When governments fail to keep their promises, they talk about a former Prime Minister “conspiring with Pakistan to sabotage a particular party”, Janata Dal (U) leader Pavan Varma has said.
The former Member of Parliament and spokesperson of the JD(U), an NDA ally, yesterday said democracy was threatened by populist governments which made emotional statements to deflect voters’ attention from governance.
“When faith in the promises made by you is lost, when it becomes transparent to people and they rather wish to talk about governance, then you start talking about issues like ‘Khilji ki aulaad’, ‘Aurangzeb’… or say that a former PM is conspiring with Pakistan to sabotage a particular party. That is the ultimate threat to democracy,” Varma said.
Though the former diplomat did not name any party, the reference was to the BJP’s electoral campaign in Gujarat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had insinuated at a recent rally that former prime minister Manmohan Singh had colluded with Pakistan in the Gujarat polls.
Varma, who, along with Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, took part in a panel discussion on “Populism is the Greatest Threat to Democracy” at the curtain raiser here of the 11th Jaipur Literature festival, said populism devalued democracy because it shifted the focus of attention from governance to promises.
When populism was turned into a tool to win an election, never-to-be-fulfilled promises were made, he said.
“It becomes a contest about who can tell the biggest lie,” Varma said. “When there are false promises all around, common people don’t trust even the legitimate ones,” he added.
Former Union minister Tharoor said populism presumed it spoke for the masses, often ending the scope for pluralism. “It tells the masses, ‘we are all you need and we know what is good for you’,” the Congress MP said.
Tharoor also took took a dig at the “populist mindset” of the Narendra Modi-led BJP government. He said it was the political party’s “populist nature” that led them to say they represented the “will of India” after winning 31 per cent votes.
“…and those who disagree with them are anti-national,” Tharoor said. He also noted that a populist mindset could be on either side of the political spectrum — left or right.
The organisers released the third list of speakers attending the festival in Jaipur, set to take place from January 25 next year.
It includes eminent personalities from varied fields such as environmentalist and filmmaker Pradip Krishen, economist Gurcharan Das and Burmese human rights activist Ma Thida.
The literary event will also see sessions by forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs, whose books inspired the popular American television series “Bones”, Philip Norman, author of biographies on The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elton John, who will speak on The Beatles’ 1968 visit to India.
Namita Gokhale, author and festival co-director, said JLF always tried to remain “plural, diverse and multilingual” balancing intellectual rigour with popular culture.
“We have also tried to maintain a gender balance in our panels, and resist ‘manelists’ and their all-knowing superiority,” she said.
The five-day festival will be attended by Hindi writers of the next generation, including Akhil Katyal, Anu Singh Choudhry and Yatindra Mishra. William Dalrymple, author and festival co-director, pointed out that the festival was open to all.
“There are several major international literature festivals across the world, but JLF is the only place where you can listen to the A-listers, Nobel, Booker, Pulitzer winners without paying anything at all,” he said.