Samvada | When the silence of citizens is dangerous to democracy

It is time a list of the most outrageous comments used during elections in recent times is made and sent to those who made them backed by signatures of ten crore citizens

By the time you read this, voting in the Assembly elections in Karnataka will have already taken place. Readers would be waiting for the results. They will soon get them. There may be a clear mandate for one party or a fractured one in favour of no single party. Within a couple of weeks, people in Karnataka will have forgotten that such a pitched campaign took place. Most of the shrill speeches made by politicians will have been forgotten. Soon after, life will get back to its normal. However, something abnormal did emerge in this election, and that is the utter disregard of the political class to the issues that matter the most.

Throughout the months leading to the elections, petroleum and diesel prices have remained at a high where they were pitched. They directly affect every life in the state. I did not hear a single politician talking about them. Similarly, the havoc played with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) paper leaks, did not figure in the speeches. The state that is known as a great educational destination throughout the country, did not hear even the slightest reference to the lowest depths where education is lying today. There were gross boasts about the number of jobs that parties claim to create, should they come to power; but no one had time to talk about the lack of skill upgradation.

As against this silence on the crucial issues such as the kitchen, the work-place, the school, politicians of various hues had plenty of time for mud-slinging and mutual accusation. Plain lies were doled out generously. The BJP was on the forefront in this. The Congress was not far behind. It was pathetic to see the prime minister spending several days addressing rallies and pouring out venom. That was entirely unbecoming for the high office. He dragged the dignity of his office down to the level of a challenger in an assembly constituency. When all this was happening, your money, my money or some public funds were being used. Even when the funds come from the coffers of the political parties, the donors will, ultimately, finds ways of collecting it from us very soon.

If we had some kind of time machine with us to enable us to transpose members of the Constituent Assembly to this shrill campaign, one wonders if they would have appreciated it. The intention behind creating the ‘representatives of people’ article in the Constitution was to get some genuinely public-service minded individuals to run the affairs of the people. Allowing parties to exist was done in view of the British experience of how parties conduct themselves. In India we have today a fairly anarchic situation regarding the number of parties allowed to contest. And their funding needs has become the root cause of corruption. Besides, some cadre-based parties have long back ceased to respect the spirit in which the people’s representative act was placed in the constitution. These kinds of election campaigns and these kinds of political parties have started hitting at the root of the spirit of democracy, an arrangement in which all citizens are genuinely equal.

Very soon, the country will start looking to the Lok Sabha elections of 2019. They promise to be the noisiest elections ever that India has known. Given the declining popularity of the BJP, and given the quality of language it brings to elections campaigns, it is anybody’s guess as to what further low the public discourse will attain. The question is whether one should quietly accept this as fate-accompli or to rise against the violation of the spirit of the Constitution. It is indeed time that a list of the most outrageous comments used during elections in recent times is made and sent to all those who made those statements. Such a list backed by signatures of 10 crore citizens will bring the politicians back to their senses. Citizen’s silence will be as harmful to democracy as the outpourings of demagogues.

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