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Fear and hysteria as campaign tools

Those who don’t want Modi will have to go to Pakistan, those who vote for Congress want Muslims to rule India like Babar did, those who vote for BSP want upper castes finished forever, those who vote PDP want Kashmir to go to Pakistan, those who vote for CPI want India to become a satellite of Russia/China.

It goes on and on, and louder and louder, as the elections reach their final rounds. In a democracy, you would presume that using tools of fear and hysteria during elections would be passé. No, forget it. No democracy is free of fears.

Political leaders began their election campaign of 2014 on the plans of development and stability, but it has not taken them long to slip into the tried and tested path of generating fear psychosis. Pic/AFP
Political leaders began their election campaign of 2014 on the plans of development and stability, but it has not taken them long to slip into the tried and tested path of generating fear psychosis. Pic/AFP

Not even the US. Stoking fears is something that powerful politicians love to do. It gives them power over us hapless voters. It keeps us in a state of nervous anxiety and renders us pliable to keep them in power.

Political leaders began their election campaign of 2014 on the plans of development and stability, but it has not taken them long to slip into the tried and tested path of generating fear psychosis. And they are liberally using all tools available to them. Again tried and tested.

Campaign speeches, advertisements, Facebook updates, tweets, carefully planted stories in newspapers and television reports, everything to drive away clear thought and reason at the time of voting. Rational debate has been poisoned for now.

This is because politicians are so unsure of their own arguments that they fear that voters will be able to sift the truth from the rhetoric. Rather than risk speaking the truth, they transfer their fears to us through illusions of horror and terror.

Escalating popular fears regarding caste and communal violence as a form of retributive justice betrays a sense of nervousness in leaders, both those fear of losing their power and those desperate to return to power after a long hiatus.

Dictators, whether benign or covert, whether functioning as an individual or a cabal, maintain control by inciting fear and anger. These kinds of dictators are from both ends of the political spectrum, far Right and far Left. Gandhians or Godses with guns or trishuls and terrifying statistics.

In America we saw this rhetoric in play in recent years when there was paranoia preceding the War on Terror. Dire warnings of how Muslim fundamentalists were going to take over America, take over the world, and destroy a way of life. So go fight a war here, a war there, take a hundred thousand prisoners, throw them into an island. Order restored. Not really.

The past two weeks have seen leaders across the political spectrum stoking our fears. Muslims are multiplying, Bangladeshis are taking our jobs, the dynasty will consume you, lower castes will marry your upper caste girls, communal riots will return, singing Vande Mataram will be compulsory, madrasas will become RSS shakhas, jeans will be banned, Khaps will rule, journalists will be thrown in jail, editors will have to toe the line or their toes will be chopped, remember Emergency?

It gets more bizarre by the day. Just adds to the distress of the common man who is trying to make ends meet in the present and is worried about the future. In that distress, she makes an emotional choice at the time of voting instead of a well informed, sensible choice.

By nature we respond faster to fear than to kindness and pleasant behaviour. Watch TV, which soundbites get maximum play? The ones that play on our fears. Which debater is given maximum time? The one who says the most outrageous things. Which news anchors are watched the most? The ones who bring to the fore our latent fears. Of course we are not super-human. We are all prone to slip into bouts of toxicity.

But we get to vote our Parliament just once in five years. We cannot and must not vote in a state of paralysis of thought due to fear mongering by the politicians and the media.

This doomsday that is being created these days is illusory. Allama Iqbal wrote in 1905 about India: Kuch baat hai kii hasti mit-ti nahi hamari, sadiyon raha hai dushman dour-e-zaman hamara (Such is our existence that it cannot be erased, though for centuries, time has been our enemy).

When you go to vote on the 24th, dear Mumbaikars, vote fearlessly and responsibly, make your choice after knowing your candidates, their parties and their programmes. Exercise your choice, in Tagore’s immortal words, where the mind is without fear and the head is held high...

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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