Some weeks ago, I wrote in this column about my good friend Sanjay Nirupam, a Congress MP and spokesperson, who had made a surprising discovery about his new party leaders.
Nirupam joined the Congress from the Shiv Sena and, as is the saffronist culture in this country, was weaned on aggression, impoliteness and relentless bullying of opponents as the ideal manner of getting one’s views across.
That quality comes prominently to the fore in all BJP spokespersons, including the battery of women that the party uses in the hope that the mostly male anchors on prime time television and male guests on these shows might find it difficult to respond in kind.
But some months into the Congress, Nirupam was impressed that while some may exhibit the occasional aggression, Congress leaders were by and large “sabhya and susheel” (cultured and refined) and this was a far cry from the BJP’s own “shuchita and samrasta” (in LK Advani’s own words, meaning clean and sweet).
But Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, obviously, is none of these. When he described Sunanda Tharoor as minister Shashi Tharoor’s Rs. 50 crore girlfriend, all that Tharoor did was to say she was far more precious to him than the so-called Rs. 50 crore of Modi’s imagination.
Tharoor could have raked up the salacious tales floating around about Modi in Gujarat but chose to stay away from getting personal.
Contrast this with a BJP spokesperson — a woman — who tried to cast aspersions on Ishrat Jahan’s character in a losing battle to defend and justify the fake encounter killing of the 19-year-old student in Gujarat in 2004. “Here’s a girl who was travelling alone with three unrelated men,” the spokesperson said.
The intent was obvious. This shallow attempt at character assassination is enough to turn one’s stomach and it is difficult to get over the sheer nausea it evokes.
However, that kind of low brow commentary seems to be much valued by even lesser politicians like Ajit Pawar who once famously said that one needs to be goonish to be a successful politician. But clearly, people are cleverer than we credit them for and are not impressed by such shenanigans as was evident by the fact that they wiped the NCP out of Sangli, a fortress of the party, and swept the Congress in at the local self-government elections last week.
The poll had been preceded by much abuse and counter-abuse indulged in by Ajit Pawar and various other leaders of the NCP and, of course, Narayan Rane of the Congress – another leader who came to the party from the Shiv Sena but has been unable to shed his aggression even after so many years.
As far as I can see, the Congress did nothing spectacular in Sangli to win that election though its campaign managers worked hard to get the best results. Now the Congress is happy but cautious, it is not yet celebrating because it is not sure as yet what worked for the party despite such hype about poor performance and so-called bad governance.
But then I guess I am losing a wager with a political analyst who some weeks ago said that he was sure that the politics of aggression would not go down well with the people for too long. He was sure that the future would belong to those with compassion and sensitivity, not crassness and impolitic behaviour.
I see Modi’s “kutte ka bachcha” analogy for the Muslims killed in the 2002 Gujarat riots and accusing the Congress of wearing a “burqa of secularism” (he could have used the word ‘mukhota’ with equal effect) in the same light.
The Congress response was gentle but devastating. “The burqa of secularism is far better than naked communalism”, the party chief spokesperson Ajay Maken said, and I am sure the 2014 results will be a fair reflection of this contrast.
I wonder why the BJP believes that getting personal with opponents could be a persuasive argument but I guess this is the new culture of the party and its current leadership, and as we get closer to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections we can expect more personal diatribes, misleading facts and tall claims.
My problem with the Congress was that its leaders usually wimped out on challenging lies like the ones Modi utters and could never counter the aggression of the Opposition whether it was the BJP or the NCP.
But if the Congress is nonetheless winning at the grassroots, the meek must surely be blessed after all. And that is Modi’s greatest challenge of 2014 – for it is the meek who invariably inherit the earth, don't they?