The Representation of the People Act deems as a corrupt practice any political attempt to promote hatred on the grounds of religion, caste etc. In recent times, it seems like every poll season sees election commissioners getting exhausted trying to keep up with complaints that candidates or their agents are falling afoul of this lakshman rekha. But that’s when the model code of conduct has kicked in. In Uttar Pradesh this won’t happen until elections are announced around January 2022. Self-restraint is the only check on political parties until then. Its importance cannot be overstated.
This Sunday saw UP CM Yogi Adityanath claiming that until his government took office, only those who said “abba jaan” got public ration. This is not just patently untrue. Such rhetoric’s only goal seems to be religious polarisation, which is so much easier to light than douse. A day later, Delhi’s deputy CM Manish Sisodia, whose party has announced it will be contesting all the 403 seats in UP, was in Ayodhya talking up Ram Rajya as the best form of government. It’s as if religion is the biggest card for both sides.
Seven states will go to the polls next year and heated politicking is understandable. What is a worry is the campaign oxygen being devoured by caste and religion. This is a zero sum game. All the political attention spent here means that much less goes to joblessness, poverty, the pandemic and other pressing matters. At a time when Covid’s shock is reversing some material gains Indians have painstakingly made over decades, and the global climate is much less supportive of emerging economies, political parties must get their priorities in order. Remember, caste and religion have done quite well for themselves for centuries. But jobs, schools, hospitals are another matter. Dear political parties, your job is competing to build these.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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