The power of rhetoric over politics appears to be little understood by our political class. So we see the unsavoury spectacle of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee making rude allusions about bamboo sticks and a BJP minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti talking about illegitimate and legitimate sons in a bid to ascertain people’s loyalties. While these careless words can be dismissed as the ravings of an emotional person in the first instance and those of a ‘village woman’ as a party leader described her, in the second, they have the potential to inflame passions and cause divisions among people. It was today, 22 years ago, that a cataclysmic event took place that was to change Indian society and politics forever — the demolition of the Babri masjid. And it was another sadhvi, Uma Bharti, now a minister in the NDA government, who uttered the fateful words, “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri masjid tod doh” as she urged Kar sevaks enraged by religious zeal to destroy the historical mosque. She has, however, denied saying this. Since then, of course, there have been several such remarks which have unwittingly or deliberately incited passions, many of them from Right-wing elements.
The latest round of public abuse from our elected functionaries suggests that discourse today is more invective and devoid of any substance. For the NDA minister to say that Sadhvi Jyoti is a village woman is to insult village women, hardly any of whom would consider using such foul language. In the case of Ms Bharti, her reported words were taken with utmost seriousness from those gathered in Ayodhya. In fact, it almost seemed that those who brought the masjid down had official sanction, something the BJP and its fringe affiliates have yet to live down. In the case of the West Bengal chief minister, such language is par for the course. Such language may be befitting a street corner ruffian, but not the chief minister of a state. The use of reason and logic seems to have taken a backseat today with parties deliberately wheeling out provocative leaders like Sadhvi Jyoti to grab attention during elections. Little wonder then that such people think they can continue with their inflammatory rhetoric during the normal course of events. The calls for her resignation are not entirely misplaced if the Modi government wants to demonstrate that it will spare no culprit, particularly since she has embarrassed her own party.
All parties should adopt a zero-tolerance stance on abusive and divisive language. They should make it clear that such rhetoric has no place in a civilised polity. The aim should be to raise the bar on public discourse, not lower it any more than it has already been.