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Rahul coronated

Taking over as the President of the Indian National Congress, Rahul Gandhi blew hot and cold. The bitterness of the campaign in Gujarat was still lingering and the hatred towards 

Narendra Modi was palpable. “The Congress took India into the 21st century while today the Prime Minister is taking us back to the medieval past where people are butchered because of who they are, beaten for what they believe in and killed for what they eat. This ugly violence shames us in the world.” He concluded the address in a different, moderated tone: “we consider BJP our brothers and sisters even though we do not agree with them…. We do not fight hate with hate.” 

Egged on by the hawks in the Congress, including Mani Shankar Ayyar, Anand Sharma and P Chidambaram, Rahul Gandhi trained his ire on Narendra Modi. Unfortunately, Indian polity has set itself to fighting hate with hate, despite the occasional obeisance to Mahatma Gandhi. There are no exceptions. In an hour-long conversation with India Today TV’s Rajdeep Sardesai, who breezily described himself as a daamaad of West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee poured venom on Modi and his government. The Aam Aadmi party’s Ashish Khetan uses equally harsh language. 

The discourse since the 2002 Godhra train burning incident had been heaping hate upon hate not just by political opponents in the Congress, the Left and regional parties, but by most sections of the national media, particularly Delhi’s. Sonia Gandhi described Modi as Mout Ka Saudagar. Vir Sanghvi, Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt and others continued this high pitch hatred for long. This animosity extended to the UPA regime, with many proposals from the Gujarat government either turned down or treated in a lukewarm manner during 2004-14. Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, and the BJP have been returning the compliment with equal ferocity. While his historic campaign for the 2014 elections to the Lok Sabha focused on Vikas, sadly the recent poll campaign in Gujarat witnessed focus on the personalities of Rahul Gandhi and Modi. 

Gujarat had a lot to project on the development front.  These include deriving significant benefits from the Sardar Sarovar Project; taking water to thousands of villages;  24x7 power supply; port development; high-quality roads,  massive investments in industries and services; the use of natural gas by a variety of sectors;  Bharat Mala, the expressway project and the recently inaugurated Ro-Ro ferry service in cutting down travel time from eight hours to an hour. But with the focus on realpolitik, the party missed out on these and strayed into bitter personal attacks leading to further accentuation of an already divided polity. 

The Congress also turned its guns on the Election Commission, accusing it of being partial, biased and acting at the biddings of the party in power. Past chief election commissioners T S Krishnamurthy, N Gopalaswamy and S Y Quraishi have been suggesting reform of the EC. Principal among the needed changes is the setting up of a collegium consisting of the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition and chief justice of the Supreme Court to select the election commissioners. There are also suggestions on de-registering letter pad political parties; “more than 1800 parties are registered with EC; of these only some 50- 60 contest elections. The others are used to convert black money into white,” said TSK. They also want powers to take stringent actions against practices like cash for votes.

Elections to some state or the other come in a stream every year. With the intense involvement of the prime minister and his senior cabinet colleagues for weeks, the policymakers focus their energies and attention on the campaigns spread over weeks. The best option is to hold simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies once in five years. As Indian democracy matures, ways must be found to devise measures to switch to this system. 



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