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Opinion | India’s democracy is under stress

To strengthen the foundation of our polity, voters must resist trends that are fatal for the country.

columns Updated: Apr 22, 2019 07:14 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
Election Commission,Lok Sabha elections,Elections 2019
The Election Commission (EC)  has finally made some effort to set things right by taking a few tough decisions.(REUTERS)

In the last Lok Sabha elections, when campaigning was over for the last phase, citizens heaved a sigh of relief. In the next five years, as many as 25 assembly elections were held and during each one, the witnessed the painful sight of the decline in the candidates’ behaviour. Now once again, we are witness to a sharp fall in standards.

The Election Commission (EC)  has finally made some effort to set things right by taking a few tough decisions but its path is no less difficult. When there are charges of violating the Model Code of Conduct against all the main leaders of all the leading parties, then it is but natural.

But our leaders are clever. There are no laws, rules or regulations that they are not able to circumvent. The EC clamped a ban of 48 to 72 hours on Yogi Adityanath, Mayawati, Maneka Gandhi and Azam Khan from campaigning. In keeping with political decency, they should have kept quiet and introspected. But, this was not the case. They found other ways to hog the headlines.

After a few hours of this diktat by the Election Commission, Mayawati called a press conference and alleged that this decision has been taken on the instructions of the BJP. Calling the Election Commission anti-Dalit, Mayawati came down heavily on it. When news outfits are so keen to harness the digital tide, such statements not only hog the headlines but also become viral very quickly. Mayawati, an upcoming star of social media, knows this well. The available social media data tells you that as compared to the ethical political comments, bitter and controversial statements draw people’s attention much faster. Behenji did that and succeeded. Her statement along with the decisions of the EC kept spreading. In this matter, she proved to be better than the other three leaders who were banned from campaigning for a certain period.

Yogi Adityanath knows that his admirers like him more as a religious leader than a capable and efficient administrator. He used another method. He went and sat in the Hanuman temple situated near the Gomti river in Lucknow. Now the image of his face was reaching the entire world through television and mobile phone cameras amid the slogans of Jai Siya Ram in the background. Whatever the EC had to do, it did, but nobody can stop someone from worshipping. Yogi’s temple visit was bound to go viral and it did. He did not stop here. The next day he visited Ayodhya and Devipatan.

And in Rampur, Azam Khan’s legislator son alleged that the ban on his father was because he is a Muslim. It’s clear that the EC’s decision couldn’t check the mobilisation efforts of these leaders. Reinging in leaders who indulge in the politics of caste and community is not easy. Please recall. In 1995, when Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray despite repeated warnings by the EC, he did not stop spouting poison against one particular community, he was banned from contesting elections and casting vote for six years. But this only increased Thackeray’s popularity. In the next elections, his party’s chief minister occupied Mantralaya and his party members got important posts in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet.

This is only natural in a country that feels safe in the trenches of caste, religion, language, community and regionalism. Unfortunately, this sad story doesn’t end here.

The use of money power in elections is the second major disaster. According to income tax department sources, more than Rs 695 crores have been recovered in these elections so far. It’s clear that black money is very much around. Amid caste and religion based slogans, showering of money on poor voters is part and parcel of our politics. Voters now must understand that this sort of greed is undermining their rights. Exactly how dangerous this hysteria and greed is for our country and people is evident from these elections.

It is not surprising then that one of the most reputed magazines of the world,The Economist had kept India in the category of Flawed Democracy in the Democracy Index 2018, published last year. This report revealed that the world’s largest democracy fared badly on the parameters of electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties.

If people do not start resisting these trends and tendencies which are fatal to democracy from this very election, then the foundation of our democracy which was built on the sacrifices of our forefathers will continue to splinter and become weaker after every poll. The consequences of this are too frightening even to contemplate.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Apr 22, 2019 07:14 IST