Political wit: Why can’t netas go past zoology, anatomy?

Across states and political parties, whether it was M Karunanidhi about J Jayalalithaa, Pramod Mahajan about Sonia Gandhi or Bal Thackeray about Mrinal Gore (Janata Party) and Ahilya Rangnekar (Communist), they could only think of insulting these formidable women with references to body parts or functions
Bal Thackeray, founder of Shiv Sena.(HT PHOTO)
Bal Thackeray, founder of Shiv Sena.(HT PHOTO)
Updated on Feb 06, 2019 12:40 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

I simply cannot understand the obsession of politicians from Maharashtra, more particularly from Vidarbha and specifically from the saffron parties, with animal references for rival politicians or people they do not like.

Firstly, they do injustice to those animals who might often be better than those they are equated with. Secondly, using animal names for abuse, indeed the very need to abuse, demonstrates a low intellect, incapable of wit and quick repartee. As a journalist of some years standing, I have yet to come across an Indian politician whose wit and repartee are memorable.

Across states and political parties, whether it was M Karunanidhi about J Jayalalithaa, Pramod Mahajan about Sonia Gandhi or Bal Thackeray about Mrinal Gore (Janata Party) and Ahilya Rangnekar (Communist), they could only think of insulting these formidable women with references to body parts or functions. Mahajan famously got into trouble with the Congress in 1998-99 when, presuming there were no national media at a public rally in Gondia in 1999, he put an obscene interpretation on Sonia waving to the crowds. He made the extremely crude remark probably forgetting the furore over his remark the previous year equating Sonia with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky whose affair with then US President Bill Clinton led to his impeachment. Mahajan had implied that Sonia was using the same methods for her political rise as Lewinsky.

When a report of his atatomical comments on Sonia Gandhi in Gondia appeared in a national magazine – it was a report about how Karunanidhi had been saying much the same about Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu – all hell broke loose. At first Mahajan sought to deny he had ever said anything of the kind. Later when confronted with clippings from various local Hindi and Marathi newspapers that reported the statement in toto, he retreated and never targeted Sonia Gandhi again.

Bal Thackeray was worse. Though he did make some remarks about Priyanka Gandhi almost similar to Mahajan’s about Sonia (I always wondered if the two had been discussing the appeal of the Gandhi women to the masses in private), the worst was reserved for local Maharashtrian women politicians like Gore and Rangnekar, then in their 60s and 70s. They had been taking on his bigotry in no uncertain terms and at first he played the Marathi card, acting the injured Maharashtrian being attacked by fellow Maharashtrians. When that did not work, he attempted to shame them with personal humiliation in public. He implied they were off their minds because “ they had hung out their rags to dry”.

Far from stopping the women leaders though, it only exposed Thackeray’s crudity and lack of refinement and wit despite laying claim to a sense of humour and being a cartoonist. When words failed him he fell back on animal names, appending a “she” to every species because he didn’t quite know the female versions of those animals.

He stopped only after Sharad Pawar (Thackeray would refer to him routinely as maidyancha pota – a sack of flour – who would get stuck in his commode every morning) threatened him with more rustic rural abuses which Thackeray, as an urban politician, would not be able to match.

Compared to this scatological humour of Indian politicians, I always remember British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s legendary repartee to Lady Nancy Astor who loudly accused him of being dead drunk one evening at a party event. Lady Astor was the first woman MP in the UK and when she scorned Churchill for his incoherence as he was “disgustingly drunk”, he snapped back, “ Well, you are disgustingly ugly. What’s more, tomorrow morning I will be sober but you will still be ugly!”

Misogynistic perhaps, but considering Lady Astor and her sisters were well known for their beauty, it was a put-down matching one personal insult with another, without resorting to anatomy or zoology to make the point.

Now, with BJP supporters unleashing a similar anatomical campaign against Priyanka Gandhi, I am surprised that Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis in a reiteration of his devotion to Prime Minister Narendra Modi should refer to all other politicians as cats and dogs to Modi’s “king of the jungle”. Though not very witty, I would have expected Fadnavis to be more civilised and careful.

Already social media has pounced selectively on the “jungle” reference rather than the lion he meant to describe Modi as and is delighting in interpreting the compliment as an admission of his party having unleashed a jungle raj in the country. In election season, the unthinking words might yet come back to haunt his party

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    I wonder if the Sena and the AIMIM know that Bal Thackeray was the first person ever in India to lose his voting rights and that to contest elections for hate speeches he had made during a 1987 byelection to Vile Parle.

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