In this age of widely-available cameras, instant uploads and viral videos, should our politicians be more circumspect?
Some of the comments by political leaders about their opponents, or even potential adversaries, have made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Many statements are often crudely misogynistic, sexist, racist and in some cases, openly advocate violence. In an era where widely-available camera technology on mobile phones allows people to record anything and everything, coupled with high-speed data networks that allow subscribers to upload and download video in seconds, a statement could go from being uttered to becoming a viral sensation within hours if not minutes. But despite the shock and horror of some statements, most politicians and their voters shrug them off and the Election Commission remains a mute spectator. While the media makes a hue and cry, the attention deficit disorder on Indian television news channels ensures that the outrage is quickly forgotten and the cycle moves on to the next big thing to feign disgust at.
As the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States proved, no matter what you say or do, from claiming to offend women sexually or even working alongside your nation’s sworn enemy, your actions will not make an iota of difference. Possibly, as mankind has moved to the rapid news cycle and where catchphrases such as ‘Make America Great Again’ or in India ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’ or ‘Chowkidar Chor Hai’, depending on your point of view, any publicity is good publicity for politicians. But that has for obvious reasons spelled doom for Indian policy — catchphrases have become the latest craze and have become viral on social media with few proper policy decisions being discussed. So much so that political manifestoes, often released months ahead of an election, have now become almost unnecessary and only released just ahead of polling to garner some more media attention. While the Indian television media, no matter which languages it broadcasts in, is incorrigible, seemingly beyond repair and will continue to make heroes of politicians who are decidedly uncivil, maybe it is time for the Election Commission to set up a system of checks and balances to bring back a sense of civility in our public discourse. A series of escalating fines or deductions from a candidate’s permitted expenditure, if he/she makes personal attacks on opponents that go beyond just policy, could be a corrective. And if that does not work, the threat of being debarred from elections must be there. Other than forcing the issue, there is no way to really address the situation, so such extreme measures must be taken.