India’s opposition to abstain from post-election TV debates, here’s why this is a sign of hypocrisy

In a democracy, political entities are expected to engage with the media and the public, answering tough questions and standing by their policies and actions.

The Indian National Congress Party’s (INC) decision to abstain from sending spokespersons to media panels post-election is a glaring sign of hypocrisy. This move by the grand old party of India starkly contradicts the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and transparency, principles which the party has historically championed.

Pawan Khera, the Chairman of Media & Publicity Department at AICC, said on X: “The Indian National Congress will not participate in the debates on #ExitPolls.”

Meanwhile, Congress’s close ally Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav, who studied in Australia, also made a similar announcement for his party workers. Yadv posted on X: “It is a special appeal to you all that you should not get influenced by any BJP ‘exit poll’ and remain fully alert, maintain your confidence and stand firm and remembering our basic mantra of victory ‘voting is also being cautious’, celebrate the victory of the constitution, democracy and the people of the country only after getting the certificate of victory.”

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By choosing to silence their own representatives, the opposition political parties, especially Congress, not only evades public scrutiny but also undermines the democratic process that thrives on open dialogue and accountability. This behaviour, to some experts, mirrors fascist inclinations, where the suppression of dissent within the political party and the avoidance of accountability are common tactics.

In an earlier piece, I have presented how India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is expected to win a third term in the election that got underway on April 19, is often reported by his critics as having authoritarian tendencies. One must be clear that the concept of labelling leaders as “dictators” or “fascists” often emanates from Leftist ideology, which tends to present right-wing or nationalist leaders as authoritarian. If you dare not to hop on the Leftist bandwagon, well, prepare to be stamped with the labels of “dictator” or “fascist” faster than you can blink!

For the uninitiated, fascist tendencies are characterised by the suppression of dissent, the centralisation of power, and the erosion of democratic norms and individual freedoms. Such tendencies often involve the manipulation of information and the silencing of voices to maintain control. Such a tendency helps foster an environment of fear and conformity amongst party workers thus stifling open debate and critical thinking, which are crucial for democratic governance.

In a democracy, political entities are expected to engage with the media and the public, answering tough questions and standing by their policies and actions.

Furthermore, given this latest decision of Congress party, people will believe that the party spokespersons would undoubtedly struggle to rationalise their electoral defeat under the leadership of Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi.

Congress party’s performance in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections highlights a significant and troubling decline. In the 2014 elections, the Congress faced a devastating defeat, winning only 44 seats out of 543, which marked their lowest tally in history. Their vote share plummeted to approximately 19.3%, reflecting a dramatic loss of support compared to previous elections. The situation did not improve significantly in the 2019 elections, where the Congress managed to win just 52 seats, slightly up from 2014 but still far below their historical performance. The vote share in 2019 remained nearly stagnant at around 19.5%.

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These consecutive poor showings, which is going to continue in 2024 as well, underscore a critical period of introspection and re-evaluation for the Congress party, as they struggle to regain their footing and resonate with the Indian electorate in the face of strong competition from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which secured overwhelming majorities in both elections. In fact, BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah has advised the opposition: “I want to tell the Congress party not to run away, face the defeat and introspect.”

The persistent electoral setbacks faced by the Congress party can be attributed to a variety of factors, including an inconsistent policy positions and ineffective leadership. Under Kharge, and Rahul Gandhi, the party has been criticised for lacking a clear and cohesive vision, often appearing fragmented and reactive rather than proactive.

Additionally, Congress party’s spokespersons have often failed to effectively represent their views in news debates, contributing to its declining public image. Their frequent inability to articulate clear, coherent arguments and counter the narratives set by BJP has undermined the party’s credibility.

To the general audience, Congress spokespersons mostly appear fragmented and reactive along with lacking preparation thus leading to communication missteps and controversies that detract from the party’s message. Their occasional resort to personal attacks and defensive posturing, rather than constructive dialogue, has alienated potential young and middle-class supporters.

No doubt, defending such a track record in media panels would require addressing these deep-seated issues, which is a daunting task given the current state of disarray within the party. This avoidance strategy, while temporarily shielding the party from immediate criticism, ultimately betrays an inability or unwillingness to confront and rectify their shortcomings, further eroding public trust.

According to Election Commission of India guidelines, television channels and news outlets will be able to run exit poll data and its results on June 1 after 6.30 pm.

In a democracy, as the votes are counted and results are declared, post-election media exit polls and debates are crucial because they provide a platform for transparency, accountability, and public engagement. These debates allow all political parties to explain their performance, address voter concerns, and outline their future strategies. They also facilitate a critical analysis of the election outcomes, helping the electorate understand the implications of the results. Congress party should remember that such debates promote healthy political discourse, ensuring that diverse viewpoints are heard and scrutinized, which is essential for an informed and participatory democratic process.

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