DC debate: The sharp plunge in the quality of political discourse

The political dialogue these days smacks of the undergraduate’s love for pun

Now politics fit only for goons

In the years following Independence the people in public life were mostly stalwarts of the freedom struggle. Many of them were well educated, cultured and refined. Here are a few examples.

Acharya Kripalani who ‘chose’ to be in the Opposition moved a 'no-confidence' motion against the Nehru government. He initiated the debate and when he was at his rhetorical best lambasting the government, news came that his wife Sucheta Kripalani had just left her husband's party to join the Congress whose leaders promised to make her the next Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh! This was a conspiracy hatched behind his back and timed to explode when the debate was on.

The Acharya was stunned for a minute, recovered and said light heartedly, “All these days I knew Congress fellows were corrupt and incompetent. I now realise they can also run away with others' wives!” The House broke out in laughter.

On another occasion when a minister faced strident criticism from the opposition, he protested that he had spent several “sleepless nights” scrutinising the Bill he took to the House. Then the Opposition MP, H.V. Kamath, quietly said that judged from the final draft, “The minister seems to have spent several sleepless nights and many sleepy days!” This sparked banter in which the minister also joined.

On another occasion when the MP from Rajasthan, Gayatri Devi, entered into a long argument with Prime Minister Nehru, he conceded her point at last with the comment, “I wouldn’t like to bandy words with a charming lady,” bringing the argument to a gracious end.

Compare this with what is happening now. Rahul Gandhi calls the government “suit, boot sarkar” and the Prime Minister retorts, “It is better than ‘suit-case’ sarkar.” Sonia Gandhi calls Prime Minister Modi’s administration a “hawabaaz government” and the PM retorts that it is better than having a “hawalabaaz” government.

The political dialogue these days smacks of the undergraduate’s love for pun. These punch lines are also not theirs, they are obviously written for them by those wanting in both humour and culture. In the above cases, there is no civility in the comment or in the retort. Comments which are not in good taste are best ignored by those affected rather than resorting to equally low-level retorts!

Coming to the two Telugu states, there is no political dialogue these days; there is only unending invective, baseless or grossly exaggerated allegations that give an impression that there is no public spirited or well meaning person left in politics.

Compounding the problem is the tendentious reporting of news in the media which is no longer neutral. The media has also given up restraint and openly refers to the caste affiliations and social prejudices of those in public life.

By reckless allegations and uncultured language politicians are bringing down the political class in the eyes of the public. Unwittingly, it gives an impression, that only goons and loudmouths can succeed in public life. This doesn’t bode well for democracy.

C. Anjaneya Reddy, former director general of police

Politicos’ lingo deteriorating

For quite some time, the quality of the language used by political leaders has been deteriorating indicating an overall degeneration of the so-called democratic politics. Recently even top leaders like Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mr Narendra Modi exchanged words, which in a sense is totally unparliamentary.

In fact, one of the strengths of Mrs Gandhi has been restraint and the economy of language with which she conducted herself in public life. Who contributes to the degeneration of language can be a moot question.

The fact of the matter is that abusive language is widely used. After Independence, the then defence minister, Mr Krishna Menon, used to refer to American rulers in very abusive language. Once when a group of American journalists asked Mr Krishna Menon why does he do it, his reply was, “abuse is a shortcut to equality!”

Menon’s position was ideological as he viewed the US as an emerging imperialist power. But when equals like the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader hurl abusive words at each other, one cannot afford to be indifferent and has to look for reasons in the culture of politics or the politics of culture.

The quality of the language in public life, in my view, is largely determined by ideological positions or to be more philosophical, in the world-view of public representatives.

Certainly, the language of Jawaharlal Nehru, P. Sundariah, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan and other leaders was restrained, persuasive, educative and enlightened.

All these leaders had personal integrity, a background in the freedom struggle and all of them dreamt of a New India and were committed to the creation of a democratic nation.

They knew that politics is serious business but not itself a business. To cite an example, when the Maoists came for peace talks in 2004, notwithstanding all the reservations people have of their politics, their language was measured and responsible.

In spite of their politics being most controversial, they did not make a single statement which triggered public controversy.

The increasing role of the market and declining role of the state brought a major difference in political culture.

The market forces are not genuinely committed to a free market society, but the path of development and active players are lumpens reducing the whole process to crony capitalism.

Contractors, sellers of education, real estate walas, and mafias of various kinds have come to shape the nature of politics. The representatives of such degenerated economic interests cannot be qualitatively different from the social base of their political power.

The neo-liberal model of development has robbed the nation of the essence of politics. In a sense, “politics is the science of understanding and analysing the problems of society and an art of solving the problems of society.”

Such a serious affair has come to be trivialised as almost all political parties have come to a consensus on the model of development.

Prof. G. Haragopal, visiting professor, national law school

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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