Need for restraint

A number of State Assembly elections are coming ahead, followed by the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 unless, of course, the Centre decides to advance the LS polls to sometime next year. Among the State Assemblies slated to go to polls are Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha and the four north-eastern States of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. A lot of political changes have come about in these States since the last elections. For one thing, the BJP is ruling the Centre and most of the States. The electoral fortunes of the Congress as well as its organizational strength and popular appeal, has dwindled considerably. A belligerent BJP under the duumvirate of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah is flexing its muscles to make a clean sweep of the polls and become the unchallengeable political force in the country.
There is nothing wrong for a political party to try not only to capture but to monopolize power as long as it observes the unwritten do’s and don’ts of electoral politics. Character assassination of political opponents is impermissible. Resort to violence and intimidation of political workers and voters is impermissible. Unfortunately, for the past several years, election campaigning is becoming more raucous. Attempts are made to woo voters in the name of caste, community or religion and there is an increasing tendency to resort to physical violence. Even without any elections, the atmosphere is being constantly vitiated by polarizing propaganda. This gets more sharpened at the time of elections.  All this is violative of the democratic spirit.
Neither the civil administration nor the Election Commission can fully control the behaviour of the political parties, the language they use against each other or the threat of or the actual resort to violence. The atmosphere thus created often defeats the very purpose of elections by discouraging voters to come out of their homes and make their way to the polling booth. When a political party – whether ruling or not – resorts to muscle power systematically and uses that power over a large area, there is practically very little that the government or the poll body can do. There may be cases against individual candidates for violation of a specific section of the People’s Representation Act but when such violations take place on a wide scale, very little can be done to prevent such organized electoral malpractices. In the coming elections, the political parties, irrespective of their ideologies, should strictly observe the lakshman rekha of electoral conduct and observe restraint.

Wednesday, 11 October, 2017