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Mr PM, assess your Gujarat campaign on four touchstones; Enact Code for Political Discourse & Drama

DECRMBER 13, 2017

By Naresh Minocha, Consulting Edito

THE muck-raking electioneering for Gujarat State Assembly has turned Indian democracy and governance on its head. The conduct of campaigners must be judged from all angles to frame a statutory code for political discourse and display.

The focus, of course, has to be on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He should be judged through the prism of Kautilya's governance treatise Arthashastra, Indian Constitution, Parliament's unanimous 1997 Agenda for India (AFI) and Election Commission's Model Code of Conduct for Elections (MCCE).

In Chapter Xth titled 'Ascertaining by Temptations Purity or Impurity in the Character of Ministers', Kautilya specified four purity tests. These are: religious allurement; monetary allurement; love allurement and allurement under fear.

Kautilya, also revered as Chanakya, stated: "those whose character has been tested under all kinds of allurements shall be employed as prime ministers (mantrinah)" by the King.

Watching Gujarat poll campaigns from Heaven, Kautilya would perhaps broaden his four purity tests in the age of democracy. He would thus find Modi failing on touchstone of religious allurement and allurement under fear. PM played these two impurities to the hilt to woo voters.

Take first the religious allurement. This columnist respects every citizen's right to pray any number of times and at any number of places. The ‘Right to Freedom of Religion' as specified in the Constitution is not the issue.

The issue here is mix-up of official profile of PM with Modiji's personal profile as a pious man.

If Kautilya were to be interviewed by a TV News channel, he would bemoan PM's conduct of transforming religion into a public display of rituals. This is because such behaviour impacts poll outcomes in a communally-sensitive democracy.

Mr. Modi might well be the world's Prime Minister with the distinction of having made highest number of publicized visits to places of worship. He has used Government's communication arm, Press Information Bureau (PIB), to drum up his planned visits to temples and the subsequent prayers. PIB regularly issues photographs of Mr. Modi praying at temples.

This should be mulled over calmly lest the case becomes a precedent for a future PM, who might be detested by Hindutva brigade.

At times, Mr. Modi himself announces through social media that he would be visiting a specified temple as part of his poll campaign tour. Which religious scripture ordains the believers to announce their intent to visit a place of worship?

Has Mr. Modi forgotten what he stated in September 2017. He reportedly stated: "Pooja paath se Bhagwan nahin miltey, sewa karo toh prabhu prapt hotey hain (you do not come close to God by rituals and prayers, but by serving the people)".

Does he remember what he stated on 2nd October 2013 while defining secularism. Mr. Modi stated: "No vote bank politics - a poor man is a poor man, where he prays is immaterial".

Do Hindu Gods not bless those who pray in solitude? Do Gods not sanctify jawans, who give priority to keeping vigil in Kargil over visiting the temples? Does the God not bless anyone if he/she visits slums instead of temples to serve the poor?

Instead of raising such questions to target PM, newly elected Congress President, Rahul Gandhi, has tried to match Modi's religiosity. It is thus hardly surprising to find that Mr. Gandhi's visits to temples has caused heart-burning among Modi supporters.

BJP, has in fact, elevated Rahul's 'Me-Too' Hindu strategy in Gujarat as a core issue of electoral debates: Is he is genuine or fake or copycat Hindu?

Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, reacted philosophically to Mr. Gandhi's fascination for temples. "The BJP has always been seen as a pro-Hindutva party. So if an original is available, why one would prefer a clone?" Jaitley reportedly stated at a press briefing.

This raises a basic question: Should citizens elect their representatives on the basis of their perceived allegiance to Hindutva or the Indian Constitution?

Thus, both Mr. Modi and Mr. Gandhi need to equally introspect over their temptation for vote-catching visits to temples.

Can't our leaders win elections without flaunting their religious/caste/son of the soil identity? Do they realize that they do incalculable harm to fragile Indian unity by seeking directly or indirectly votes in the names of faith, caste or conjured regional pride?

Do they follow MCCE? It says: "There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, Churches, Temples or other places of worship shall not be used as forum for election propaganda".

MCCE observes: "Communal/religious references in election campaign, character assassination, use of religious places for election purpose, bribing of electors, etc. are some of the most commonly reported cases of violation by candidates and representatives of political parties".

Leave aside MCCE, political stalwarts don't even bother to perform their fundamental duties as specified in the Constitution. What have Mr. Modi and Mr. Gandhi done to promote scientific temper, which is one of the fundamental duties of the citizens?

Both care a damn about AFI, a resolution unanimously passed by Parliament in 1997 to mark Golden Jubilee of the country's Independence. It defines "minimum tasks" that all political parties must perform.

