Politicians are our most visible leaders but not perhaps the best examples of public conduct. Take the new MP for Srinagar, Farooq Abdullah (National Conference). A grand total of 7.13 per cent of voters cast their ballot on April 9. The other 92.87 per cent passed. Srinagar was a perfect example of everything by the book. No one panned the electronic voting machines (EVM) or the counting process, but would anyone in their senses call Farooq’s victory an expression of the popular will? Precisely whom does he represent when over 90 per cent of the voters registered their opinion by staying away? But he won’t forego his seat in Parliament according to a senior party colleague who described the result as a victory for the people. So he gets another chance to pontificate on all things under the sun, especially the plight of Kashmiris who obviously have no time for him.

But he is not alone in this. Immediately after results of state elections in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh were announced Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati dropped a clanger with her claim that EVMs had been tampered with to give the Bharatiya Janata Party a famous victory in UP. She was joined by Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal who complained of foul play with EVMs in Punjab, a landslide for the Congress. Later, the Congress too joined the chorus of complaints in a moment of unstated irony; EVMs became a part of the election machinery during UPA I. With others jumping on the bandwagon it threatens to snowball into a movement of politicians whose popularity is not reflected by the poll results.

It is possible that they sincerely believe what they’re saying but that argues a level of ignorance bordering on illiteracy. The Election Commission has, time and again, explained at length how EVMs work. They can’t be hacked because they’re never online. Software is loaded once on a chip fused in at the time of manufacture. It can’t be removed without making the machine inoperable. There is an elaborate protocol to ensure EVMs are randomly assigned so that even if there is tampering the overall effect is minimal. All this is public knowledge but when someone like Kejriwal continues to insist, without a scintilla of evidence, that the election was rigged people do take notice and, sometimes, action with tragic consequences.

Gau rakshak hooliganism is the perfect example of this kind of enabling. Let us for a moment admit the saffron brotherhood’s mythologies about the cow. Does that justify attacking and killing a Muslim with a permit for transporting cattle (Alwar)? This is vigilantism at its most naked, under police protection, as in many states these gangs have the status of auxiliaries enforcing the ban on cow slaughter. It’s also the dog whistle for Muslim harassment in BJP-run states. Anti-Romeo patrols to prevent the “love jihad” by Muslim men are another example of a goon squad under police cover. Then there is the ghar wapsi campaign against conversions, again targeting Muslims but Christians as well.

The BJP’s major leaders constantly and piously dissociate themselves from the ensuing violence but the incidents continue. Nor have the culprits got anything but the occasional slap on the wrist. In the last two years at least 10 Muslims have been killed because they were suspected of eating beef or were transporting cows. The murder of Mohammad Akhlaq, 55, in the National Capital Region (December 2015) is worth remembering especially because the family of Ravin Sisodia, an accused who died in prison last year, was awarded `25 lakh as compensation. The rule of law has no meaning in this environment.

All that politicians seem to be doing these days is undermining institutions, by insinuating the Election Commission is rigging polls, or partnering the police with lynch mobs. Suspicion, fear and loathing sums up the net result of their exertions. With one stroke of the pen the BJP created a massive new class of criminals, people who eat beef, and is now providing the mantle of the law to a class that looks more and more like a squad of extra-legal enforcers for the saffron agenda.

While the ruling party is subverting the spirit and substance of the Constitution in an attempt to hasten the country towards Hindu Rashtra, all the opposition can produce is the equivalent of “Daddy, the boys are being so mean”. A herculean task awaits them in reclaiming constitutional rule but they have no time for the job as they look for a scapegoat to explain their accelerating irrelevance.

 

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