Moral undertones in Mandate 2014 – Time for some ‘moral’ politics?

Narendra Modi - Rahul Gandhi BY NIDHI SHENDURNIKAR TERE

The most prominent reinforcement about politics is that it is a dirty, corrupt, shrewd and notorious game of power. All possible negative connotations are attached to politics and rightly so. Thinking about politics, we obviously understand it to be negative and undesirable – all about selfish interests of those occupying power positions. Politics is something we are all taught to detest – not just politics practiced in the form of “5 yearly” elections, but politics at the workplace, in the family (yes the personal is political too!) or politics of any kind, anywhere. We do not identify ourselves as ‘political’ despite the fact that all of us strive for some kind of interests or goals to be achieved. We desire to be seen as ‘apolitical’, and thereby ‘moral’. Thus, you cannot be moral if you are into politics. The evident dichotomy between ‘politics’ and ‘morality’ is what makes politics a despicable object. Morality is not supposed to be a part of politics – because politics is a far cry from the moral, the good, the valuable, the just. In fact, what politics and morality represent are binaries; the two cannot co-exist, nor reconcile. That is why the ‘good’ are never into politics and those who are in politics can never be ‘good’.

Despite this glaring dichotomy, India’s Mandate 2014 has infused morality into the political discourse. While Machiavelli and Chanakya prescribed to realpolitik, our netas seem to be taking the moral high ground in this election campaign. So, is politics devoid of any kind of morality or does infusing morality into politics signify a highly ‘political’ act? The answer lies in the way morality has been invoked (or rather manipulated) in the election discourse of 2014. Each and every campaign has attempted to address the moral aspirations of people. Indians, anyhow have always lamented the lack of morality in politics (If only netas were honest and upright, where would we find someone like Gandhiji and Sardar Patel today? Or these netas have no morals to claim of – such statements are common parlance).

Take Rahul Gandhi for example. He seeks votes in the name of ‘sacrifice’ (moral undertone) by his ‘papa’ and ‘dadi’ for the sake of the country. The other plank employed for votes is a pro-poor one (borrowing from Indira Gandhi’s famous “Garibi hatao” pitch). So you should vote for Rahul because he is pro-poor, pro-women empowerment and hence moral. He forgets that his party lacks any kind of vision in terms of policy and governance and is riddled with accusations of scams. According to Rahul, an immoral, corrupt and divisive BJP led by Narendra Modi is a moral threat to the unity, integrity and progress of India. So a vote for Rahul should be propelled by one’s sense of morality (backed by the morality of brand Gandhi – so what if the brand itself is a falsely created one!!! In this context, the moral undertones of the Congress party’s election campaign are for all to notice – the use of children as the face of the campaign advertisements, with an appeal directed to safeguard the future of the country and a vote for the interests of the next generation – reeks of a heavy and unmissable moral appeal).

On the other hand, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has been projected and his image built as a moral saviour of sorts for Indian politics. Modi has repeatedly attacked the Congress on the basis of their immorality in public life (namely corruption) and a mute Prime Minister remote controlled by a lady of Italian origin (how immoral to be governed by a lady of foreign origin – who still cannot speak proper Hindi!!!). He is also seen claiming a moral copyright over the Gujarat model of development (in his interviews he repeatedly emphasizes on “Mera Gujarat”, he also addresses fellow Indians as “Mere sava sau crore Bharatvasi”). He claims to morally redeem the electorate from the tyranny of the ‘family’ (Maa and Beta) (Acche din aane wale hain” – This tagline of the BJP’s campaign speaks for the moral redemption that it aims to achieve or at least has promised it will achieve for the people of this country). Congress, however questions these moral claims and calls Modi a ‘feku’ (i.e. someone who exaggerates too much) and even questions his ability to take care of the country when he deserted his own wife (another moral undertone – in tune with the women empowerment theme). The Congress campaign portrayed Modi as a demon; instilling fear among the minority community with its prediction about riots, communal violence and a second partition if Modi gains power (supposedly moral because the unity of the country is at stake and only the Congress can save it from communal forces). To counter this, Modi uses the Maa-Beta jibe to reiterate the moral degradation that Congress has imposed upon the country. So, while ‘maa’ Sonia is only bothered about ‘beta’ Rahul and would happily sacrifice the country for him, Modi claims that he is here to work for the country minus the extra baggage of family responsibilities.

The third player in this game (if at all it is considered as a contender) – the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) cannot survive without claiming moral superiority. The punch line for the AAP’s campaign is – We are the best, the rest are bad/immoral. AAP has successfully projected itself as the torchbearer of morality based politics and this has attracted young first-time voters to the party who have pinned their moral hopes on it. Without the morality plank being invoked (both in Delhi and now), the AAP campaign would lose its sheen. The pitch on which AAP has based its campaign is that people are fed up of the two morally corrupt and bankrupt parties and AAP offers a way in which morality and goodness can be brought back to Indian politics. The last player in this game, the so called third front with as many leaders as fronts, claims moral high-ground by portraying itself as the only non-Congress (non-corrupt), non-BJP (secular) option available to people at this point of time. Disregarding the infighting and divisive claims to leadership the third front presents itself as a moral and credible option to an electorate disillusioned with mainstream politics.

All said and done, this has left the junta perpetually and morally confused as to who is the best ‘moral’ choice available to them, with each claiming moral superiority over the ‘other’. Are such moral claims of any use when it is quite a brazen practice to abandon morality after elections and resort to a full play of power politics? Why then deceive people by making unnecessary and exaggerated moral claims? Moral one-upmanship will definitely be abandoned once the claim to power is manifested on May 16. The moral undertones employed in this campaign come out as utterly farcical because morality is a relative concept and there is no yardstick for judging the same. Also every definition of morality is dependent on that of the ‘other’. There are no independent claims to ‘morality’. For instance mudslinging, character assignation and digging into each other’s personal life for the benefit of political gains is surely not moral. So, while moral claims do appear to be good on the surface, all they do is divert attention from people’s issues that an election discourse is supposed to address.

We are certainly not going to see a return of morality into politics, not anytime in the near future … till then we can wonder as to where did all the moral overdose come from; how and where did morality disappear from the political discourse/action of the day? Or was it never meant for politics? I remain morally and politically disillusioned by all accounts as Indian politics hits an all-time ‘moral’ low!

(Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere is a Political Science doctoral candidate at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat, and a research fellow of the University Grants Commission working on India-Pakistan Conflict Mediation and Role of Media. She is also a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

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