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Electoral politics and democratic debates

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Register the vote for any candidate in the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) and it goes only for BJP irrespective of which button was pressed; the reports say that this hoax took place during the local body election in Uttar Pradesh in areas like Meerut and Agra where the ruling coalition has less influence.

It is when the poll dates for the Gujarat assembly elections marked by breakneck competition are approahing that the voting machines, which have never proved their infallibility, triggered suspicions once again. In a way, this electoral fraud is also a befitting symbol of our democracy being anti-democratic. Our democracy gives us the right and freedom to register the vote by pressing the EVM button of our choice. However, different kinds of tactics are deployed by those vying for power to snatch that vote. For the people there is the freedom that begins and ends at their fingertips; and for the power-hunters, endless opportunities to shape and decide things as they want and to grab it. We still call it democracy and heave a sigh of relief.

Beyond the fraud that could be created in voting machines, there are other methods as well for hijacking the people's will. They have been shaping our democratic discourse in a particular way for quite a long time. The controversy generated in the name of films like Padmavati hijacking the public debates is least likely to be futile. It has been a while since the neglected communities started to raise their voices. Though the Delhi protest led by farmers last year caught the national attention, it quickly gave way for political controversies. The other day, a rather grand farmer protest took place in Delhi. The rally where three lac people turned out should have by any means become an occasion to put our governance on trial; it should have become a subject of democratic debate. But all the commotion was centered around a film. Farmers are those who live the life of misery in an independent India which is a farmers’ country. The people who arrived in Delhi are the representatives of the 1.5 lac people who ended their lives. They came from Rajasthan, Punjab, Bihar, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to invite the attention of the government, media and the people towards their misery. But as always, everybody gave the cold shoulder. They focused on subjects that lend more excitement like movies and political controversies. How can it be seen as democracy if the farmers who despite considerable suffering for quite a long time, do not figure in discussions of election matters and the governing agenda of the "rapidly advancing India"? Several kinds of trivial controversies are being spawned to disrupt the discourse about the hardships created by demonetisation and GST.

Leaders have also begun following a modus operandi of killing popular debates as mere rhetoric. The election campaigns today have come to such a pass that the parties indulge in yelling at each other and using foul language to the neglect of matters that affect the people. The nation has misunderstood as democratic dialogue the attempts of the partymen proving their ‘mettle’ by propagating on social media the bits and pieces provided by their leaders. The Gujarat Youth Congress had to withdraw a poster that was released recently on its online magazine. The meme had British Prime Minister Theresa May seemingly asking her Indian counterpart to stick to selling tea. It was even against Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s call for ‘dignified’ campaigning that does not ‘ridicule’ the PMO. On the other hand, Vijay Rupani, the Chief Minister of Gujarat who came out against the poster turned a blind eye towards the drawbacks on the part of his own party. Even Narendra Modi does not showcase a good example in this regard. Modi had ridiculed former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who sharply criticized the PM’s economic policies on the basis of facts, as one who knows ‘the art of bathing with a raincoat on’. While he was Gujarat’s Chief Minister, Modi had called Sonia Gandhi a ‘Jersey cow’. It was Modi himtself who called Shashi Tharoor’s wife a ’50 crore-rupee girlfriend’. He also encourages such culture in his own followers. When senior journalist Gauri Lankesh was murdered, people who posted venomous messages on Twitter including the person who tweeted that she ‘died a dog’s death’, are still followed by Modi. Hamid Ansari was publicly humiliated on his last day in office as the Vice President. The Prime Minister of democratic India who taught to respect the opposition, has been constantly loquacious about a ‘Congress-free India’. The standard of public debates and democratic discourse is relevant. It is the culture of the individuals and parties who lead the country that will be considered as the culture of the nation. If the democratic discussions and debates are ending up as mere name-calling amidst the dirty games of vote-bank politics, that too should raise concerns as in the case of tampering with the EVMs.

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