In the heat and dust of ‘Election 2014’, allegations and counter-allegations have been dominating primetime in news studios, headlines in newspapers and posts on social networking sites.
Leaders, cutting across party lines, have been trying to satiate the enormous political appetite of the electorate, often with half-truths and white lies. Allegations, even personal attacks, on political rivals have become a part of discourse in Indian politics.
While it is often the old guard that has been involved in name-calling, the younger leaders have shown more restraint. Of course, there are exceptions.
And this is why Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s veiled attack on BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi while comparing leadership styles comes as a surprise. Gandhi, while speaking at a rally at Balasinor, in central Gujarat on Tuesday, said there were two types of leaders: One, who meets the people, understands them and their problems and is humble and not arrogant. The other type is like Hitler who believed that they do not have anything to learn from the people. While the Congress scion might not have used Modi’s name, the inference, given the context and that he was speaking in Gujarat, is hard to miss.
Gandhi has made the political equivalent of an Internet truism — Godwin’s Law, which states that ‘if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism’. The campaign for the 16th Lok Sabha has been on for a long time but that’s not an excuse. However, political niceties and courtesy are not something one expects from our netas.
With his ‘Hitler’ comment, Gandhi is in the esteemed company of former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the state media in North Korea. Clinton, last week, pointed out the similarities between Nazi Germany’s actions in the 1930s in Czechoslovakia and Poland to Russia’s actions in Crimea. Never mind that she later tried to clarify her comment saying that she wanted everyone to have a ‘little historic perspective’ and that she was not making a ‘comparison’. The North Korean news agency KCNA in an editorial in February compared Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Hitler for his plans to revise Tokyo’s pacifist constitution opening the frontiers of the military.
In attacking Modi, Gandhi joins party colleagues Mani Shankar Aiyar and Salman Khurshid, among the many others who have done it in the past. If Aiyar called the Gujarat chief minister a ‘chaiwalla’, Khurshid, while addressing people in his constituency Farrukhabad in Uttar Pradesh, referred to Modi as a “napunsak” for not protecting the people of Godhra. Gandhi had disapproved of both Aiyar’s and Khurshid’s comments.
Gandhi’s ‘Reductio ad Hitlerum’ or ‘playing the Nazi card’ can be interpreted in many ways. There were a lot of issues that could expose the much-talked-about ‘Gujarat Model’ — as was done by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal a few days ago. Gandhi, in his speech, focused on the plight of the farmers; that Gujarat was shining only for a few people; accused the state government of taking credit for the Amul story and for appropriating the legacy of Sardar Patel.
Then why would Rahul Gandhi, who is otherwise careful in choosing his words, use the ‘H’ word? The answer to this, perhaps, lies in a 2007 article that appeared in The Economist. While discussing citizenship policies in Estonia and looking at the tone of discussion on the Internet in Russia, The Economist had said that ‘A good rule in most discussions is that the first person to call the other a Nazi automatically loses the argument’. Now that’s some food for thought.