Should hate always win?
It would ideally be logical to assume that a country of India's size and economic inequalities, development and social upliftment would be the ideal planks for winning an election, but sadly, things have not changed very much and hate is still widely believed to be a huge driver of votes. Or at least of media attention, which is why, it was not surprising for Jawaharlal Nehru's great-grandson, Varun Gandhi to spew venom against the Muslims in an election speech. It has put him in the spotlight; has created the kind of media frenzy that this Gandhi would have never imagined and placed him on a pedestal which is both communal on the one hand and right-wing on the other.
Sadly, in all this melee of hate-speeches, Varun forgot, in a country such as India where names often suggest religion and caste, how will he ever dump his middle name: Feroze: the name of his grandmother, Indira Gandhi's husband. So was it a case of distancing himself from the suggestiveness of the word Feroze or was it to curry favour with the not-so-fringe communal elements that come to the fore in any Indian election? And that is the nub of the issue.
Hate has been employed as an effective tool to attract and magnetise in almost every election: at times it is directed towards communities; at times towards other castes and more often than not at our neighbour, Pakistan. Which is what is baffling and at the same time unnerving. An Obama won his election on hope. On suggesting a change for the better. On promising a future that would glimmer and not be dimmed with divisiveness. On the other hand, our leaders choose to adopt a path of destruction where hate is the marketing poison that they wish to inject into the masses. In itself, it is not only negative but promotes fear and anger rather than hope and delight. Marketing tells us consumers buy benefits: they don't buy what is wrong with the other brand as it were. But then in India, many political leaders have bucked the trend. More recently in the state elections that were held, the BJP used the terror plank to actually promote fear of living under a Congress regime rather than suggest what the BJP would do to limit or even eliminate terror. This is the case with almost every election in India and the tragedy is that the Indian politician has not learnt how to inspire. He has only been taught how to ferment hatred and that is no longer a virtue especially in these frail times, which are fraught with both economic and social stress.
For a country that prides itself on centuries of civilisation, the one abject lesson we haven't learnt is that no longer will hate drive sentiment. It will create a form of resentment that will have its own determined backlash. The Indian voter wants solutions in these trying times. He wants to know if his money in banks is safe; if he will have a job tomorrow; if there will be electricity and drinking water and if the Naxalite rule in many Indian districts will be replaced by the Government's. This is what the politician should ideally be focussing on.
But then history has a fine way of dictating the present. Leave alone the future. And history has shown hate to be a winner at least as far as winning elections is concerned. Narendra Modi is touted as the champion hate-monger. But then people also forget the development that Gujarat has seen. It is perhaps the development that has kept Modi in office even though hate may have gotten him there. It is this subtle difference that escapes the Indian politician as it did perhaps Varun Feroze Gandhi when he asked Muslims in his border-town constituency to go to Pakistan.
This election will be fraught with such basic contradictions. And the Indian voter will be asked to choose not between good and evil but between hate and progress. The sad bit is that hate may yet again win depending on how it is fanned and where it is fanned. But should that be the moniker of winning an election or should it be an aberration of Indian democracy? Should that become the message that even the youngest politician must send out or should there be a change that is not only apparent but real in every term? If we continue to pursue the politics of hatred, there will be very little that India can hope for from any Government that comes to power. And we will have no one to blame but ourselves for this mess.
More about Suhel Seth
Managing partner, Counselage