Will Modis & Kejriwals take lessons in political civility from Bernie Sanders?

Our political leaders revel in making personal attacks against their opponents. When small players in politics make such attacks – the likes of Subramanian Swamy or Ashish Khetan – it is quite understandable that they are making their presence felt to placate the top leadership for getting a higher reward. But it becomes acutely disconcerting when the top leaders of the parties indulge in snide personal remarks or even outright personal vilification campaign.


Will PM Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal take a cue from Bernie Sanders and eschew personal attack? File image. PIB

Take two recent cases. First is the AgustaWestland scam. BJP leaders raised the right question – bribe-givers have been identified in Italy and punished; it was time bribe-takers are identified in India and taken to task. But then who are the bribe-takers? It is for the country’s top investigative agencies like CBI and ED to find out. But small-time BJP leaders started asking A K Antony, during whose tenure as defence minister the deal was executed, to answer the question.

Pray! How will you expect Antony to answer? Even if he has a personal hunch, why should he make it public and vitiate the legal proceedings? Some overzealous BJP ministers directed that question at Sonia Gandhi, making direct and indirect allusions to her being the culprit because of her Italian connection. If Sonia Gandhi is the culprit, will she admit as much? It is for the government agencies to establish this fact. But, then, these ministers are small-time players who have to make outlandish remarks against political opposition from time to time to justify their political relevance.

However, Indian democracy is shown in a bad light when the prime minister of the country, who symbolises the democratic traditions of a billion plus people, gets down to innuendos to make personal attack against a political rival.

Listen to what Prime Minister Modi said at a political rally in Hosur in Tamil Nadu while referring to the VIP chopper scam: “Does any of you have relatives in Italy? I don’t. Neither have I been to Italy nor do I know Italians.” He went on to suggest snidely that there are some Indians who have relatives in Italy and who know Italians and who must have received the bribe. The reference was clearly to Sonia Gandhi. Does it reflect well on the prime minister to jump the gun and charge a political adversary with a crime on the basis of hearsay?

But then Narendra Modi is not alone in this sinister power politics. Take the case of Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi. He has been spearheading a campaign to expose Narendra Modi regarding his educational qualifications. Kejriwal says that his party volunteers have conclusive evidence that Modi did not have a degree from Delhi University, as he had claimed in his election affidavit. The chief minister said in a press conference: “If he (Modi) didn’t complete a BA from DU, then how could he pursue an MA (in a Gujarat University)? First, he lied in front of the country; then he lied in his affidavit and now, the degree is forged. This is a case of cheating. If there are charges of cheating against a person like the PM, it is a grave matter.”

Well, Arvind Kejriwal is here acting as the accuser, prosecutor and judge – all rolled into one. That points to the subversion of the judicial fair play. If Kejriwal wanted to put his prime political opponent on the mat, he could have taken to a legal course seeking authentication of Narendra Modi’s educational qualifications and then gone for the kill if the facts went against the prime minister. But clearly, Kejriwal has no respect for the legal process.

Here, Modi and his cohorts on one hand and Kejriwal and his minions on the other are on the same pitch. Both have used distinctly below the belt remarks to show political adversaries in bad light. Sonia Gandhi has not gone for the jugular as yet, may be, because of her linguistic limitations.

This is the summit scenario of Indian democracy. Let us take a peek into the goings-on in the USA where the presidential election is generating intense political heat. Let us keep aside Donald Trump because he has throughout his political campaign shown scant regard for democratic courtesies. (Trump, with his blunt personal attack on political opponents would be hardly distinguishable from a Modi or a Kejriwal.)

But take the case of Bernie Sanders, the one man who should have been the President of the USA because of the idealism that he exudes (we crave for leaders with such idealism but we do not ordinarily find them in our political firmament), but who would not become the President because the corporate power that Hillary Clinton represents is hell bent on decimating him (he would be an albatross round the corporate neck, if he is elected as the President).

Despite the intense political rivalry, in the run-up to the Democratic nomination for the presidential race, Sanders has steadfastly refused to launch a personal attack on Hillary even as several columnists of America have said in no uncertain terms that the former Secretary of State was unfit to be the President of the USA because of several personal scandals.

Two scandals cry out for attention. First is the scandal related to the private server Hillary Clinton maintained as the Secretary of State and the private email system she used (instead of a state.gov email id) through which hundreds of messages passed some of which were marked ‘classified’. As a commentator made a pointed attack on Hillary: “You either have overt criminal activity or someone who is not smart enough to keep state secrets safe. Either way, you are not fit to be President.”

Second, many columnists have raised the question of huge amount of money, especially foreign money, that has poured into the Clinton Foundation in the last few years; some have asked if any potential conflict of interest that may have arisen on this count while she was the Secretary of State.

The US Justice Department is probing the matter. Hillary Clinton is likely to be questioned by the federal investigators soon. But Sanders has refused to jump the gun (though Donald Trump and some other Republican leaders have done so) and indict Hillary before the judicial process is completed. When a TV anchor tried to pin Sanders down on Hillary, the Senator said: “How often have I talked about Hillary Clinton’s emails? Not one word. How often I talked about Clinton Foundation fundraising? Not one word. A legal process is on. I do not want to politicise the issue.”

Sanders went on to add: “I am not going to make personal attack on Hillary Clinton. The American people will have to make that judgement.”

Sanders knows Clinton’s political vulnerabilities, yet he is unwilling to cynically exploit them because he holds on to a certain moral high ground in the democratic discourse.

Will our Modis and Kejriwals take a cue from Bernie Sanders and eschew personal attack? Will they lift the political debate to an ideational level  à la Sanders or will they continue to act as if Donald Trump is a role model for them?

Updated Date: May 10, 2016 17:17 PM

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