How low can you go?
Politicians have taken the fun out of Parliamentary oration and election speeches with the usage of crass rhetoric.
Public speaking is an art. You must speak with the optimum voice modulation, pause at the pre-planned moments, and pepper your speech with anecdotes, facts, and humour, to reel in the audience. Sometimes you may choose a couplet or two from a poem, or quote a thought leader. Public speaking is indeed an art that is honed, nurtured, and bettered right from childhood to adulthood. An intrinsic part of public speaking, therefore, become the speeches themselves. Speechwriters, especially good ones, have the unenviable task of concocting the perfect mix of words, data, and stories, in order to hold the attention of the listener.
As a student of politics, I always looked forward to Parliament proceedings. When the Parliament was in session, it was a pleasure to listen to master orators as they juggled words with dexterity. A jibe or two at the Opposition did not go unnoticed and made the intended dent without irrevocably offending the leader. It was a time to think, research, and debate the pros and cons of every policy that could or should become law. My all-time favourites from the Indian Parliament have been Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Pranab Mukherjee, Lalu Prasad Yadav, LK Advani, and P Chidambaram. Vajpayee with his epic pauses that seemed to last forever, dusted with humour, or Lalu Prasad Yadav's wicked one-liners were always memorable and something to look forward to.
In a country where there is no concept of Presidential or Prime Ministerial debate between candidates, the election speeches obviously become important. I eagerly watch election speeches that divulge the candidate or his party's election manifesto. Unfortunately, in recent years, the rhetoric inside and outside the Parliament leaves much to be desired. Candidates and their campaigners are too busy slinging mud to even care about what their manifesto says. So distracted are they by their intention to insult and deride their opponents that they do not even bother to attempt the usual empty electoral promises.
This dirty side of political rhetoric has come to the fore once again during the Gujarat elections. There are no inspired speeches that showcase a party's vision for the state as the focus has laid on either debunking the opponents, humiliating their leaders or playing the victim. Mani Shankar Aiyar's 'neech aadmi' remark directed towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the PM taking umbrage on Aiyar's choice of words, shifted the focus from the crux of the elections. In the past too, there have been similar comments such as Sonia Gandhi calling Modi 'maut ka saudagar' or Rahul Gandhi referring to the BJP government's tom-tom-ing of last year's surgical strike as 'khoon ki dalali'. BJP leaders too have time and again hurled ugly challenges to the public, such as Sadhvi Prachi asking for an 'India Muslim-free' or Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti urging people to choose between 'Ramzaade' and 'Haraamzaade', referring to the minority community as the latter.
The sanctity and gravitas of political speeches need to be brought back again. Not only to avoid making a mockery of the Indian democracy but more importantly to keep the focus on election issues and manifestos. These abuses are only a way to distract the voter from what actually affects him; and, it is high time it stops. And we in the media, must come down heavily on serial abusers. Just put a blanket ban on all coverage of disparaging remarks made by politicians; and see how they mend their ways.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal.)