Petitions And Controversy: Elections 2019
In this high stakes battle of 2019, some tactics have caused controversies while others have caused a reaction from society. There have been petitions and counter petitions which have become stories in their own right.
Election season is upon us and the political arena is heating up. With the elections becoming a long, drawn out affair, spread across two months, political parties have gone all out. In this high stakes battle, some tactics have caused controversies while others have caused a reaction from society. There have been petitions and counter petitions which have become stories in their own right.
Just before the elections got underway, a petition did the rounds, signed by over 600 theatre artists and actors, which asked people to not vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This sparked a counter petition by 900 artists, actors, and other luminaries, urging people to elect a ‘majboot sarkar’ (that is, BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi). Only, some of the signatories now claim they didn’t sign it. Then, there was a petition signed by the Armed Forces veterans to the President, protesting against the campaign of the ruling party which repeatedly tries to dredge up the contribution of the Armed Forces for political gain. However, a controversy erupted on April 12th, when some of the signatories claimed they never signed the petition.
The petition and the counter-petition
Earlier in April, a number of celebrities, including film stars, signed a petition asking voters to eradicate "hate politics", which could be done by removing the Modi-led BJP from power. The petition was signed by stars and artists like Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkona Sen Sharma, Anurag Kashyap, Vinay Pathak, Amol Palekar, and so on.
“The coming elections are without a doubt the most critical in the history of independent India. A democracy must empower its weakest, it’s most marginalised. A democracy cannot function without questioning, debate, and vibrant opposition. All this is being concertedly eroded by the current government,” the petition said.
The petition created waves. As a result, a few days later, there was a counter petition. Over 900 artistes and people from the field of literature appealed to voters to vote without pressure and prejudice, and elect a "mazboot sarkar" (strong government), not a "majboor sarkar" (helpless government), in the wake of challenges like terrorism.
“We believe that during the last five years, India has seen a government that has delivered corruption-free good governance and development-oriented administration. During this period, globally India has acquired greater respect. It is our firm conviction that the continuance of government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the need of the hour,” this petition said, as reported by the media.
Prominent signatories of this petition included actor Vivek Oberoi, classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj, music composer Shankar Mahadevan, Kuchipudi dancing duo Raja-Radha Reddy, theatre artiste Waman Kendre, Dhrupad vocalist Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, and Statue of Unity sculptor, Ram Sutar.
However, a closer look at this counter petition shows that not everything is what it seems. While the prominent signatories of the original petition were not really openly associated with any political party, the counter petition had clear links. Oberoi played Modi in a biopic on him, which was supposed to release close to the first phase of polling. However, the Election Commission found that the film was in violation of the Model Code of Conduct and thus postponed its release. He has repeatedly expressed his admiration for the BJP and Modi.
Further, some of the signatories claim they never signed such a petition. Bharatnatyam dancer, Geeta Chandran, a signatory to the petition, claimed she never signed it. She told the media that that during a gathering at the Indian Council of Cultural Relations there was some discussion of a petition urging people to vote, but when they were asked to endorse the current government and its successes, they refused. “Many of us present felt that the democratic principle of 'secret ballot', that is our constitutional right, would be violated if we agreed to those points, especially since most of us were not members of any political party. There was no formal signing,” she told the media.
Does that not raise questions of veracity about that petition?
Controversy about the petition by retired veterans
On April 11th, a petition to President Ram Nath Kovind created waves, making people sit up and take notice. The letter, signed by about 150 veterans, referred to the “unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes and claiming the armed forces to be ‘Modi ji ki Sena’”. Among the veterans whose names have appeared in the letter are three former Army Chiefs - General (retired) SF Rodrigues, General (retired) Shankar Roy Chowdhury and General (retired) Deepak Kapoor, four former Navy chiefs and former Air Force chief NC Suri.
There has been an ongoing controversy regarding references to the armed forces by BJP leaders, including Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Adityanath was even warned by the EC over his “Modiji ki Sena” remark. Modi was lambasted for asking for votes in the name of the “brave soldiers” of Balakot and Pulwama.
However, a controversy erupted after some media reports that Rashtrapati Bhavan did not receive the petition. Furthermore, two former service chiefs named among the 156 "undersigned" in the letter, denied having signed the letter. "We in the services have always done what the government in power ordered us. We are an instrument of the state. We are apolitical. Anyone can say anything and then sell it as fake news. I don't know who this gentleman is who wrote this," General (retired) Rodrigues told news agency ANI. His name was included in list the signatories.
So, what is the truth of the matter? The issue is quite legitimate and it is a serious concern. Several people have already talked about this issue and expressed apprehension. But, by creating this controversy, does it not take away the attention from important issues?