The high-voltage drama witnessed at Delhi’s India Gandhi International Airport over deplaning, and subsequent arrest of chief of Congress’s Media and Publicity department, Mr Pawan Khera is not just another incident but reflection of a greater malady that is afflicting the body politic of the country. Mr Khera was headed to Raipur to attend the party’s 85th Plenary session.
Three sets of police forces - Indian Industrial Security Force (IISF), which guards the airport, Delhi Police and Assam Police- almost launched a joint operation to arrest a prominent political activist. His purported crime was wrongly describing the name of Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi’s father during media-briefing.
Does that require a huge posse of security forces to be pressed into service not before stalling the take-off of the plane? Had Mr Khera committed a heinous crime that warranted such an extreme action? Notwithstanding the fact that his description, intentionally or unintentionally, of Mr Modi’s parentage is condemnable, this high-voltage drama was avoidable.
This is a glaring index of a systemized attempt to silence the critics by fixing them. The shades of this syndrome are visible inside and outside the legislature with the IGI incident taking the cake.
None other than the erudite former Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh, Mr Vikram Singh questioned the manner in which the entire “operation” was carried out. “Arrest is a serious matter. There is a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) as laid down by the Supreme Court which needed to be followed. But unfortunately, some young police officers are trying to act as more loyal than the king for obvious reasons,” he said in a TV debate.
If the crime was that heinous the Supreme Court would not have granted interim bail within a record time with a strong word of caution and advice not only to Mr Khera but all those taking part in political discourse. “The Apex Court’s quick intervention answers this question,” Mr Singh observed.
Mr Khera is not the first and only one who had been taking recourse to no-holds-barred aggressive political commentary. Ironically, the initiators of this unprecedented stern action against him, should be credited with being authors of ongoing extreme form, at times hitting below-the-belt, of political debating. It is not a matter of credit but condemnation; anyone, cutting across party-lines, bringing the discourse and debate to this low level.
The Khera episode, though there are worst examples than this that happened in the past, should act as a wake-up call for all the stakeholders particularly the political leaders and the media to act in a responsive manner. Debate and not Hate- this dictum should be strictly followed in particular by the political parties. Or else, the Khera episode can turn into a dangerous precedent that every political party in power will follow in future to settle scores.
“A thought crossed my mind: If cartoonist Sankar and Cartoonist R K Laxman were drawing cartoons today, where will they be? In Jail…….”. This tweet by former finance minister and senior Congress leader, Mr P Chidambaram amply conveys, his party has been equally guilty of such acts in the past, the prevailing wave of extreme political intolerance which is threatening to take the shape of personal animosity. This is a dangerous trend that runs counter to the spirit of democracy whose fundamentals are tolerance and debate.
The political parties are erring, with varying degrees, on this count with sections of the electronic and social media acting as catalytic agents. One main stakeholder, the people or the viewers/listeners, cannot escape their responsibility. Cacophonous speeches and high decibel free-for-all debates should not be considered as the measure of achievement or popularity, no matter who resorts to such acts.
Political parties having a divergent view on policy issues, is a sign of healthy democracy in a multi-party system and should be encouraged irrespective of which government rules the country. Total abhorrence to an opposing view will only lead to toxic form of polarization - the kind being witnessed currently which has already fundamentally altered the discourse - and will lead to more Pawan Khera type episodes. A direct and dangerous casualty would be loss of public civility and the change in the manner in which the politicians conduct themselves.
It is the bounden duty of the senior leaders of all political parties to ensure that a self-restrain is applied to improve quality of political discourse. The responsibility in this connection lies more with the ruling party at the Centre to lead and for others to follow suit. The Pawan Khera episode and previous enactments, acerbic and personalized comments by leaders of other parties, is a strong pointer towards dramatic rise of political sectarianism. It is because of this that a growing tendency is being witnessed whereby political opponents are considered as enemies. And the fall-out is no-holds-barred and personalized attacks on each other.
The political parties should and must fight it out on ideological and policy planks. The debates should be centered around their respective concepts of policy on key issues followed by efforts to find a common ground to cater to the interests of the country. There are ways and means, past precedents are available in plenty in public discourses and parliamentary debates, to score political brownie points without getting degenerated to the abysmally low levels. One can be harsh and critical without being personal. This phenomenon had been witnessed at different levels in the past particularly in Parliament and state legislatures.
As is said the rank and file of any political party tries to ape their leaders particularly in the matter of style and language used in discourse. Unfortunately, the focus these days, and it comes from the top, is more on mindless aggression leading to personal attacks as means of making a point to catch public attention and not on forceful arguments.
The political parties and their spokespersons need to change this instant-coffee approach, and so do the high-profile anchors of TV channels. An abusive personalized attack cannot be an alternative to a strong argument to score a point.
Coupled with it the tolerance component, which was a high point of India democracy and reflected in Mr Chidambaram’s tweet referring to Sankar and Luxman who were known for their unsparing caricatures as means of criticizing the high and mighty of the country without being hauled up by the system, has also drastically dwindled. Critics in any set up, more so in democracy, are an asset and not a liability.
In conclusion, the impact of hate filled debates and intolerance will only have an ill effect on democracy at all levels. The Pawan Khera episode must sound as an alarm bell particularly for those at the helm-not to misuse official power for settling personal-political scores.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.