Restraint in poll campaigning

Election campaigns are now turning more and bitterer. Undignified language, slur words and crude personal attacks on candidates or party leaders have become the order of the day. Electronic media has opened up new fronts of attack – trolling, morphed videos, even sex videos – to denigrate and stigmatize opponents. One’s personal life is being viciously intruded into and what is most personal and intimate between two adult individuals is being shown in the electronic media to titillate people with prurient taste. The Election Commission has banned the use of the word ‘pappu’ which was being liberally used, by the BJP in Gujarat in its poll campaign to describe Rahul Gandhi. But the Election Commission can do little to prevent the circulation of vulgar video clips targeting a leader who is not even contesting an election.
In the digital age, such instruments of denigration and character assassination are available to all: the victim of today can turn the tables on his opponents with the same ease and the same effect. When political parties indulge in below-the-belt attacks that violate norms of decency, it means not only that they don’t have facts and figures and logic to counter their opponents but also that they have very low quality of human material at their disposal. Even a quarter century ago, when the digital age had dawned, ‘trolling’ was something unknown. Photoshopping of pictures to run down one’s political adversaries could not even be imagined. Nowadays trolling can make one’s life miserable. Choicest abuses can be freely used with little possibility of the victim hitting back. It is a one-way traffic.
Unfortunately, a section of the electronic media is also part of this hate-mongering. The media is supposed to be ‘neutral’ and objective. But this particular section of the media is found to be attacking only those who are perceived to be opponents of the powers that be – politically or culturally or in their understanding of religion and culture. Criticism of the Government’s handling of the Kashmir situation is projected as betraying and belittling ‘our jawans’ who are laying down their lives to protect our borders. Often the critics are accused of committing treason and sedition. This aggressive ultra-nationalism has nothing to do with the dissemination of news or of sober debate. The mass hysteria which is being sought to be whipped up will damage our society and polity in the long run and create a vicious atmosphere of fear and panic. The civil society has to muster the courage to rebuff these elements.

Sunday, 19 November, 2017