The political discourse in India touches a new low every day. While we were busy keeping a tab on leaders targeting their opposition in Uttar Pradesh and their choice of language, a disturbing video (shot on February 22) of the Bihar minister for excise and prohibition, Abdul Jalil Mastan, surfaced on Wednesday. It showed the minister asking the crowd at a rally to beat Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photograph with slippers. He also called the PM a “dacoit”. The comment is so vicious and ungraceful that Mr Mastan’s boss, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, had to step in. The BJP, however, did not give in easily. The party protested in the assembly demanding the minister’s expulsion from the cabinet and former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi said: “Regret by CM Nitish is not enough and Mastan should be sacked from the cabinet”.
Mr Mastan has also apologised for the remark but such belated apologies mean nothing. Mr Mastan should have been careful about the use of words and thought about the repercussions before speaking out against a fellow politician and a senior leader. As we have seen and heard before, such comments, unfortunately, have become par for the course in India’s politics. From communal slurs, gender-insensitive remarks, ugly casteist ones and personal insults, it’s free for all and none of this does us any credit as a mature democracy. It seems to have escaped many politicians that they can make a very forceful point by using satire, sarcasm and wit much more effectively than through name calling. We often talk of cleaning up politics, but this must also include the language of discourse. The same disease has entered Parliament and assemblies. Gone are the days when the exchanges between leaders had a certain decorum and civility even during bitterest political battles. Here the example of the debates in the British parliament is a case in point. There is bitter rivalry but the manner in which rivals are tripped up is always civil even if painful. In India, come election and anything goes.
So why do politicians resort to such derogatory tactics? One reason could be that in a country with low literacy levels such as India, personal attacks --- not ideas and issues ---- go down well with people and they tend to relish such direct attacks; but a more important issue could be that majority of our representatives do very little homework before targeting their opposition. It’s much easier to come to the maidan and spew venom, but very difficult to delve into facts and figures and make a cogent argument. By calling someone “a dacoit”, Mr Mastan cannot hide that all he has in his arsenal are venomous words, not big ideas or thoughts.