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Opinion | Probity in campaign, polite political discourse a tough ask

The practice of trying to expose the skeletons in each other’s cupboard has become a favourite political past time. This is both shocking and frightening.

columns Updated: May 20, 2019 09:49 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
india,general elections,lok sabha elections results
All eyes are now on what kind of government will emerge from these Lok Sabha elections.(ANI Photo)

All eyes are now on what kind of government will emerge from these Lok Sabha elections. These elections have challenged the very soul of India. Has all decency, morality, self-respect, harmony and co-existence been lost forever in political discourse? Those who believe in the mythology may consider the Mahabharata as our perennial destiny, but living societies must think of the future and not of the past.

In recent years, the practice of trying to expose the skeletons in each other’s cupboard has become a favourite political past time. This is both shocking and frightening. The youth of this country need a clear road map for the future. A consensus on this among political parties is imperative, but that is not happening. Farmers, workers, women and the oppressed have just been reduced to political pawns. On serious issues like defence and security, we get a whole lot of noise and no substantial debate.

Whatever good or bad previous governments did, one thing was clear — there was a kind of unwritten consensus on a number of issues. Let me take you back 52 years. It was 1967. Embarrassed after the defeat by China in 1962 and severely damaged on the economic front by the 1965 Indo-Pak war, the Army was compelled to fight an undeclared war. At Nathu La on the Chinese border, the Red Army had created trouble. In response to it, the Indians took decisive action. More than 300 Chinese soldiers were killed. Sixty five of our soldiers lost their lives. This battle was fought at 14,200 feet and was the last major conflict between the two countries. China understood that the attitude of our army was aggressive and it decided against further adventures.

Those days Indian politics was characterised by decency. Instead of spreading and publicising this news, it was suppressed. For years, most people were unaware of this. As a result, there was no bitterness between the two countries and it became easy for India to present its side on strategic platforms. Most army actions are expected to be greeted with the same caution, but now, the world has changed.

It’s not that defence has become a topic of discussion everywhere only in India. From World War II till 1983, Britain too followed the principle of silence and secrecy on defence matters. But the American way of letting it all hang out has taken over there too. Its consequences may have some short-term benefits for 10, Downing Street or the White House, but it creates dissatisfaction and aggression in the rest of the world.

This is the reason why Barack Obama who watched the killing of Osama Bin Laden live could not eliminate al-Qaeda. Even after many attacks on it, Daesh is capable of creating havoc even today. The recent attacks in Colombo is an example.

While leaders in many developed countries are aggressive in their speeches, some others are seen as guarding the peace and their people. The prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern is an exemplar of democratic leadership. On March 15, when a fanatic killed 50 Muslims praying in a mosque at Christchurch, she was seen acting with commendable calm, control and balance. In her first speech after the gruesome attack, she made it clear that the government will not make public the identity of the attacker. Not only this, after taking the opposition’s consent, she took several steps to ensure that such an assault could be prevented in future. She also attended a condolence meeting wearing a black scarf. The world media highlighted her photo. Will our leaders steeped in the politics of division ever behave like this?

New Zealand is considered one of the cleanest and healthiest democracies in the world. In the last seven phases of polling for the general election in India, people who cast their votes may have had noble intentions. They must have voted thinking that their leaders will, despite the negative campaign rhetoric, deliver on promises of healthcare, education and jobs among other things. But this whole election exercise has become one of name calling and raising irrelevant issues which have little connect with the actual lives of people. It would seem that the electoral arena has become one where the ability to fling mud on each other and shout down opponents are seen as vehicles to success. I cannot honestly think of a single leader who has displayed high standards of decorum and probity in this campaign. The future does not look too bright, does it?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan

The views expressed are personal

First Published: May 20, 2019 08:03 IST