Some of us may have seen viral clippings of a teacher asking students to behave like politicians and the fisticuffs, abuse, shouting and unruly behaviour that ensue in response from the children. Such clippings don’t merely reflect the deplorable behaviour of elected representatives in our “temples of democracy” but call our attention to the larger message that goes out to society. The disgraceful behaviour of manhandling marshals, standing atop tables, heckling and tearing pages from the rule book witnessed recently in the Rajya Sabha, the venerable Upper house reflects the deteriorating standards of debate and dissent. It is but the latest in a series of unpalatable dissent over the years involving various political parties and this includes acts of verbal attack, mike breaking and pepper spray. What message do we see going out to children and youth in our schools and colleges? Are we telling them that high decibel shouting, vandalism and heckling those you disagree with are acceptable methods of dissent?

Ideological conflicts are inevitable and energize a democratic system. We know that discussion, debate and dissent find a place in a democracy unlike in other political systems and have been put to good use several times in the past. The eloquence of oratory and the power of logical argument in legislative bodies won people’s hearts and there was great respect for parliamentarians who spoke well and behaved immaculately cutting across party lines. These memories are now fading away. Discussions which lead us to what is right have been replaced by arguments that determine who is right. A battle of one-upmanship has made logjams and objectionable behaviour the norm. This rot has much to do with the kind of people representing us and the entire ecosystem which allows those with questionable antecedents enter the hallowed portals of power either as members of the ruling party or the opposition. The overall conduct of both parliament and state assemblies depends on the personal integrity and value system of all members and these qualities have been eroded over the past few decades. We now, therefore, have a serious dearth of role models and a bevvy of wrong ones.

There’s no denying the fact that democracy degenerates when there is no discussion and informed debate between the ruling party and the opposition. It is worthwhile to note the observation of Nobel Prize winner and noted economist Amartya Sen in his popular book ‘The Argumentative Indian’, “Nor let us be resentful when others differ from us. For all men have hearts and each heart has its own leanings. Their right is our wrong and our right is their wrong” says Sen. This has relevance to both private and public debate. I hope elected representatives behave with dignity when they take up matters of legislation which decide the direction of our great nation. It is time to set right the image of the unruly politician deeply embedded in the minds of all including little children. Good role models are the need of the hour.