Cut in Petrol and Diesel Price: Sign of the Limit for Emotional Blackmailing of People

Jacob Peenikaparambil- Article -  The results of the recently held by-elections to three Lok Sabha seats and 30 assembly seats across 13 states seem to have forced political leaders to rethink about their approach to people.  It appears that they have realized to some extent that the issues of bread and butter cannot be suppressed forever by feeding on the religious sentiments of people. The immediate decision of the central government to cut excise duty on petrol by Rs. 5/- and diesel by Rs. 10/- per litre is the result of the realization that people have started using the power of their votes to put some sense in the leaders in order to focus on governance. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram described the fuel price cut as a “by- product of by-elections”. Till the results of the by-elections were declared the government was stubborn not to slash the excise duty despite the cry of people.

The role of political leaders in a democracy is to focus on governance through the eradication of poverty, hunger and unemployment, and provision of quality education, good health care services and excellent infrastructure both in the rural and urban areas. On the other hand, it is the duty of the faith leaders to guide people on religious matters. In a pluralistic country like India, politicians should not meddle with religious issues, if they are to be true to their profession. Intruding with religion may bring short term gains to political leaders and their supporters, but in the long run the nation will have to pay a heavy price.    

History is a witness to the disaster of mixing religion with politics. We Indians have to learn from the experience of our neighbouring countries. Mixing religion with politics is a recipe for catastrophe. Our neighbour Pakistan, a theocratic state, is becoming a failed state. Its economy is in shambles. Even though Islam is the state religion of Pakistan, there is no respite in sectarian violence in that country.  According to Wikipedia, as many as 4000 people are estimated to have been killed by Shia-Sunni sectarian attacks in Pakistan between 1987 and 2007. Since 2008, thousands of Shias have been killed by Sunni extremists as per Human Rights Watch (HRW). Many Islamic countries are plagued with large scale sectarian violence.  

Political parties, irrespective of those who are in power, have always a tendency to play down or even hide the issues of hunger, poverty, unemployment, bad education, lack of healthcare facilities etc. Even when multilateral and international organizations expose governance deficits through research studies, the governments are often in a denial mode and they even find fault with the methodology adopted by these organizations. In order to hide their failures they often resort to the shortcut of appealing to emotional issues based on religion, caste, ethnicity, language etc.

 In a democracy, both the ruling party and the opposition parties are responsible for governance failures, even though the former has a higher level of responsibility. In this context, the civil society can play a prominent role by bringing to the attention of people the failures of political leadership and educating people to use the power of votes to bring about changes in the policies of the government. Added to this, if political parties decide to reserve 40% tickets to women in parliamentary and assembly elections, it would be a big game changer in Indian politics.

The result of the by-elections is a reminder to all political parties that there is a limit for exploiting the religious, caste and ethnic sentiments of people. Beyond a limit it can backfire. Let the leaders remember the words of Abraham Lincoln. “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”.

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