Trading insults diminishes the public discourse

The war of words is what is keeping the eyeballs glued even as the media hypes up these skirmishes on the battleground.

The war of barbs is getting so intense as to leave even neutral observers wondering where we are heading as a society if elections are going to be this intense. Each state assembly poll appears to be a die-or-die battle, which it must be for the candidates concerned. The Karnataka poll seems even more so as Narendra Modi is pitted against not only Rahul Gandhi but the very shrewd regional player in the state CM Siddaramaiah. As a result, the trio have been busy trading insults by the day.

The rhetoric is getting shriller even as time ticks over towards the main battle of 2019. But, long before then, the major adversaries may run out of material to throw at each other as they seem to be employing all available verbal resources in Karnataka. As they enter the home stretch in the May 12 showdown, the scene gets even more intriguing given there is no clear trend to be gathered from the poll surveys either.

The war of words is what is keeping the eyeballs glued even as the media hypes up these skirmishes on the battleground. The winner may have been spotted so far as oratory goes as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in a different league in this matter. Where he is getting countered is on the social media platforms where the Grand Old Party is holding its own thanks to some inspired work by the backroom boys and girls, who are aplenty in the IT capital.

There is little need to pick the winner from a distance when the finishing post is so near. But when it comes to optics in the theatre of political speeches, Narendra Modi is way ahead of his main political rival, Rahul Gandhi. The challenge to a debate thrown at Modi is meaningless because we know who would win it. For sheer rhetoric with a flourish, the PM stands way above. It is a different matter then that some of the things said do not add up, like the claim that all of India has been electrified by the impetus given by the party in power that claims to have connected the last few thousand villages to the grid.

How many times was Donald Trump questioned about his facts even if fact-checking news organisations kept throwing up challenges throughout his campaign? Optics trumped facts in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. Much the same could happen here too, but then Rahul Gandhi’s spoonerisms become handy for opponents to smear him as quite the tyro in this matter of public speeches even if he had a head start in politics from a dynasty that has been in power for a considerable time, if on and off, over seven decades since independence. His three errors in one sentence regarding former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan made the point that Freudian slips are the norm rather than exception.

Rahul Gandhi’s plaint that the Prime Minister attacks him personally rather than talk of issues sounds hollow considering how he had taken this to extremes on farmers’ issues as well as in the Gujarat election campaign. “Let him attack me as much as he wants. It doesn’t make any difference to me. As a responsible citizen of India, I don’t counter my Prime Minister in the same way that he does. I don’t personally attack him. But, I continue to ask him questions. This is the difference between him and me,” Rahul Gandhi said. Rahul has ridiculed Modi’s 56-inch chest and much else that was personal. Anything said to the contrary is just posturing. Things got personal long before between these two.

No one is a shrinking violet in the field of politics where repartee is the weapon of defence as well as attack. The saying about glass houses was never truer than in the kind of politicians fighting for power now. Each of them is as guilty as the other in using every subterfuge on the road to power. Dividing people in order to rule is a phenomenon that dominates India, but not that the tactic doesn’t exist elsewhere.

Where Modi has been facing a real challenge is in Siddu’s attack and counterattack at every step of the campaign. His focused barbs at Modi have been filling the media waves for long in this interesting run-up to May 12 and 15.

The point is whether any of this can help elicit good governance from any of them for the larger populace. The battle seems to be about who should be in the gaddi rather than what they can do for the people. But then that is a classic conundrum for the entire political spectrum in India where optics is everything and the ruler puts up a wall between him and the people soon as he sits on the throne. That represents the real futility of the Indian polity now.

( R. Mohan is the Resident Editor of the Chennai and Tamil Nadu editions of Deccan Chronicle)

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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