The standard of political discourse in the ongoing election campaign has touched a new low with leaders of various parties vying with one another in resorting to vile personal attacks and stoking communal discord. If the entry of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, the mascot of radical Hindutva and an accused in the Malegaon blast case, into the electoral race has vitiated an already surcharged atmosphere, her colleagues in BJP have further lowered the bar by making incendiary speeches and polarising the campaign. A BJP leader in Uttar Pradesh Ranjeet Bahadur Srivastava stooped further with an atrocious statement that Chinese machines would be imported after the elections to “shave off Muslims’ beards”. Such utterances are a disgrace to the party that speaks about ‘sabka saath sabka vikaas’. Sadhvi Pragya, who is yet to be acquitted of charges and currently out on bail, bragged about demolition of Babri Masjid and made despicable comments against former Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkare who died while fighting terrorists during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. By fielding such a rabid Hindutva ideologue, the BJP has mainstreamed the fringe voices and widened the communal divide. As the polling reaches the crucial phase, the saffron party has unleashed its motor mouths to deflect the campaign narrative from the pressing public issues. Brash and in-the-face brand of Hindutva that revels in the binary narrative of nationalism versus ‘Tukde Tukde gang’ has now come to occupy the centre stage of the ruling party’s ideological positioning.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has been on the offensive, invoking divisive issues and mocking at the opposition for being sympathetic to Pakistan and terrorism. Muscular nationalism has been the key theme of his campaign speeches. It is unfortunate that the military operations against terrorism are being used to garner electoral mileage. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his cabinet colleague Pankaja Munde made shocking observations that those asking for proof of the Indian Air Force’s air strikes in Pakistan should be “strapped to rockets” and dropped at Balakot. Such remarks are wholly unwarranted and disgusting. The election season brings out the worst instincts of political parties. The higher the political stakes, the murkier the campaign gets. By claiming that India’s nuclear arsenal was “not for Diwali”, the Prime Minister has trivialised what constitutes a serious matter of national security. In fact, nuclear powers are expected to be responsible, both in their words and in deeds. On his part, the Congress president has angered the Supreme Court by quoting it out of context on the Rafale deal issue and continued his personal attack on Modi with his “Chowkidar Chor Hai” jibe. Personal attacks and name-calling have become the new normal, relegating pressing public issues to the background.