Elections, Propaganda and Education

The Aam Aadmi Party was reluctant to include the issue of the rights of the LGBT people in its Delhi manifesto due to strategic reasons. Explaining the absence, the party officials said that conservative voters might turn away from the party if they find it supporting the LGBT cause. The LGBTs also seem to ‘understand’ the constraints of the poor party. The election meetings could have served as a wonderful platform had the party decided to talk to the people about this issue, telling them why it is important for us to ensure liberty to individuals to decide about their bodies. It would have been an educational exercise. Given the fact that people are ready to listen to this new party and its ideas, this reluctance on its part to take up this role says a lot not only about it, but also about the health of our polity.

The AAP candidate challenging Rahul Gandhi is harping on the bad condition of the roads of Amethi and lack of electricity there. One wonders whether Rahul Gandhi, in his response, would have the courage of a now-forgotten former Congressman. Abdul Ghafoor, once Chief Minister of Bihar, was campaigning in Siwan in a Parliamentary election. At a meeting, voters started complaining about the bad condition of roads and sanitation. He told them bluntly that he was there to seek their approval for his candidature for the membership of the Parliament and they should not waste their votes on him if they expected him to fix these problems. The problems they cited were something a municipal councilor was supposed to look after. It is a different story that he lost the election.

My father, now 80 years of age, recalls the parliamentary elections of 1962. It was preceded by a rare celestial event called Ashta Graha Yoga in which all the eight planets had fallen in a line. Yagnas were held all over the country to appease the Gods since this constellation was considered inauspicious by Hindu pandits. Jawaharlal Nehru was especially requested by his party colleague and renowned astrologer Pandit Sampurnanand, then the Governor of Rajasthan, not to undertake air travel. Nehru made it a point to talk about it in his election meetings and criticize this unscientific, superstitious approach to life. ‘I fly closer to the stars and know more than any pandit about their movement,” he would tell his electorate, largely Hindu, in his own colourful way to remove the fear of the wrath of the grahas from the minds of his Hindu electorate. Today, we do not expect any politician to take on the stars or pandits in election times and earn their displeasure.

Those were different times, we are told. Elections then were also about an education in democracy. Democracy was new to us and the political leaders considered it their duty to talk to the masses about ideologies and policies. They did understand the difference between propaganda and education. The prospect of immediate gains in elections did not prevent them from speaking on issues our current leaders dare not touch for the fear of disturbing the ruling ‘common sense’. For example, no political leader would dare speak about the evils of large dams in Gujarat. Would Medha Patkar be invited by her party people in Gujarat to campaign for them. In the last elections for the Gujarat assembly I heard my diehard secular friends expressing relief that Congress leaders had not spoken about communalism since any mention of the ‘C’ word would turn Hindu voters away from them.

Nehru thought otherwise. In 1952, Jan Sangh, the original avatar of the BJP, was in its nascent stage. There was no need to mention it in the election campaign. Wounds of Partition had not yet healed. It was better not to touch that raw nerve of the Hindu masses. However, Nehru did not want miss this educational opportunity. The birth of a party like Jan Sangh in the early years of Indian democracy was, in his view, a dangerous signal and people needed to be told about the politics that it represented. Jan Sangh leaders would joke that they could not have found a better campaigner. Nehru, the campaigner, would talk with his constituents about the ills of all hues of communalism but would not desist from warning them that majority communalism was always most dangerous and it was the duty of the majority community to not allow it to enter the mainstream of political discourse.

The Left parties always told their members that election campaigns were to be used as opportunities for the ideological education of the masses. Losing or winning was not as important for them. But lately, we see them hobnobbing with ‘bourgeois parties’, striking tactical alliances and seldom talking directly with the people. They seem to have totally withdrawn themselves from this educational role.

We see our leaders keeping away from ‘sensitive issues’. Bad enough. Worse is that they are advised to do so even by our political analysts and academics. Why blame the politicians from shunning the role of educators? Look at the silence in the departments of Political Science in our universities in these noisy times. It was painful to see the campus, students and teachers not participating in this great exercise of democracy. We did see them campaigning in constituencies as representatives of different political parties but the fact that the campus restrained itself from discussing this election academically should worry us. Imagine lakhs of young men and women, first time voters, spending their best hours on the campus, trying to extract meaning from the cacophony of the propaganda war unleashed through electronic channels and other media, left on their own. My daughter wants to know as to what would change fundamentally in our lives after the chosen saviour is elected. Why have her textbooks or her school failed to anticipate this young anxiety and devise academic or educational means to address it? To leave the youth at the mercy and vagaries of their instincts and intuition and not create opportunities to examine their common sense is worse than not finishing the syllabus on time.

Human beings are not born as democratic beings. Democratic sensibilities are something societies need to cultivate. Smart propaganda cannot replace education. The failure of the ‘secular parties’ to meet the challenge of the propaganda blitz of the ‘chosen one’ has largely to do with the abdication of their role as democratic educators of the masses.

( First published by the DNA on 18 April,2014)

8 thoughts on “Elections, Propaganda and Education”

  1. I agree. Even the left lost its way when it compromised on its ideology and went the way of electoral politics. But there is merit in the argument that without electoral politics or the requisite strength in parliament, there is nothing the left could do. Of course, it led to a greater disconnect with the masses and their own brand of grassroot politics suffered as a result. But the choice is stark. Either build the organisation and remain in the sidelines or be more visible and make more alliances, however opportunistic.

