A year of elections begins today. Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland will go to the polls before March. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh also face elections in 2018, and Karnataka Promises a close fight, like Gujarat. The opening salvo may have already been fired by Union minister of state, Anant Kumar Hegde, who lashed out at the Constitution and secularism — even though he has apologised for his comments since. If this was a curtain-raiser for 2018, it bodes ill.
Once upon a time, in a half-remembered golden age, adversarial political speech was restricted to a category termed “parliamentary language”. It was not alright to say, “The minister is lying.” The permitted construction was, “The minister is misleading the House.” Elections are contests to choose legislators, who must follow parliamentary norms while in office. But it has become acceptable to seek office by atrociously unparliamentary means. The Gujarat campaign has thrown up regrettable examples, which have considerably lowered the level of political debate. Vituperation also deflects public attention from the substantive issues of growth and development which should determine the vote.
It would be a dreadful waste if the assembly elections of 2018 become action replays of Gujarat 2017. The BJP remains in permanent campaign mode, and its competitors are forced to match pace with it. But it is time to abjure loose talk of miscegenated calves and cabals hatching coups in South Delhi dining rooms, and of charges of lowness and EVM tampering. Rahul Gandhi has taken a positive step by declaring that his party will not stoop to conquer, but he, or his tweets, have failed to live up to his own words since. The champions of both sides must remember that after the elections, they would have to legislate and run governments, by discussion. If they speak so freely that they cannot remain on speaking terms after they win, governance would be discredited. The electorate expects governance to follow from elections, and Pyrrhic victories at the expense of civil debate are not what the people want in 2018. A little moderation from all sides is required to bring Indian politics back from the edge.