Dirty business: Political discourse hits a new low - Hindustan Times
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Dirty business: Political discourse hits a new low

BySrishti Chauhan
May 26, 2024 07:54 AM IST

Personal attacks, provocative communal and sexist barbs and partisan mudslinging have incited an inflammatory political rhetoric that undermines democratic norms and degrades the quality of public discourse on the whole

The contemporary political discourse has taken a tortuous course marked by hypocrisy, derogation, vilification, insolent mockery and sexist slurs. Indulgence in such vile discursive practices not only reinforces a toxic political climate but profusely contributes to making pursuance of constructive dialogue and democratic engagement more difficult.

Illustration: Biswajit Debnath/HT
Illustration: Biswajit Debnath/HT

The predominant use of negative vocabulary is evident when Modi calls the Congress the “mother of corruption” and the Congress retaliates by dubbing Modi a “liar” and a “dictator”. The PM targeted the INDIA bloc and tagged it as a “congregation of scammers”, while Congress’ Kharge labelled the PM as “jhoothon ka sardar” (king of liars). Yogi Adityanath calls Rahul Gandhi “accidental Hindu.” Kejriwal calls Modi a ‘thanedar’ in the context of recent arrests of AAP members. BJP’s Shivraj Chouhan brands Kejriwal as corruption ‘natwarlal’ (notorious conman). Yogi also termed Rahul and Congress’ candidate from Chandigarh, Manish Tewari as “udankhatolas” saying that “they vanish after elections”.

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Tejashwi Yadav takes a dig at Modi saying that he is a “halka” PM, as he claims that a “mangalsutra” would only be donned by a woman when she gets married and marriage only takes place when the groom is employed, which Modi has failed to provide to the youth.

Tarnishing the political image

In pursuance of legitimising their political agenda, leaders indulge in pejorative discursive constructions of their opponents with an aim to debase their political image.

While parties may recognise ‘naari shakti’ as a crucial aspect of their electoral campaigns, the Indian political rhetoric continues to reek of misogyny, sexist remarks and gender-based stereotypes, buttressing an overall exclusionary approach towards women in the political landscape. Referring to BJP’s Gayathri Siddeshwara, exhibiting a typical misogynistic mindset, Shamanur Shivashankarappa, a Congress’ MLA from Karnataka said, “They only know how to cook in the kitchen.” This comment represents women as vulnerable domestic beings and reminds us that despite sweeping talks of women empowerment worldwide, the deep-seated androcentric, only-fit-as-nurturer-care-giver attitude towards women prevails. Congress’ Randeep Sujrewala’s “lick” remark against Hema Malini created a political furore, with the Election Commission of India issuing a notice to the Haryana leader. Even in a corrective statement, Surjewala said: “We respect her because she is married to Dharmendra ji; she is our daughter-in-law.” Benevolent sexism is discernible in such statements that not only subvert a woman’s identity as an individual but also showcase the fortified patriarchal hold of gender mainstreaming over the current political discourse.

Objectification of women

An instance of sexual objectification of women came to light with Congress leader Supriya Shrinate’s sexist remark on Kangana Ranaut, as she posted a picture of Ranaut in a corset on Instagram with a ‘nasty’ comment. Kangana took to social media and replied by saying, “If a young man gets ticket, his ideology is attacked, if a young woman gets ticket, her sexuality is attacked.” However, it is the same Kangana who, back in 2019 elections, subjected Urmila Matondkar to blatant sexism by making a derogatory remark, “If Urmila, who was only known for her ‘soft porn films’, could get an election ticket, why can’t I?” Sexualisation of women, whether carried out by men or women, colossally hinders their ability to be seen beyond their bodies as someone who can truly contribute to the welfare of the nation with their intellect and vision at the forefront of political dialogue rather than their gender.

Present-day political discourse exhibits a repugnant oratory subjecting women in the political arena to psychological violence. The trail of misogynistic comments continues with BJP’s Dilip Ghosh’s sexist comments against Mamata Banerjee, where he said, “She is wearing a saree, with one leg covered while leaving the other uncovered. I have never seen a saree draped in this manner.” Yet another instance of male chauvinism included BJP’s Abhijit Gangopadhyay’s (former Indian judge of the Calcutta High Court) remark on Mamata Banerjee, “Is she even a woman? I sometimes wonder.”

While the convention of slander and hostility is not a new trend in the proceedings of electoral campaigns, it has intensified categorically. Personal attacks, provocative communal and sexist barbs and partisan mudslinging have incited an inflammatory political rhetoric that undermines democratic norms and degrades the quality of public discourse on the whole. Language that is disparaging bears a multifaceted impact on its recipients. It has the power to instigate violence, both physical and psychological, widen social rifts and cultivate a culture of intolerance.

It questions the credibility of the democratic system and alienates voters from formative, issue-based dialogue. This necessitates a more informed and active intervention from the Electoral Commission in order to curb dehumanised use of language and progress in the direction of a more civil, just and ethical political discourse that induces aesthetic humanism.

srish.chauhan@gmail.com

The writer is an assistant professor at Institute of Development and Communication, Chandigarh (Views expressed are personal)

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