MARCH: The Election Commission advisorys to candidates not to hit below the belt during election campaign is similar to the preamble to the Constitution: lofty but not mandatory.
No 2 item under the general conduct guidelines, issued by the Election Commission, says: “Criticism of other political parties, when made, shall be confined to their policies and programme, past record and work. Parties and candidates shall refrain from criticism of all aspects of private life, not connected with the public activities of leaders or workers of other parties. Criticism of other parties or their workers based on unverified allegations or distortion shall be avoided”.
It’s time voters, dismayed by the negatives they see all around, summoned courage and took the guidelines seriously. For, they could teach erring candidates a lesson or two. Ensure that one of the criteria for choosing the candidate is his/her balanced criticism of rivals.
If voters dump candidates who resort to character assassination and vilification of rivals, it will help clean up the electoral stable. Once smitten, they will be shy. Electioneering will turn healthier and debates more informative.
Vilification campaigns have undone reputations and victims have taken long to be vindicated. In the 1980s, the late Baby John was accused of bumping off a potential rival, the local Congress leader Sarasan. Baby John was Education Minister in the Nayanar ministry, which collapsed when Congress and KC (M) pulled out.
In the ensuing elections, there was no road in Chavara that baby John could take without being attacked, even physically. The UDF rivals accused him of murder. But Baby John managed to scrape through on a majority of 600 plus votes. Yet the blot remained, till years later when the ‘dead’ Sarasan surfaced, ending a sordid chapter in election history. He had left Chavara for personal reasons and lived in disguise in Karnataka.
Below-the-belt attacks boomerang. During a hot campaign in Kottarakkara, Kerala Congress leader R Balakrishna Pillai mocked at his principal rival, the late Kottara Gopalakrishnan (Youth Congress), saying he wasn’t even big enough for a game of marbles. Alas, when the results came the mighty Pillai was defeated. Kottara and friends dumped a sack of marbles near the challenger’s house in celebration.
But Kerala had gone through more sinister campaigns. Former Cooperation Minister G Sudhakaran was accused by the Congress rival of abducting a student from the women’s hostel while he was a Kerala University syndicate member. It was Sudhakaran’s debut contest to the Assembly from Kayamkulam.
But Sudhakaran, whose own brother had been a student martyr, refrained from retaliating on a similar vein. In appreciation, voters sent him to the Assembly.
Says Sudhakaran: “There have been very malicious campaigns elsewhere in the State but voters in Kerala are intelligent enough to distinguish between fact and fiction and the good and the bad. So it is in the best of democracy that all right-thinking people stick to EC guidelines as they would uphold the Constitution”. What better words of encouragement from a politician who has seen it all!