Arvind Kejriwal certainly isn’t among our more polished public speakers. Self-righteous to the extent of being arrogant, he loves provoking his rivals into public spats.
The AAP leader’s is the lingua franca of the frustrated middle class he considers his prime constituency. His utterances have about them a ring of truth. But they are in the nature of irreverent babu-speak he picked up perhaps during his stint as an officer of the revenue service.
Studied or otherwise, the demeanour connects him with a section of the electorate that dominates public discourse between and during elections. In that limited sense, he’s the lead singer of a chorus of rage.
For his part, Narendra Modi had ignored the AAP leader’s wanton attacks until Kejriwal became a candidate against him in Varanasi. But in choosing to break his silence, he failed ostensibly to learn from Sheila Dikshit’s none-too-happy experience. The Delhi CM’s unravelling started when she began reacting to Kejriwal’s jibes. Rest, as we all know, is history. Not that Kejriwal is about to repeat New Delhi in Varanasi. But Modi did himself more harm than good by name-calling Kejriwal. He dropped the guard at a time he needed it the most. And in so faltering, he failed to learn from his own experience.
In seeking to brand Kejriwal as an agent of Pakistan, Modi blundered the way Sonia Gandhi did by calling him “maut ka saudagar” during the 2007 Gujarat campaign. The wisdom then proffered was: By taking on the Gujarat CM, the Congress president elevated him to her league.
The BJP mascot was equally ill-advised in questioning Kejriwal’s nationalism. His comments compromised the distance he should have kept as a PM aspirant from his puny — albeit doughty — challenger. After his return fire, the AAP leader stood taller in some ways.
Lacking though the qualifications of a decent debater, Kejriwal was right in deriding Modi’s remarks as unbecoming of one aspiring to be the PM. Feigning sobriety, he conveniently overlooked his own description of Modi as a “property dealer” of business houses based out of Gujarat.
The face-off brings one to the quality of the electoral discourse that’s high on invectives and low on serious engagement on issues confronting the country. In a language befitting street urchins, even leaders known for their erudition have been impolite, even abusive, towards each other.
If Salman Khurshid called Modi impotent, the latter mockingly referred to Sonia as “pasta-ben” and used the “jersey cow” imagery for Rahul. The irrepressible Mani Shankar Aiyar did his party immense harm when he advised Modi to serve tea at an AICC session rather than aspire to be the PM.
Khurshid resorting to the “frog in the well” proverb for Modi saw the BJP’s Meenakshi Lekhi call him a “cockroach” who’d survive a nuclear attack by an unreliable Pakistan he was at pains to befriend. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been called “shikhandi” and “nikamaa” by senior BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha and LK Advani.
With the inheritors of Nehru’s and Vajpayee’s legacy hitting such lows, where on earth are leaders with a gift of the gab?