Politics has touched a new low. The new normal in politics does not entail a sense of morality, fairness and dignity towards the political competitors, opponents and even the enemies.
The trend is mudslinging theatrics by the political actors. The set-up in the Colosseum might seem old, as the rival parties are again in the race of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but the rules of vote bank’s histrionics have evolved a bit further than the 2014 campaigning or any election prior to that by imbibing vices rather than virtues. One thing that has been imbibed since last few elections is to use abstract language. The trend of using catchy words like ‘being silent like Bhishma Pitamah’, ‘Crossing Lakshman Rekha’, or ‘Draupadi being disrobed’, etc. that obscures the essential or the situation that needs to be focussed. Such a trend reminds one of 1980s Bollywood theatrics, as one character explains what all the necessities of life he had, while another character’s one catchy line, ‘mere paas Maa hai’ wane away all the importance of the situational context. This trend of obscuring the situational aspects in speeches used during campaigning is being given priority. For instance, the Bhartiya Janata Party obscured Supreme Court order passed earlier, as a clean chit to the government on Rafale controversy. Whereas, the Congress President Rahul Gandhi interpreted the Supreme Court’s later order as indictment of the government. And now, the Supreme Court serves Rahul Gandhi a notice saying that it never said anything about Modi”.
New Language of Power
A two-way approach has been used by the competing political parties. The political parties are using abstract language and drawing inferences from other constitutional bodies to brand each other as corrupt, immoral and unethical. But, the new addition to this is the language of power like income tax raids during elections or prior to that to tear apart the opponents’ social stature.
The Income Tax officers conducted raids on the contractors affiliated with the leaders of the JDS-Congress coalition in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister’s close aides in Indore and Delhi, 74 locations including DMK leader Kanimozhi in Tamil Nadu, close aides of Mayawati, a former bureaucrat, an accountant of the All India Congress Committee in Delhi, etc. The list is long. The opposition parties termed these raids as threatening and revenge raids. Whereas, the Election Commission acted innocent. It said that “an advisory on carrying out income tax raids just days ahead of the 2019 elections was aimed at ensuring that while action is taken ruthlessly against corruption, the raids are carried out without any bias”.
Is it not a coincidence that the income tax officials are getting information of the wrongdoings by certain individuals who happen to be connected with the opposition parties only?
Dehumanised Political Discourse
Secondly, the language of political dialogue became dehumanised to break the inner morale of the opponents. It is a proven fact that the negative aspect impacts human brain much faster than the positive one. The dominant trend in politics till recently was not to lose civility in political discourse. But, those were the times.
Now, in the contrast, political leaders fall foul of each other through foul language. Arvind Kejriwal in 2012 used dalal (broker) to describe Sheila Dikshit, the then chief minister of Delhi, and labelled Arun Jaitley a “crook” during the defamation proceedings.
Further, rhetorical statements equating rivals and opponents with animals exposes the incapacity to manage one’s own affairs. Narendra Modi described Sonia Gandhi as a “Jersey cow” and Rahul Gandhi as her “hybrid bachhada (calf)”. Smriti Irani compared Rahul Gandhi to Chhota Bheem, a popular dwarfed cartoon character. To describe Mr Modi as a “monkey bitten by a dog”, as Arjun Modvadia, Congress leader from Gujarat, did, or to a virus called Namonitis as senior Congress leader Renuka Chowdhry did, or to call him Kutte ke bachhe ka bada bhai (elder brother of a puppy) as Samajwadi leader Azam Khan did, sends out a message that the opposition to Mr Modi does not amount to harming a human being. Even Priyanka Gandhi exclaimed that BJP leaders were scampering like “panic-stricken rats”.
Amit Shah in a rally said, “The countdown for 2019 polls has begun. Attempts are being made for opposition unity. When huge floods occur, everything is washed away. Due to Modi floods, all cats, dogs, snakes and mongooses are getting together to contest polls.” And, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis compared the opposition to “wolves”. Kailash Vijayvargiya, BJP leader from Madhya Pradesh, compared the opposition unity to a “pack of dogs”. It appears that dehumanisation is emerging as the new norm in politics by introducing animal comparisons leading to marginalisation of the human species. The animalistic language not only tears apart the opponent, but also promotes the ideology behind
Further, the sexist animalistic expressions are a form of psychological violence against the opponent and to the supporters without any moral restraint. For Instance, the sexist dig of Akhilesh Yadav, former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh on Mayawati, BSP leader, while addressing a joint press conference with Rahul Gandhi in 2014, became evident when he said, “How could we have given space to her (Mayawati)? She takes so much space, even her party symbol is that of an elephant.”
2019 Lok Sabha elections are also not bereft of such mania as the women candidates have been associated with sexist remarks like, BJP leader Kailash Vijayvargiya’s remark of ‘chocolate faces’ on women candidates from the Congress party, Congress leader Sajjan Singh Verma’s term ‘bar-dancers’ pointing at BJP’s Mathura candidate Hema Malini. The Congress ally People’s Republican Party’s Jayadeep Kawade made sexist remarks on Smriti Irani. “She wears a bindi and someone said that the size of a women’s bindi keeps growing as she changes her husband”. Swapan Debnath, a Trinamool Congress leader from West Bengal remarked, “we know many women’s wing leaders of CPI(M) who used to tear their own blouse and accuse others of molestation”. And, the jibes like ‘wearing khaki underwear’ by Azam Khan at BJP leader Jaya Prada are in the same vein.
These remarks are becoming frequent irrespective of the fact that the Election Commission has banned Azam Khan (72 hours), Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (72 hours), BSP supremo Mayawati (48 hours) and Maneka Gandhi (48 hours) for their sexist and communal remarks. These incidents cannot be seen as ‘heat of the moment stuff’ as one would like to justify thereafter.
The sexual objectification of women leads to a disconnect with their humane, pro-people, compassionate and intellectual capabilities. And, presenting enemies as anti-national is to represent them as less than human, undeserving of the rights. These labels lead to the moral and political exclusion of the patriotic individuals, who are fighting for justice. And those who target these individuals position themselves as the saviours of the great nation. The need is to demystify this labelling, otherwise, it will lead to chaos that would be difficult to contain.
The logical consequence of this is to morally exclude a large section from the fair play, compassion and justice. Therefore, the language of dehumanisation, a derivation of the language of power, must be demystified and be replaced by a language of justice. If politics cannot offer citizen’s well being, at least it should not rob them of civility. There is need to make appointments in the Election Commission more transparent and provide teeth to them to maintain legitimacy of the political system.
First Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES
(Thursday, April 18, 2019)
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