Vanishing decorum

India is bang in the midst of the Lok Sabha elections and the tradition of abusive language with communal overtones during campaigns continues. On Monday, the Election Commission prohibited Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati from election campaigning for 72 hours and 48 hours, respectively, for violating the Model Code of Conduct. Referring to Mr Adityanath’s comments at a rally that “his Bajrangbali is mightier than Ali”, the EC said the speech was “provocative”, and the chief minister of a state should bear the responsibility of upholding secularism. Similarly, Ms Mayawati has been pulled up for an appeal she made to Muslim voters only. There are many other violators as well: BJP Member of Parliament Maneka Gandhi threatened Muslims to vote for her, or else they would regret it. Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan made objectionable remarks against film actor and BJP candidate Jaya Prada, fighting the Lok Sabha polls from Rampur against him. Indeed, even the prime minister has been remiss by talking of “Hindu awakening”. He also said that Rahul Gandhi had run away  to Wayanad where “the majority is in a minority”. At another speech, Mr Modi exhorted first-time voters to dedicate their ballot to those who died in the Pulwama terrorist attack and those who took part in the Balakot offensive against Pakistan.

Politicians across party lines are guilty of using objectionable language with alarming regularity while on the campaign trail. On Monday, the Supreme Court (SC) sought an explanation from Congress President Rahul Gandhi for his alleged contemptuous remarks on the recent Rafale verdict. While filing his nomination papers from the Amethi Lok Sabha constituency, Mr Gandhi had referred to the SC ruling on the Rafale aircraft purchase and said: “Now the SC has made it clear that ‘chowkidarji’ (watchman/referring to the prime minister) has committed a theft.” In response, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Meenakshi Lekhi moved the SC, seeking contempt action against Mr Gandhi for misrepresenting the SC’s remarks. On Monday, the SC said the views or representation attributed to the court in the alleged address made by the respondent (Mr Gandhi) to the media and public at large had been incorrectly attributed to the court. The court said it did not make any such comment during the hearing. Of course, misrepresentation is in itself a serious breach. What is equally worrying is the poor choice of words used repeatedly by the Congress president against the prime minister in this regard.

Lok Sabha elections are the time when the whole country expects to hear from its leaders their vision for the nation. It is a great opportunity for those in government to showcase their achievements, and for the Opposition to elaborate on why they might be better suited to come to power. Political leaders are squandering this opportunity and resorting to dog-whistle politics that seeks to appeal to the baser emotions. What is worse is that the EC has fallen short of arresting this trend and admitted before the Supreme Court that it is “toothless”. It is sad that the court had to remind the EC that it was duty-bound to take action and cannot “sleep over” such issues. Hopefully, things will change as Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi agreed to examine the poll panel’s contention that it has limited legal powers to deal with hate speeches by politicians during electioneering.

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