For many of us, ‘dirty politics’ is a tautology. Along with the rough and tumble of what’s billed as the Greatest Democratic Show on Earth’ comes much that is unwholesome and downright tardy. Even as Samajwadi Party senior leader Azam Khan puts up a brave face to insist that he hadn’t described Jaya Prada, his rival BJP candidate from Rampur in northwestern Uttar Pradesh, as someone whom he ultimately recognised, after introducing her to the people of Rampur when she was in SP, wearing ‘khakhi coloured underwear’, Khan’s double-entendres have no place in poll campaigning. The two candidates have a tempestuous past, Prada accusing Khan in the 2009 Lok Sabha of distributing objectionable CDs of her even as she was contesting (and ultimately won) on an SP ticket.

Sexism and misogyny may have many takers among voters, but it’s something that the Election Commission needs to put a lid on and not let slide as ‘unfortunate cultural realities’. As is the case with communalism – or, more precisely, negative, exclusionary communitarianism – as displayed by another veteran politician, BJP Union minister and Pilibhit MP Maneka Gandhi. In a campaign rally in Sultanpur from where she is contesting, she categorised villages according to ‘ABCD’ – those villages voting BJP 80% under category A, those voting BJP 60% category B and so on…

She went on to pretty much deliver an ‘either-or’ threat to the Muslims of Sultanpur – depending on which translation from Hindi you choose: ‘If Muslims won’t vote for me and then come to ask for work, I will have to think, what’s the use of giving them jobs.’ or ‘Later when a Muslim comes over for some work, I feel let it be, how does it matter? My job is give and take, isn’t it?’

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Khan and Gandhi are hardly the only politicians who have been spewing toxins as the swirl of the Lok Sabha elections get rougher and uglier. Trinamool Congress’ candidate from Asansol Moon Moon Sen last month described Biharis in West Bengal making ‘good police informers’. BJP UP chief minister Adityanath has pitched this election as a battle between ‘Ali and Bajrang Bali’. The list goes on.

Party chiefs and seniors, may or may not provide lip service about taking action against such blatant transgressions. But surely, the Election Commission can set up disincentives by removing the candidacies of those freely violating not only the model code of conduct but also providing grist to the ‘dirty politics’ mill with boorish, sexist and communitarian verbal attacks.

Even if the EC maintains that it doesn’t have powers other than sending advisories and filing complaints on repeat offenders — and the apex court has asked for an explanation on the extent of the poll body’s writ — proactive action (noises, included) would serve better than only limiting matters to jurisdictional reach. The EC has to show it’s not tolerant of ‘mala fide’ electoral campaigning.

If it doesn’t, then such behaviour and poll practice will be truly normalised. That is, if it hasn’t been already.





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