    By the way, I am heartened that people still remember Nehru for what he was rather than mouth inanities about how he ruined the country. I might not like the congress very much, nor the Gandhi family. But, without a doubt, no other PM has come close to the stature of that erudite man. It is our fault actually. We heard from our parents or grandparents about how Nehru ruined it all and Gandhi caused the partition or how the world would have been better off had Sardar Patel been the PM. But the youth of this nation has always been superficial, then and now. We tend to take these criticisms as the gospel truth and continue to propagate the same thing over and over again and bequeath them to the next generation. I wish some youngster would come up to me and argue about it with full knowledge of the facts and a good grasp of history. These youngsters mouth off these standard monologues about how everything went bad without even telling us what they know about the issues.
    When people talk about how China took over Indian territory I am infuriated. Learn about it first, then tell us Nehru was a lousy fellow. Based on facts. People who do not possess half his erudition, half his pragmatic outlook, do not have a right to criticize him based on fallacies or half baked knowledge. The same with Gandhi.

    You speak of the education of the masses. Please go and ask the brightest students in your local university a few questions about history or politics in India. Ask a GK question about the first PM or President or vice president of India, the chances are the students would get it wrong.
    Talk about BC Roy or Acharya Kripalani, dumb smiles. Talk about JP, or Snehalatha Reddy or George Fernandes himself, stupid vacuous looks. Talk about Vajpayee and you get an instant response – the great Prime Minister of India. Ask them why, they don’t know. Students who come over to my place constantly infuriate me with their mindless worship of Modi. I ask them, what do you know about economics or his brand of development. Nothing. And yet, he is the hero. I would not mind it if they spoke about facts (spurious or not) and then told me all about it. They tell me about great roads in Gujarat. Er, did you visit the place? No, we read about it. Ah… wonderful.

    Education has given us nothing but qualified ignorance. You are telling us that the leaders should educate the public. Do they really need to be educated? Superstition has ruled this country for long. But it has never been as strong as it is now. The Bhakta gana who go around asking for donations to temples, seem to think it more important than education or eradicating poverty. The MP in my place is famous for a 1000 temple jeernodharas, for “rescuing” hundreds of abandoned temples, whereas this district is known for its temples to Saraswati, the colleges and the institutions that made us what we are.

    I know this is a rant, but I feel so helpless. Your well meaning words resonate with me. But does it even matter? You will likely get criticism for nitpicking, for saying that AAP should have done this or that, or for praising Nehru. I doubt if people would even understand the need for education. I am very worried about this election for the same reason. The lauded youth of this country are nothing but vacuous bakras and their vote is not based on common sense or reason, but from the hype generated and peer pressure. Let us not place them on a pedestal. They are certainly the future of this country, but towards ruination. There are sparks here and there which hearten me no end, seeing some of the comments of readers here (some of them as young as 17). But it is rare, something that delights and saddens at the same time.

    Pardon me, for this long rant.

  2. So very appropriately put. My father, who would have been 94 this year, I recall, would relate how, when Nehru addressed people in rallies, would interact with them like a teacher rather than a politician. But then these are days of Nehru-bashers (and it is so very striking that in the pantheon of the ones venerated by AAP, Nehru is missing). In line with the point raised in this post, one also has to note that as opposed to the likes of Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad and Rajaji (who were such erudite writers and scholars in their own right), it is difficult to think of anyone who can match up to them as writers who touched hearts and minds of countless readers.

    AAP may be a fresh breath of air but at this particular moment they seem to lack depth and perspective.

  3. I don’t quite understand the moderation policy here. A senseless quote with a link that leads to nowhere is retained and when I question the comment above, it is removed? What does the link “Animation Notes” mean? Or quoting my lines above? Is there a point to it? Please enlighten me if you saw sense in that comment and the reason for allowing it. I am a little confused.

  4. Nehru made lot of mistakes which are haunting India even now. His flawed policies lack of strategic thinking and pursuit of personal happiness at the cost of the nations priorities cannot be glossed over. Rahul is not like NEhru he is a good person who puts nation above his personal happiness and he is not letting personal fantasies override indias interests.

    1. Hello Francis, I would really appreciate it if you could point out a few of Nehru’s mistakes. This is a genuine request, no sarcasm or hidden agenda. I am really keen to know what you perceive as his mistakes. Lack of strategic thinking really confuses me. if anything, he was a hyperactive strategist. Pursuit of personal happiness, I might agree. Especially since he foisted Indira Gandhi on us in order to have the Kerala government dismissed on a pretext. But what else could you point out? I know this is rather out of place in this discussion, but I really would like to know. Thanks.

    2. Article 370 for which people blame Nehru is still the solution to India’s problems. Nehru was a visionary and he closely followed Soviet style creation of states to reverse the partition. This is proved by the fact that Uighur separatists of China were not impressed by his Soviet model and said that Nehru does not suit their freedom struggle. Tibet was based on such a policy. Not to mention the Hindification of India which was on the lines of Russification followed in the USSR. While Patel had his own style of unification, Nehru followed another path which unfortunately did not see the light of the day.

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