This torrent of abuse is unprecedented, all of it based on a farrago of fact and myth that is being marketed at poll time. All of it would all seem like an elaborate soap opera if not for the fact that both sides take each other so very seriously. There was never an election like this in which ‘gaalis’ have become offensive weapons and they are hurled back at the same velocity.
Truth to tell, this election is being fought as if the major antagonists are living in glass houses across the road from each other and are throwing loaded verbal missile at each other. If "chor" is heard from one side of the road, the reply is "Brashtachari No. 1" from the other. And then the cascade flows, increasing by the day as May 19 approaches. We haven’t heard the last of it yet.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s listing of a litany of curses, beginning with the ‘Maut ka Saudagar’ comment of Sonia Gandhi of 2007 vintage, is a fair measure of the kind of abuses that have been thrown around. Not that he or his party did not give it back in full measure. The point is whether the poll ‘Gaali’ is an effective enough vote gatherer for so many to swear by the repetitive methodology of abuse.
As this long seven - phase poll battle approaches a climax, it is not a crescendo of voices at the hustings that is rising as much as cacophony. What it is bringing them all is a disproportionate amount of media coverage as each one tries to outdo the other in producing the one piercing barb which would linger for days until one in retaliation proves better.
If you were somehow able to get away from this all and view it from a distance you might even be able to make sense of it. This virtual monopoly of media and social media time probably helps those already in the profession of politics as a career to further their grip on the public attention to the extent that they are locking others like newbies out.
The battles are always among the established players for the public vote so much so that very few new players have any chance of emerging from their political chrysalis. The last one to spring out was Arvind Kejriwal who broke into the club in recent times, coming from an anti-corruption movement that seemed novel at that time and was quite different from the beaten path.
What, for instance, are the chances of Kamal Haasan emerging as a colourful butterfly? As a serious politician, he makes all the right ‘noises’ but he wouldn’t even get the time of day from a media that is focused on established allies and adversaries on the national political scene. It would be sad if a politician talking of serious issues confronting society were to be reduced to a fringe player.
It could be argued that Narendra Modi emerged a national leader in 2014 but then he had had a headstart over others. As chief minister of Gujarat he was in the same game for decades and even as a wave with him at the crest grew, it may also have helped that he had the endorsement of the RSS, ideological wing that controls the party, besides oodles of experience in campaigning.
The coming of newbies out of 2019 would be very restricted. If you were to assume that Rahul Gandhi is a contender for the top job, you would have to give him the same ranking as Modi as he would be emerging from a system that has supported him all along, and he had begun his serious innings with the distinct advantage of being the anointed heir apparent of a national party invariably headed by a dynast.
It’s probably the media focus that makes our leaders loom larger than life. From the outside it appears to be a closed shop precluding any new entrant except someone really special to be able to come from outside the charmed circle. It was very much the same in Indian cricket not so long ago when an inner circle ruled the roost in the 1990s and would be loath to give way for a new generation on the grounds that they had to prove themselves worthy.
A predicted return to the days of coalition government has led to an expanding number of Prime Ministerial aspirants. If a chaiwallah’s ascent is proof of the power of democracy, it only emphasises the field is as wide open now. As post-poll scenarios are unfolding in the minds of leaders, even unlikely ones may be feeling a surge of ambition. It is moot whether a dance of democracy can break open the doors of a closed shop to give us a fourth Prime Minister in the new millennium. The answer won’t be long in coming....