Even before the Lok Sabha poll season kicked off Sunday with the Election Commission announcing the poll dates, the state of political rhetoric in the country was turning dismal, with most senior leaders of key parties using expressions for one another that would not pass muster in a polite middle-class drawing room. In such an atmosphere, banality was not going to be far behind.
The first off-the-block were genuinely pseudo-secular elements — from political parties as well as keyboard warriors, who have sought to “weaponise” the social media. These are folks who rush to take up so-called minority issues with witless alacrity.
A West Bengal leader was quickly off the mark, seeing communal malice in that some poll dates coincided with the Muslim holy month of fasting. Others followed suit, but fortunately no one of substance from the political spectrum or outside it took the bait.
In fact, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi was quick to debunk the notion of unfairness done to Muslim voters merely because they were required to go and vote at a time of fasting. Lyricist Javed Akhtar also voiced his displeasure, saying the EC shouldn’t consider the absurd notion “even for a second”.
Fortunately, there has been some extremely positive news as well. Just before poll dates were announced, Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik declared his party would nominate 33 per cent women candidates for Parliament. This isn’t just novel, but revolutionary. The women’s reservation bill has languished in Parliament for a quarter century. Away from legislative wrangles, political parties could have fixed the problem by nominating women candidates for elections in a big way, but they are afraid of upsetting politically active menfolk eyeing nominations. Mr Patnaik has broken that barrier.
It’s true that the BJD leader has guaranteed one-third of all nominations to women only for the Lok Sabha poll, not the Assembly elections, that are being held alongside Parliament in Odisha. A BJP spokesman was quick to pounce on this instead of giving credit where it’s due. It should be recognised that even taking the first step calls for daring as the battle for votes is a totally uncertain field. Hopefully, as time goes by, the BJD will look beyond the parliamentary arena. It will be a much-needed political reform if other parties can follow the BJD’s example, at least in some measure.
There is some irony in the fact that even in war-torn and desperately poor Afghanistan — where dangerous warlords make the wind bend to their dictates — the Constitution guarantees 25 per cent reserved seats for women in Parliament, but not in India where democracy has been practised for 70 years. Democratic practice will have a much more agreeable face if women took the field in larger numbers and male gladiators were reined in....