The discourse in the rival campaigns for the Assembly elections in five states in November-December, which drew to a close on Wednesday, have been far from decorous. Leaders were guilty of lacing their speeches with not only personal attacks but also giving free rein to historical inaccuracies while trying to run down opponents at the hustings. Religion has also figured far more than it should in the rhetoric of both sides. In short, the campaigning has been vicious but the blame does not rest on any one side.
Campaigning in Rajasthan recently, the PM had said that at the time of the Partition, in 1947, the Congress Party had not been sensitive to the Sikhs and permitted the hallowed Sikh shrine of Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib, which is only about four kilometres from the India-Pakistan border, to go to Pakistan. In fact, after intensive deliberations and negotiations involving the viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Congress leadership (which included Nehru and Sardar Patel) and the Muslim League supremo M.A. Jinnah, the Rajaji formula of June 3 was accepted — the Muslim-majority districts in the Muslim-majority provinces of British India would form Pakistan.
With difficulty, in the west, Pakistan saved Lahore for itself but had to give way on Gurdaspur, in which lies Dera Baba Nanak, where recently vice-president M. Venkaiah Naidu inaugurated the Kartarpur Sahib corridor for Sikh pilgrims on the Indian side; in the east, Calcutta (now Kolkata) could be retained in India after heated discussion, making Jinnah angrily declare that he would not have “a moth-eaten Pakistan”. Perhaps the BJP leadership calculates that the present generation is unlikely to know much about the past, and it can get away with saying this, no matter how ridiculous it may seem.
In another campaign, Jawaharlal Nehru, who sported a red rose, was mocked at for knowing about gardens but not agriculture or farmers. This is a travesty of facts. Under Prime Minister Nehru’s first five-year plan after Independence, the stress was on agriculture, irrigation, community development and land rehabilitation, with these sectors claiming about 30 per cent of the plan outlay, causing agricultural production to jump. The Bhakra Nangal and the Hirakud dams were built in this period, transforming Indian agriculture.
If the country’s top leaders do not maintain a gracious discourse, colleagues lower down fail to observe appropriate norms. A recent example of this was Yogi Adityanath’s attack on MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi. Exaggeration may be part of the charges and counter charges that fly when leaders are campaigning in what are essentially high stake elections in the fight for political power. What we seemed to lose in the current round of polls is the kind of decorum in which attacks did not get too personal and what was being debated was issues before the nation. The year 2018 may have changed all that and the fear is that in 2019 there will be more of this....