The principal of St Xavier's college, Frazer Mascarenhas pulled a rabbit out of his hat when he wrote an email to students of the college, outlining a certain criterion to consider before exercising the right to vote. The email criticises the Gujarat growth model for being conducive for merely big businesses. It cites the Human Development Index and the poor quality of health and education in Gujarat to indicate that where quality of life is concerned, the state has not done well. The email then praises the Rojgar Yojana and the Food Security Act as they enhance the wellbeing of citizens. It also commends the Right to Information act.
The email concludes as follows: ‘"The prospect of an alliance of corporate capital and communal forces coming to power constitutes a real threat to the future of our secular democracy. Support people who pledge to work to take Human Development Indicators higher and who commit themselves to a pluralistic culture in diverse India. "
Unsurprisingly, the email has created a bit of a furor. BJP's Mumbai chief Ashish Shelar has called it a violation of the election code.
Defending himself, Mascharenas explained, "I have laid out certain criteria such as human development indicators, corruption, inclusive development and the environment for students to think about and make a choice. As an educational administrator, I only urge students to vote and make an informed choice."
Even though Mascharenas has rightly given the diplomatic answer and even though the email does not mention any party or a candidate, there is something called ‘subtext’. Let there be no doubt about the fact that it bats for the Congress against Narendra Modi’s BJP. However, the fundamental question one needs to ask is: Why such hullabaloo in a democratic country if a principal exercises a right given to him by the constitution of India?
If a certain section of the country openly wishes to endorse a particular party, it is definitely well within its rights to do so. Did we object when Lata Mangeshkar ‘wished’ on behalf of the country for Modi’s Prime Ministership? Do we demur when Baba Ramdev or Sri Sri Ravi Shanker eulogise Modi and BJP? Or has Mascheranes been targeted because he belongs to the minority?
Not long ago, senior journalists Bibek Debroy, Surjit Bhalla, Arjun Dangle and company issued a statement in favor of ‘strong and stable government’, which clearly supported BJP. Girish Karnad, on the other hand, has been campaigning for Congress’ Nandan Nilekani. "Our intention is that communal forces like BJP should never come to power. We are against Narendra Modi. For this, a few responsible citizens like us including Girish Karnad, GK Govinda Rao and others decided to campaign against the BJP and support Congress," said K Marulasiddappa. 60 odd members of the Hindi film fraternity issued a statement, which evidently opposed Modi but the likes Anupam Kher, Madhur Bhandarkar and Chetan Bhagat are on the other side of the fence.
Any citizen, with slightest of social awareness will have political inclinations and people expressing those in public is, in fact, a healthy sign of our democracy being alive and kicking. There are a few objections against Mascheranes. One of them is timing. Now if the principal has sent an email regarding voting, it is but obvious that the email will be circulated before polling. Another important objection is of influencing the voter. Mascheranes is the principal of an educational institute. The precise point of an educational institute is influencing its students. Therefore, he has done nothing unusual than what he does on the other 364 days of the year.
Having said that, what amazes me the most is the insecure reactions of the political party and its supporters. Is your party so brittle that an email can hamper its chances? And the more important question is: Are the voters so fragile that an email can prove so decisive? Let us not forget that the voter is the king at the end of the day. The voter has made Indira Gandhi fall flat on her face. The voter has thrown out Winston Churchill when he was on top of his game. The voter has the power to make or break governments. Let us not mock the intellect of the electorate.