The Dirty Picture

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Stain Ink was thrown at Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal
Stain Ink was thrown at Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal. Photo: AFP

Every election has its highs and lows. In that regard, the 2013 Assembly polls have been no exception. With five states heading for the ballot — Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram — it was only expected that the shrill would reach fever pitch as the big day approaches. What, however, was not expected, was the low to which this pitch could plummet. Leading the five states in this was Delhi.

The first incident to get attention happened in an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) press conference, when an estranged party worker threw ink at party leaders Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan. In the clamour that followed, Kejriwal and Bhushan found an unlikely voice in their support. “This is not decent politics,” quipped Delhi CM and Kejriwal’s main rival Sheila Dikshit. This was to be the only exception to a rule.

A sting operation was soon aired on news channels, showing AAP member Shazia Ilmi allegedly accepting cash. As if this was not enough, another AAP member, Kumar Vishwas, was caught on tape asking for business class tickets to travel for his shows and readily accepting cash.

Kejriwal retorted in the fashion of the very politicians he claims to be fighting. “It is a conspiracy by the Congress and the BJP to malign AAP,” he said. He claimed that the sting tape was doctored and spliced to show Ilmi in a wrong light. On her part, Ilmi offered to withdraw her candidature from the Delhi polls, if proven guilty.

This was not the last of the allegations facing AAP. Questions were raised on whether the party was being funded by money coming from foreign shores. Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde declared his intent to look into the allegations. Once again, Kejriwal cried foul play by the Congress. Adding fuel to fire, the common man’s party, as it claims to be, found itself in the news once more, this time, for using abusive language during a campaign. Television presenter and host Rajiv Laxman — of the MTV Roadies fame — roped in to attract crowds, called the home minister names, inviting disapproval from all quarters. Although Kejriwal and other AAP members were quick to apologise for the incident, what did not go unnoticed was that Laxman was campaigning for Shazia Ilmi, who was caught by cameras laughing at the comments.

The Congress and the BJP too have had their share in this slur fest. It started with the Congress ratcheting up a 17-year-old rape charge against BJP’s chief ministerial candidate Dr Harshvardhan. Leading the Congress charge, minister Haroon Yusuf said that “girls are not safe even in their houses anymore”. Harshvardhan retaliated by saying that he had been cleared of this charge long ago, and the Congress was just venting its frustration.

Things really took a turn for the ugly when the big guns joined in. BJP prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi took a jibe at Sonia Gandhi’s ill health, asking her to make way for Rahul Gandhi. Modi’s gauntlet was picked up by the Congress vice-president, who called the BJP a “party of thieves”. Modi was quick to retort and in a rally, said that the Congress ruled with a khooni panja (a bloody palm). The imagery was not lost on anyone, as the palm is the Congress’ party symbol. Both parties went to the Election Commission with their complaints and Rahul and Modi were both cautioned by the electoral watchdog.

Despite the rap on the knuckles, jibes flew thick and fast. In an interesting twist, allegations were made against Modi for having ordered a woman architect in Gujarat to be placed under surveillance for personal reasons. The then MoS for home affairs of Gujarat, Amit Shah, was allegedly in charge of tapping the woman’s phone and monitoring her. In leaked telephonic conversations to the media, Shah allegedly refers to Modi as “Sahib”, a point I&B Minister Manish Tewari was quick to pounce upon. Tewari called Modi a “sahibzada”, an apparent jibe at the BJP leader for his repeated references to Rahul Gandhi as “shehzada (prince)”.

Trading in low blows is not a novelty during elections. However, the 2013 Delhi polls has taken it to a different level altogether. Initially confined to a war of words between their supporters on social media, the politicians chose to raise the bar by a notch during this campaign.

ashhar@tehelka.com

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