Need to reach consensus to stop use of foul language

Kushal Jeena

The political parties cutting across the political spectrum in the country urgently require to evolve a consensus to draft a new legislation that discourages frequent use of abusive language during the election campaign as it has become a general trend and politicians in general and in India particular resort to profanity with aplomb.

The successive governments that ruled the country since independence did make efforts to discourage the use of abusive language in public domain either through legislation or through other means. But failed to make any impact so far. With the right wing Bhartiya Janata Party at the helm of affairs in India it seems difficult to enact a law by the Parliament to make use of decent language mandatory.

More than enacting legislation what is more important is self-restraint that should be practised by politicians. If a leader of a particular political party hurls abuses, it is not considered improper in today’s political culture,” said Ish Mishra, a professor of political science at Delhi prestigious Hindu college.

Unlike other democratic countries, elections in India are fought in a war like situation. Currently five states are going under polls and three of them are large provinces in the northern part of the country. The two major political parties, the ruling BJP and the principle opposition Congress party who have major stakes in these three poll-bound states have approached the Election Commission of India seeking de-recognition of each other  for using foul language during the assembly election in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telengana. The Election Commission has put all the political parties on notice over the use of abusive language.

The use of derogatory language is not new in Indian politics. The leaders of BJP and Samajwadi Party, a regional outfit in Uttar Pradesh are notorious for using intemperate language and have been warned by the poll body several times. During  previous Lok Sabha elections Amit Shah, the then Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s chief campaign manager in Uttar Pradesh and now the President of his party was banned from holding election rallies and making speeches in the state by the Election Commission because he used foul language against Modi’s rivals. The Commission lifted the ban only after Shah submitted a written pledge not to use abusive or derogatory language. The Commission had also banned Yoga guru turned businessman Swami Ramdev from campaigning for his remarks that the then Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi goes to Dalits house for honeymoon and picnic. Similarly, SP leader Azam Khan who is a habitual user of foul language was also banned for calling his party opponent Amar Singh a ‘debauch’ and ‘broker’.

It has been debated several times in the political and intellectual circles whether the use of intemperate language is just an instance of loose lenguage or a calculated ploy to polarize the voters of a particular community ahead of an election. The notorious use of expletives by ‘Sadhvi Niranjan, the reckless Sanyasin, who is also a junior minister in the Modi government at an election rally in the national capital some time back, conveys more than what meet the eyes. In the rally she had asked the gathering to choose between the government of Ramzadoon (followers of Lord Rama) and Haramzaadon (an expletive meaning bastard). The language she used had created a ruckus in the Parliament then and an agitated opposition mounted pressure on the government demanding immediate removal. The issue was settled because her remarks did not make headlines. The Prime Minister Modi later while addressing the nation from the ramparts of historic Red Fort warned his party leader for making what he said ‘out of turn’ remarks.

India is not an unique country, the leaders of which use profanity against their rival, from Indonesia to Turkey and Britain to the United States, more and more political leaders, including heads of state, have been using expletives against their opponents in order to drive their point home aggressively.

Today in the age of hyper connectivity where round the clock television news channels and a powerful presence of social media in the society has virtually changed the rules of the game. The basic idea behind the Election Commission ruling that election bound constituencies would keep a 24 hour campaign silence seems to have gone for a toss as the news channels continue to show what they are paid for or they think is right. At the onset of 24X7 news channels and social media, the poll body faced difficulties in maintaining that voters of a particular constituency where voting is to take place are not influenced by the television surveys that channels used to show till the Commission finally imposed a ban on post voting surveys and analysis.

The presence of an pro-active news and social media have ensured that electorates are constantly receiving information and appeals from supporters, surrogates and civil society groups as televisions channels discuss elections, campaigns and are engaged in speculations about the results at a time when candidates are supposed to go silent. Such practices which are yet to be brought under the control by concerned authorities clearly influence the electorates of other poll-bound constituencies.

The government of the day also deliberately allow the television news channels to discuss the results even before they are announced and get involved in the speculations as these programmes suit purpose of the ruling party. These practices which are rampant in the present political scenario defeat the notion of a period of campaign silence before polling as there is a constant barrage of information up to the point of polling. There is a section in the Indian political class that is opposed to the practice of an enforced period of silence when candidates and parties functionaries cannot reach out or appeal to the electorates. 

“The idea of an enforced campaign being stopped should be abandoned because the Indian electorate is mature and has shown time and again that it is quite competent to make decision without coming under any outside influence,” they argued.

However, the Election Commission, a government backed independent body that holds the elections is averse to such an idea on the ground that any such practice of not permitting candidates to campaign right up to the start of polling would create serious law and order problem because in that situation large rallies would hamper the voting process and could mean extra pressure on police and security forces, who are made responsible for making security arrangements and conduct of smooth and free voting.

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