‘Half-truths’ and ‘post-truths’ hold sway as India is in grip of election fever

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Surendra Kumar

The 2019 parliamentary election will go down in India’s electoral history as the most fiercely contested one, with no holds barred. In the post-modern era, everything is fair in love and elections! Politicians, like Arjun in Mahabharat, have a single lakshya: victory at the hustings. While Arjun employed all the prowess he had learnt from his guru, Dronacharya, and concentrated on piercing the eye of a fish to win Draupadi’s hand, our political Arjuns have no compunction in winning by hook or crook, following the Chanakya niti of “Saam, Daam, Dand and Bhed”.
In the land of Gandhi, in the election season; the Mahatma has been reduced to irrelevance. His philosophy is uncomfortable; there are no takers of Gandhi; he offers no electoral benefits! Unlike Gandhi, for candidates in the election, truth isn’t synonymous with God — it is variable! Satya wahi hai jo hum kahate hein, baki sab mithya hai, virodhiyon ka chhal kapat hai, safed jhooth hai! Jettisoning Gandhi, Indian politicians of different ideological leanings have eagerly embraced the Chinese helmsman, Deng Xiaoping, who famously said: so long as the cat caught the rat, it didn’t matter whether it was white or black!
It’s generally believed that competition promotes excellence; it brings out the best. But if there is competition for telling lies, speaking untruth, propagating falsehood, spreading unfounded rumours and indulging in character assassinations, will it result in excellence? Humility has no place in competitive politics; everyone is not only blowing his or her trumpet for what he or she has supposedly done but also unabashedly usurping credit for what others might really have done. Low-key is lost; it doesn’t sell; one has to keep a high profile, talk in superlatives at the octave and market oneself aggressively as a larger than life persona with a magic wand and messianic mission to solve the most burning issues. Whether the issues will be resolved or not should be left for another day; hopefully, the public won’t even remember what was promised; what is important is to create a believable narrative, a reasonably resonating perception of being a doer who should be trusted to deliver. Election results have often proved that perceptions are more significant for generating a wave, real or imaginary, than harsh facts on the ground — they do impact the outcome.
The first weapon in this strategy is to demonise your opponents, pin all the blame at their doorsteps for whatever has gone wrong in India in the past or at the present and project yourself as the God-sent saviour who will undo all the wrongs and build a secure, robust, confident, economically buoyant and internationally respected India! Nehru is perennially at the receiving end; whatever he did was wrong; only if he weren’t the first PM, what a great country India would have been! It will be disastrous if you are voted to power! You seek evidence of the success of the recent airstrike! You play in the hands of India’s enemies! You are anti-national! The country is safe in our hands!
Where is the development agenda? Aren’t electoral bonds introducing opacity in election funding? Isn’t caste still a major factor? Choose Kisan Samman or Nyay? Jai Ho!
Election campaigns sharpen the Indian genius to come up with catchy slogans and acronyms filled with derision and ridicule. The supporters of the NDA government flaunt their muscular nationalism by repeated references to India’s surgical airstrike across the Line of Control (LoC) at Balakot and carrying out the Shakti Mission: A-Sat missile. They also credit the government for generating lakhs of jobs and bringing crores of low-income Indians in the mainstream economic ecosystem by introducing hundreds of innovative schemes for social and economic inclusion. The opponents accuse the government of politicising the success of the Indian armed forces and the scientists for electoral gains having done nothing to claim credit for addressing farmers’ distress, joblessness, slowing down of the economy and a lack of domestic investment and having caused damage to the economy by demonetisation and poor implementation of the GST, promoting crony capitalism, letting economic fugitives flee country and filling in all institutions with its favourites, encouraging divisiveness and disharmony, attacking freedom of expression and dismiss it’s tall promises as mere election jumlas not meant to be fulfilled. Rahul Gandhi accuses Prime Minister Narendra Modi of indulging in theatrics rather than focusing on the serious issues confronting the nation.
Supporters of PM Modi hail him for achieving more in 55 months than what the Congress couldn’t do in 55 years .At election rallies, he himself vouches, as the nation’s chowkidar, he would defend India on the land and sea and in space and warns voters to be wary of the leaders of “Milawati Gathbandhan” and “Sarab” who have nothing in common with each other except their common goal: “Modi Hatao” while he was committed to “desh bachao”.
On the eve of the world’s largest electoral exercise, several simple questions arise in the minds of ordinary citizens which get lost in the cacophony.
Rome wasn’t built in a day! Nor was India! Millions have contributed by their sweat and blood for years. Leaders at the helm have tried their best in their own ways, some a little more successfully than others. Without a nuclear test in1974 under Indira Gandhi, there won’t have been nuclear tests under Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1998. And without these tests; there would have been no Civil Nuclear Agreement under George W. Bush and Dr Manmohan Singh. The economic reforms introduced by the Congress government in 1991 set in motion the process of the economic resurgence of India; its GDP zoomed to 9.6 per cent in 2006-2007. Atomic reactors, DRDO, Isro, Chandrayan, RTI, Aadhaar and MGNREGA can’t be wished away; they did happen and have contributed.
Similarly, GST, the Banking and Insolvency Act, India’s jump to 100th place on the list of the Ease of Doing Business Index, Swachchh Bharat, Jan Dhan, Saubhagya, Ujjwala and dozens of other inclusionary schemes have been initiated under Mr Modi. Even MGNREGA and Aadhaar are operating much more efficiently. Why aren’t there anti-corruption demonstrations on the streets of Delhi as was the case in 2013?
To put it simply, it’s as wrong to say that nothing happened during Congress governments as it would be to claim that nothing has happened during Mr Modi’s premiership! It’s just not true! Why can’t they accept: it’s a work in progress and magnanimously acknowledge each other’s contribution and share credit rather than demonise each other?
Manifestos meticulously prepared by hired experts can promise the moon. Do voters vote after reading the manifestos? Wasn’t Lord Ram sensitive to the sentiments of his praja? Shouldn’t those who swear by him listen to the voice of the people and address the core issues which impact their daily lives rather than feed them on slogans and rainbow dreams almost impossible to realise?