Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee | 28.4.19

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Election in India

General Election in India is a marvel. Consider the numbers: 800 million voters, 11 million election workers (my son being one of them), 2 million voting machines and 2,300 registered parties. Election is no guarantee of democracy; North Korea also has elections. But in India, despite several warts and fault lines elections have nurtured democracy, and we are proud of it.
However, this election has shown more warts than we have seen in past several elections.
This election one can see money playing a bigger role than ever before.
This election shows hardly any debate on issues, but an overdose of exchange of invectives. Political discourses have touched a new low.
There has been an unhealthy competition of offering sops and subsidies. The political parties have grown brazen about this, often pushing the boundary of election code.
Coming to election code, never before there have been so many violations of the election code.
Election Commission (EC), many political pundits believe is not playing its expected role. Like Hanuman- it had to be reminded of its powers by the harsh comments of the Supreme Court. In times like this one remembers TN Seshan, who single handedly instilled fear of EC among all the political parties.
This election has seen more persons changing parties and getting tickets than ever before. This in a way shows that the big political parties are losing their ideological strength that creates a strong cadre base, and this becomes the cradle of future leadership. Parachute candidates are the order of the day. This is giving a new spin to the vote politics.

The campaign style has also changed. Almost all major political parties- both national and regional are focusing on one person as their supreme leader. It seems the party is trying to piggyback on the popularity/charisma of just one person to win votes for other candidates.

In BJP it is only Narendra Modi that one sees in the party’s campaign.  The pet theme is: Modi hai to mumkin hai. If Modi is there, then everything is possible. It takes the leader into the height of a superman. This is something new in Indian election campaign.

It is not only happening in BJP. Other major political parties are also following this trend.

Consider BJD in Odisha. The entire campaign is Nabin Patnaik focused. Tagline of BJP print media campaign says: Nabin is my family; Sankha (the conch) is my symbol. In all the advertisements published in newspapers there is no photo of any other person except Nabin Patnaik. In West Bengal TMC has one supreme leader: Didi. The entire campaign of TMC centres around Mamta Banerjee.

This excessive focus- on just one person- and taking that person as a messiah, almost deifying him/her is not in sync with the spirit of democracy.

Language of Election Campaigning

The election campaign rhetoric in several states of the country including Odisha is touching a new low. In fact it is gradually turning into invective. The two major parties in Odisha, ruling BJD and its main contender this time BHJP on full page print media advertisements tell each other ‘sadajantrakari’, ‘kuchakri’, which mean ‘conspirators’.
BJD charges BJP led Union govt. of not giving the State its due. BJP charges BJD let State Govt. of not being able or willfully not spending the fund given by the centre.

The same trading of charges can be seen in West Bengal and several other non-BJP ruled states.

Amidst their trading of charges and calling the other party names- the spirit of federalism is dying a slow death.

Election campaign in small towns

Election campaigns in small towns are interesting and amusing. Looking from another angle, it is almost surrealistic. This evening at the bazar I found one person was addressing nonexistent crowd with lots of vigour and passion. He held his microphone close to his mouth and speaking. I wanted to understand what was he speaking. Despite craning my ears I could not understand a sentence. Probably he was half drunk. Meanwhile, a van draped with banners of rival party slowly passed by. It was playing recorded slogans and songs set in popular tunes. The half-drunk man stopped for a while, then threw choicest expletives towards the van, got no response. Meanwhile songs were played and the half-drunk man started dancing. His dance drew some crowd, and then he again started his address.

Press Freedom

As per 2019 World Press Freedom Index, hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear. The number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media.
Only 24 percent of the 180 countries and territories, taken in the survey are classified as “good” or “fairly good” as opposed to 26 percent last year.
India’s rank in the World Press Freedom Index 2019 dropped down to 140th from 138th in 2018, two points below the previous year. India is below Myanmar and South Sudan in the Press Freedom ranking..
As per the Index, one of the most striking features of the current state of press freedom in India is violence against journalists including police violence, attacks by Maoist fighters, criminal groups and corrupt politicians. At least six Indian journalists were killed on duty in 2018.
This is particularly alarming as India happens to be the largest democracy in the world and this year it is going to polls.
The decline in Press Freedom Index means just one thing: Democracy is in danger. Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.
For details about World Press Freedom Index see here: https://rsf.org/en/ranking

3 May is observed as World Press Freedom Day. Interestingly this year the theme is: Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation.

Tailpiece: My Dog..

Nani Palkhiwala, one of India’s most eminent and noted jurist and lawyer once wrote …

My dog sleeps about 20 hours a day.

He has his food prepared for him.

He can eat whenever he wants, 24/7/365.

His meals are provided at no cost to him.

By the way he does not need to pay for medical insurance.

He visits the doctor once a year for his checkup, and again during the year if any medical needs arise.

For this he pays nothing and nothing is required of him.

He lives in a nice neighborhood in a house that is much larger than he needs, but he is not required to do any upkeep.

If he makes a mess, someone else cleans it up.

He has his choice of luxurious places to sleep.

He receives these accommodations absolutely free.

He is living like a king, and has absolutely no expenses whatsoever.

All of his costs are picked up by others who go out and earn a living every day.

I was just thinking about all this, and suddenly it hit me like a brick in the head…….

My dog is like the Indian POLITICIAN.

(No offence intended- to dogs)

(Courtesy: Social Media)

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The author, a journalist turned media academician lives in Central Odisha town of Dhenkanal. An anthology of his weekly column Window Seat, published in 2018 has been published as a book. Write to him to get a free e-copy. [email protected]

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