AFI calls for anchoring science and technology to creation of scientific temper. All parties have instead chained the Nation to religious posturing especially on issues such as Mandir/Masjid and kabristan/shamshaan. We need not recall what PM stated on last subject during UP state assembly election campaign.

AFI pitches for "meaningful electoral reforms". The absence of these reforms could be sensed even by visually and hearing impaired voters in Gujarat.

AFI set 2005 as the target year for achieving universal primary education. Twelve years later, picture today is as pathetic as it was before the imposition of education cess. Not far from the official residence of members of parliament (MPs), one can see famished, homeless kids on roads. They never go to school - they either beg or pick rags or just play around.

AFI also pitches for vigorous national campaign for population control. Fact is that both Congress and BJP are wedded to population boom. Recall how Modiji announced on 31st December 2016 enhancement of maternity cash dole-out for poor pregnant mothers, an initiative that was decided by UPA Government in July 2013!

Turn now to allurement under fear, the 2nd test Modiji failed during Gujarat campaign. Prime Minister stirred fear among Gujarat voters by creating bogey of Pakistan interfering in elections and Mr. Ahmed Patel becoming Chief Minister in case Congress came to power.

Compare this with the J&K assembly polls held in 2014. At that time, PM did not see any foreign interference in elections in the State where Pakistan is the root cause of separatism, terrorism and stone-pelting.

Mr. Modi initially kept mum even when new Chief Minister late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed credited Pakistan for successful elections after the swearing-in ceremony. On 1st March 2015, Mr. Sayeed stated: "I want to say this on record and I have told this to the Prime Minister that the we must credit the Hurriyat, Pakistan, militant outfits for the conduct of assembly elections in the state".

Responding to this issue raised in Rajya Sabha two days later,PM told Rajya Sabha: "If somebody makes such a statement, we can never support it." Mr. Modi didn't have courage to directly condemn Mr. Sayeed's statement.

Mr. Modi had, however, no qualms to accuse his predecessor of cowardice. He asked Dr. Manmohan Singh why he did not show the courage to order a surgical strike post the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.

Mr. Modi reportedly disclosed that the Air Force had approached Dr. Singh with a plan for surgical strikes, but the government did not show the courage to order it. PM added: "Under whose advice did he (Singh) do so".

The subject of strategic attacks on enemy are top secrets under the Official Secrets Act. Did Modi Government declassify this secret, assuming this is a fact?

It is her pertinent to invoke Arthashastra. It says: "All kinds of administrative measures are preceded by deliberations in a well-formed council (read Cabinet/Council of Ministers). The subject matter of a council shall be entirely secret and deliberations in it shall be so carried that even birds cannot see them; for it is said that the secrecy of counsels was divulged by parrots, minas, dogs and other low creatures of mean birth. Hence without providing himself with sufficient safeguard against disclosure, he shall never enter into deliberations in a council. Whoever discloses counsels shall be torn to pieces".

Can't elections be won or lost without referring to tense border relations with China and Pakistan? Can Mr. Modi deny that Pakistan-trained terrorists have made maximum number of surgical strikes on Indian defence installations under his tenure as PM?

Mr. Modi didn't stop at insulting his predecessor. Accusing Congress Party of working with Pakistan to defeat BJP in Gujarat, Mr. Modi referred to a private dinner hosted by known Pak-sympathizer and Congress leader, Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Mr. Modi called this dinner a "secret meeting" at which Dr. Singh; India's former Vice-President Hamid Ansari; Pakistan's High Commissioner and its former Foreign Minister were present. PM claimed that Gujarat elections were discussed in this meeting.

In a two-page statement, Dr. Singh sought apology to the nation from Mr. Modi for spreading such "falsehood and canards".

The former pointed out that the dinner hosted on 6th December was attended by 18 persons including a few journalists and a former Army Chief.

Dr. Singh stated: "I reject the innuendos and falsehoods as I did not discuss Gujarat elections with anyone else at the dinner hosted by Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar as alleged by Shri Modi. Nor was the Gujarat issue raised by anyone else present at the dinner".

He continued: "The discussion was confined to India-Pakistan relations. Names of the distinguished Indian public servants and journalists present at the dinner are enclosed to this statement. None of them could be accused of indulging in any anti-national activities".

Mr. Modi has neither apologized nor accepted Congress challenge to expel Pakistan High Commission for alleged anti-India activities.

Should PM of a superpower sound helpless at public rallies in tackling Pakistan, which is supposedly interfering in Gujarat elections?

Whatever be the outcome of Gujarat polls, Mr. Modi has lowered the stature of both PM's office and India as a responsible Nation.