Campaigning in UP touches low ebb

It is unfortunate that public discourse becomes the worst casualty when election campaigns move into the top gear. It is just over halfway through electioneering in Uttar Pradesh but the acrimonious and abusive exchange of barbs and epithets by the campaigners has so vitiated the atmosphere that the right issues that should engage the electorate have become clouded and unclear. The deterioration in the quality of campaigning increases from election to election, perhaps mirroring the fall in the quality of public life. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar’s DNA and Lalu Prasad’s description of BJP president Amit Shah as narbhakshi (man-eater) set some low standards in the 2015 Bihar elections, they have been exceeded in UP. It is not only poor and indecorous language but also the use of bad and improper ideas that has brought the standards down. It is a pity that the prime minister is leading from the front in this ignominious battle.

The prime minister introduced a badly divisive and communal element into his party’s campaign when he said at Fatehpur that there should be electricity on Diwali too, not just on Ramzan and there should be more cremation grounds for Hindus, not just burial grounds for Muslims. He was accusing the Samajwadi Party government of Akhilesh Yadav of discrimination but he gave the impression that he was speaking for the Hindus. Modi can speak about just and even development of the country but to use religion and caste as counters in this context is to pit people against one another. It is an attempt to polarise the electorate on communal lines and is beneath the stature of the prime minister. Modi had resorted to insinuations and taunts against Muslims when he was the Gujarat chief minister but to make such statements even now shows that attitudes have not changed. The BJP’s manifesto and the poll themes of many of its leaders are communal and divisive, and the prime minister sharpened the communal campaign with his unedifying statement.

Modi also went personal when he described the BSP as Behenji Sampatti Party. Low wordplays like SCAM (Samajwadi Party, Congress, Akhilesh and Mayawati) were used. Responses were equally poor, as seen by Akhilesh Yadav’s reference to the “donkeys of Gujarat”  and Mayawati’s description of Modi as “Negative Dalit Man” and a statement that she “didn’t get married, nor deserted anyone after marrying.” When language and the idea conveyed through it are so debased and degraded, how can there be respect for public life and public personalities? They also reduce elections to slanging matches and low-level personal contests.  

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