Governmental positions command immense authority and therefore, involve immense competition and power struggle. This competition is considered healthy in a democracy, where each individual is granted the right to be elected (requiring some basic conditions be fulfilled). In fact, greater competition only demonstrates the accessibility to the system, and the interest citizens have in participating in active politics. A wider variety of political parties and leaders in fact, is more representative of the various segments of the population and ensures that the meekest of voices are heard. Such scenarios are particularly relevant to Multi-party democracies like India, where a great number of national and state-recognised parties operate and compete for formal power. There is no dearth of avenues either, with elections going on one after another. Amidst all these however, the ultimate objective any party in India has is to make a mark in the government formation at the centre in the General Elections that occur every 5 years. Consequently, the corresponding pre-election phase exudes maximum vibrancy and energy.
We are currently headed for the General Elections 2019, and in this period of campaigning and competition, something that has been more and more visible is an increasing trend towards pettiness and demeaning others in the process of promoting oneself. In fact, not only has the practice demonstrated itself frequently but also formed a major formal campaign strategy for several political parties. This trend is not exclusive to India, but a drastic degradation in political demeanour has been prevalent in several countries around the world.
The campaigning phase requires party leaders to deliver speeches and address people of different areas on a day to day basis. These speeches are mostly based on accusing the rival parties of inefficiency, which becomes unacceptable when the series of abuses goes beyond a basic decency and high-profile leaders start taking petty digs at one another. Most often, the incites are not even relevant to the discussion, or at least not more important than discussing the fundamental issues that actually need attention. The basic line of civility and ethics get crossed by all parties almost on a daily basis.
This pattern has not been remote to the world’s greatest democracy, the USA, either, as was visible in the campaign period preceding the Presidential Elections 2016. The Presidential Debate that aired on NBC News was truly cringe-worthy, with graves being dug open and the most pathetic and unethical personal remarks being made on world television, ignoring the important discussions on real concerns of the people. The behaviour was demeaning and unsuitable to the stature, and reflected the degeneration of ethics that leaders once were mindful of, to say the least.
In fact, a related concern is that today, campaigning for oneself has become synonymous to insulting others. These Anti-X narratives are visible in all public addresses, but become a greater problem when they make their ways into formal documents too. One among several instances can be cited from the Election manifesto of a leading political party in West Bengal, which recently released it’s 72 page-long manifesto, all of which just blatantly talks about the failures of the incumbent Narendra Modi led-BJP government. It constantly criticises the government for its unplanned economic reforms, for inciting communal disharmony in the country and for failing to keep any promises made. While these arguments could certainly form a portion of the document, my little understanding of manifestos makes me discontent with this one for the simple reason that it has barely any new vision or policy proposals to offer.
Why these behavioural patterns must concern us has two answers: Firstly, because when crucial platforms like speeches, manifestos and media discussions are wasted in making distasteful abusive remarks, it diverts attention from the mass deprivation that people live in. These gimmicks veil the incapacities of leaders and parties, who do not do enough on real matters. Secondly, and more importantly, the political culture of a nation only mirrors the ethics of the society, and if political parties are getting away with engaging in such petty behaviour, it certainly must ring a bell in our own ears. They offer what they know will go down easily with the masses, and hence, introspection is crucial. When defending our preferred leaders/parties in informal political discussions next time, we must be mindful of the kind of arguments we provide.
It is unfortunate that the kind of dignity and sanctity that leaders maintained in politics has been lost to a generation of hate-mongers. However, the future course can be improved by acknowledging the problem first.
Picture Courtesy- The Telegraph
This article is a part of the ‘Of Tugs and Tussles: General Election 2019’ feature series where we focus on quality content written and chosen to focus on specific areas surrounding elections. Find a link to other articles of this feature series here: