Sharp words in elections…how much has the picture changed after independence?

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
7 Min Read

Author: Dipankar Gupta

Leaders often target their opponents in public, they love doing so. Especially during elections, they raise forgotten issues so that they can attack the opponent. However, this obscures contemporary issues. In such a situation, the Election Commission itself should prepare a limitation law in this regard, so that after the cut-off date is fixed, the candidates can be prevented from remembering old statements or incidents. If such a practice exists in law, its extension into politics would help focus the debate on the present. In this the Election Commission can take one, two or three cues from our legal code. Indian courts accept defamation and slander charges provided the alleged incident occurred within one year. The general limit is three years for civil suits and 12 years for property disputes. Of course, there are some clearly defined exceptions to all of these.

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Why is time limit for rhetoric important in elections?

However, keep in mind that the principle of 'karma' does not apply in law because if a person dies, it reduces that particular legal prosecution. There is a good point in jurisprudence, which reinforces the adage of not speaking ill of the dead. Going back to the statements made in pre-independence days has no relevance today. Take the example of Subhash Chandra Bose and Veer Savarkar. True, Bose valued Savarkar and wanted him to enter public life after his release from jail in 1937. It is also true that Bose had opposed Savarkar, when Savarkar claimed that the Hindu Mahasabha represented all Hindus and that the Congress should step back.

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When the issue of Bose and Savarkar was raised in the elections

It is equally true that during the Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections in 1940, Subhash Chandra Bose had sought help from the Hindu Mahasabha. Finally, Bose also said that his sympathies were not with the 'political' Hindu Mahasabha, but with the 'real' Hindu Mahasabha. However, today, even contemporary supporters of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose would find it difficult to understand the difference. It may seem mysterious now, but it was not so then.

Similarly, communists are also having difficulty justifying the CPI's surrender to Stalin in the 1940s. The world was a different place at that time. Similarly, division may embarrass many of our political forefathers and expose their shortcomings. In 1947, lies and double talk quickly collided with the pictures printed on the walls. Pressing these buttons will keep the 'He Said and She Said' tape playing forever. This is why such debates must be timely because we were not part of the context in which they were first formulated.

Old things take us away from the present

It is difficult to transmit a language that no one speaks, or that has not been spoken for a long time. Entering the electoral battle with such old memories diverts attention from current concerns. When we turn away from the present, there is a danger that emotions will take over and the heart will soon take over the head. The great Max Weber said that our real, concrete everyday lives should determine our political choices. If one sensationalizes the past of which one has no experience, the heart takes over the mind and politics becomes inappropriate. It is because of such lapse in pure sentiments that the agitators have been successful in instigating the people, which has led to tragic results.

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Time limit is also mentioned in the law

The 'politics of responsibility' that Weber advocated over the 'politics of commitment' derives its strength from the lives of real people, not from some imaginary world that no one has seen. The violence during Partition was so severe that countless people did not even think twice before taking their lives. Is it even civilized to ask whether there was an overall communal balance among the dead? Not only should pre-1947 issues not be included in our election rhetoric, but they should also not be revived to target politicians who have passed away. This is because we know that the law prevents legal proceedings against a deceased person. Even if this is historically accurate, when the past looms large, concerns about the present go out of fashion. On the other hand, copy-pasting from law books without removing and noting in the margins would be cheap and mentally lazy. Uniqueness is the mother of relevance and the Election Commission is fully aware of this.

It is necessary to promote 'politics of responsibility'

Obviously such a proposal would require lengthy consultation, but only if the cause was considered worthwhile. To further the thought process, we can set a time limit to score political points for whatever was said or done 70 years ago. For example, the principle of non-alignment and the Panchsheel principle have disappeared from history and have become a part of our political prehistory. Very close to the time, the liberalization of the Indian economy almost completely obliterated Nehruvian thinking after independence. Nevertheless, 1991 would make the time frame too short unless the 1975 Emergency is included as an exception. Memories of that period under harsh laws are still fresh as millions of Indians suppress their suffering for fear of severe punishment. Elections can be kept civilized if people respond mainly to matters that affect their everyday lives. For this purpose, the Election Commission may make a specific limitation act with clearly demarcated exceptions like the law. This will, in the short term, promote a 'politics of responsibility' and reason. Of course, existing laws can assist in this effort, but only after careful consideration. Otherwise this proposed election-oriented border law may become a fake law.

(The author is a sociologist)

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