Did Jawaharlal Nehru engage in political jousts with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel? Did BR Ambedkar display a brisk no-nonsense manner with his colleagues? These are some of the issues weighing on the minds of some of our electoral aspirants. What they seem to have missed is the fact that these great men, who shaped modern India, did have serious differences with their opponents and colleagues.
But go through the history of that time and it will become clear that differences were argued out rationally, intellectually and in civilised language. The issues were never dealt with by using personal vilification. Arguments were always with the aim of convincing the other party, never with the aim of humiliating or disrespecting.
It is a great shame that politicians do not seek to emulate the erudition of our earlier leaders or learn from them the fine art of decency and probity in public life. Nowhere do we witness the appalling lowering of standards of public discourse as in the language used by our political worthies.
Just when we thought we had the reached the nadir, the party with a difference, the Aam Aadmi Party, added a new dimension to political debate. During one of its road shows in the Capital, one of its ‘stars’, a TV personality, made derogatory comments about the Union home minister even as the party’s candidate clapped and looked on.
While the party and the candidate apologised later, the damage had been done. A few days ago, the BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi targeted Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, calling him a ‘backstabber, traitor’. Then there was SP leader Naresh Agarwal commenting on Mr Modi’s past, saying that a tea-seller cannot become the PM. In Raipur, last week Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked parties not to resort to cheap politics. But it would appear that there are not too many takers for a bit of civility in public life.
All this is happening at a time when there are actually no dearth of issues to discuss. It really suggests a sort of intellectual bankruptcy that politicians have to resort to the lowest common denominator to best their rivals. Personal attacks were not part of the political armoury at one time — today it seems to be a free-for-all. The fact the politicians feel that anything goes suggests that they have little respect for the sensibilities of the voters.
Most people do not want to listen to ugly barbs, rather they want to hear in what way their lives will improve. The usual ploy is to say something so off the wall and then blame the media for distorting things. In the age of 24X7 television, there is no place for that anymore. So it really pays to mind your language.