Election is not a war but most political parties choose to campaign on a war-footing, painting rivals as “enemies” — mostly in ideological, and sometimes in personal, terms. Yes. The electoral battle should be fought keenly, and perhaps even aggressively. But the spirit of the game should not be degraded as it often happens in cricket and football. In Election 2014, the Congress and the BJP, the two main national parties, and others like the Samajwadi Party, have been attacking the rivals hammer and tongs, and in doing so they crossed the red line and the Election Commission (EC) was forced to warn the players — the candidates as well as the parties.
The EC, which has to conduct the elections as well as play the umpire between the contestants, is in unenviable position. There could be decisions which may not be fully justified and the sense of neutrality and fair play may not be apparent to all in the heat of the contest. When the BJP complained to the EC about the biased Returning Officer in Varanasi for not allowing a rally in Beniabagh in the city for the BJP candidate Narendra Modi, it was quite justified in its reaction. But it would have been better for the electoral process if the BJP did not make much of the returning officer’s decision, which could be faulty but it is to be presumed that he had taken the decision in good faith. By not complaining, by not staging a protest sit-in, the BJP would have sent out a positive message that the parties will abide by the EC directives and it would not call into question every decision of the umpire. Similarly, the Congress crying foul over Modi’s press conference after he voted in Ahmedabad is indeed legitimate but it would have been much better if the party had looked at the whole issue in a composed way and not run to the EC.
Political parties can claim that they are only helping the EC by being alert and drawing attention of the commission to violations of rules. But the cantankerousness involved in this business of complaining on each and every issue does not reflect well on the maturity of the Indian election process.
There is no denying the fact that on the ground, the tempers are running high and the air is simmering with violence, especially among workers and supporters of the parties. The clashes between the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the YSR Congress of Jaganmohan Reddy are quite shameful and a reminder of the episodic unruliness that marred Indian elections over the years. This should not be allowed to be re-enacted in the 21st century, and the responsibility of maintaining the spirit of sportsmanship lies squarely with the political parties and their leaders. The code of conduct during elections cannot be enforced by the EC. It is for the parties, leaders and other participants to abide by it. It will be for the leaders to set an example by exercising restraint in their speeches.
Political campaigners want to go by the old adage that all is fair in love and war, and that politics belongs to this category. It is quite evident that you have to be fair even in love and war and in politics. The notion that you can be as rude and crude as you want to be in the campaign but that this should end with the campaign is not healthy. There is need to maintain certain decency even during the campaign.