Shedding the electioneering jet lag
Hope for a new India is envisaged post elections, and that must ensure inclusive and holistic governance
Elections in India have dynamics and emotions that manipulate the 'basic-instincts' as opposed to the practised or publically professed instincts, that are usually more civilised, reasonable, and rational. It is accepted unanimously that this time the political discourse and electioneering pitch was at its lowest ebb in the history of Indian democracy, with an unapologetic element of willful participation or acquiescence, by the leadership of all political parties. The precursor to the regression was visible in the 'quality' of the candidates at the hustings that ultimately manifested in a tally of 539 successful members, out of which 233 have criminal charges (23 per cent of which are related to rape, murder, attempt to murder, or crimes against women). All political parties without exception are complicit in the degradation of the narrative, only, some more than the others. In this shameful melee of infamy, ironically 'hate-speeches' emerged as amongst the lesser of the accusable aspersions, and certainly amongst the most successful at the final bidding with the electorate. Emotions that bordered on revisionism and exclusivism, cutting across the societal canvass of religions, race, castes, region etc. were openly stoked and harnessed – as the more pertinent, pressing and sobering data related to the societal inequities, economic concerns and institutional morass slumbered in, only post the elections.
The traditional thaw of the post-election heal was led by the constitutionally correct speech by the Prime Minister that had the reassuring references of 'look ahead and take everybody along', while the opposition parties cued in with their own ode to the democratic impulses by 'honouring the people's verdict'. Yet, it did not seem as reconciliatory as usual, as the political sting in the tail was still evident, firing-away and allowed-to-do-so, with the continuing bite of electoral vitriol and animus, by both the victor and the vanquished. Attributing the caustic and divisive remarks to 'fringe elements' has been the bane of Indian politics for too long, and the silence of the leadership to rein-in the motor-mouths has been conspicuous in its telling silence – a silence, that is an augury of deliberate oversight and worse, unsaid endorsement. The spirit of political rapprochement and 'moving on' post elections is absolutely imperative in order to bolt-out of the electioneering jet lag and engage in what truly matters to India now i.e., addressing the agrarian crisis, economy, jobs, civic facilities, education, environment, etc. Issues need to return in their cold avatar, and the distractive emotions and spin-doctoring thereon need a break. The electioneering spectre of 'manufactured outrage' on something said or unsaid, symbolism over real matters and that of unleashing of unrelated subliminal fears must pave way for basic governance, vibrant deliberations on issues and holistic engagement.
Demonstrated reaffirmation of the spirit of constitutionality is the surest way of overcoming the lingering electoral sentiments. Herein, the deliberate personification of acts that celebrate and uphold the assured liberality, equality, justice and the spirit of fraternity ought to be posited in the public imagination, as opposed to a climate that still tempers and vitiates the sense of liberality, federalism, equality etc., as enshrined in the Constitution. Sadly, the electioneering heat had also led to some loose-talk of rewriting parts of the constitutional assurances under the garb of 'undoing' historical wrongs – this is indeed a very slippery slope, as the genie of populism, once unleashed, has no real way of restraining itself. Importantly, India chose to be like the constitutional framework of 'India', and not that of a theocratic or a majoritarian state like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia etc., or even a repressive one like the modern day Russia, Israel or China, however assertive, muscular and decisive that these models may seem, in the short run. The founding fathers of 'India', be it Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, BR Ambedkar, Subash Chandra Bose, Maulana Azad or even Bhagat Singh, were not bigots or revisionists – they were all borne from the common fount of the idea of 'India', that was later captured in its entirety, profundity, and complexity in the Indian Constitution. Without exception, each of these leaders were unflinching believers in the spirit of the constitutionality mandated secularism, societal equity, and liberality.
Today, popular expressions of ridicule have trended themselves seamlessly into the sub-conscience and lexicon, including the frightening phraseology that seemingly mocks the constitutional spirit of secularism and liberality by way of calling some 'siculars', and even in its original term, 'liberals', has a tinge of inherent pejoration and effeminacy attached to it. When India ought to be asserting its civilisational acuity, maturity, and advancements, it is seemingly engrossed and more at ease at invoking its mythical miracles – as the academic exactitude of intellect is increasingly lampooned as, 'pseudo-intellectual'. This naturally militates against the winds of progress, enlightenment and advancement that ought to be prioritised as we get pitted in the global race for technological superiority, wisdom and progressive impact in society. Today, no historical figure, icon, institution or symbol of the fabled Indian construct is aboveboard anymore; every day a composite element that once shaped 'India' in its vivid complexity is carefully denuded at the altar of reckless politics and immediate gratification.
India has always been about the 'Argumentative Indian', and hence, it is in its genealogical and cultural remit to always debate, evolve and enhance. However, the recent march of democracy has been sullied with a temper that now presupposes and preordains a heft of compliance that almost borders on intolerance and the perennial threat of designating someone as the 'others', who dare 'question'. Patriotism has been made to give way to nationalism, and not too many know the fine difference between the two, anymore.
India has given an electoral mandate and a very clear one at that. The 'new' government has the benefit of a 'continuing-start' that is absolutely invaluable in knowing what to do, and more importantly, what not to do, given its own experiences of the recently completed, 5-year tenure. The change now has to move beyond optics, theatrics, and posturing – the historical ghosts of convenience have to be buried for the sake of the future, and accountability and responsibility affixed onto those who now rule in the present. A thumping presence in the temple of democracy i.e., Parliament, is a double-edged sword that while empowers and emboldens, is also very unforgiving as it takes away the right to blame anyone,
anymore, beyond a point or a term. No new wheels need to be reinvented or renamed – just the honest space to be afforded to the institutions to work fearlessly and deliver without fear, favour or discrimination. India is naturally bequeathed with an unbelievable depth of resilience, creativity, and genius that will always ensure the requisite forward momentum by itself, as long as society remains free of fear, progressive, inclusive and empowered – this is all that the government must do, at the very least and at the very start of a new term.
(Lt General Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is a former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. The views expressed are strictly personal)