicians seem to think so. Or they believe they can get away with it.
There are times when I feel they simply don’t understand — or, at least, accept — the traditional Indian concepts of izzat and sharam. These matter so much to the rest of us but, it seems, so little to them.
Things will only improve if we, the real people of India, assert our values and make clear our refusal to accept the way politicians breach them. Political candidates must be told, in no uncertain terms, that slander will not win support, character assassination of a political enemy is not the right way of putting him down and disturbing Parliament, whether with pepper sprays, fisticuffs or brazen displays of bare chests, damages the cause and, worse, makes a mockery of democracy.
Only if we assert our ethics will politicians recognise the limits they set. The start, therefore, has to be a clear statement that we, the Indian people, have had enough and will not tolerate anymore.
As the 2014 campaign gets underway, it’s time our voice was heard, individually through the social media, collectively through public opinion and authoritatively through newspapers and television channels. If we don’t act now to stem the rot who knows where it might lead?
The views expressed by the author are personal