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When dialogue turns curt

Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi last week took umbrage to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi repeatedly addressing Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi as Shehzade (prince) at the public rallies. ‘The way Rahul Gandhi is being addressed and criticised by the use of language – words like Shehzada and alike, this conduct is not dignified in a democracy. Congress workers are not reacting out of respect for the Model Code of Conduct and laws of the country and are thus quiet. Otherwise, the use of such words can be stopped in two days. We don’t want such a situation to arrive,’ Dwivedi told reporters last weekend.

Modi in his own inimitable style last Sunday at Patna rally issued retort to the umbrage taken by the Congress leaders saying, ‘Congress leaders are troubled with Rahul being referred to as Shehzade. They are unable to sleep well. I want to know why I was compelled to refer him as Shehzade? I will stop calling Shehzade if the Congress promises to do way with dynastic politics.’

It’s unlikely that Narendra Modi would stop addressing Rahul Gandhi or any other Congress leader with encomiums even if the party was to do the unthinkable – end the dynastic. However, I do not intend to blame Narendra Modi alone for the political discourse in the country turning extremely bitter and curt, addressing opponents venomously. Gujarat chief minister himself has been at the receiving end of a most acrimonious attack by his political opponents.

The language of politics has turned bitter with the rootless politicians increasingly taking it to the mediums of television and internet for promoting their cases. Humility of language comes automatically to a humble personality. An acerbic tongue and vicious outpourings are the best weapons available to the leaders who have not had a rich exposure to the politics of the masses.

This is not to suggest Narendra Modi is not the leader of the masses. In fact after winning three elections in a row for his party for the state assembly of Gujarat, his appeal within his state is beyond doubt. Then how come, contrary to the general perception, a leader who enjoys the confidence of his people and claims to have seen humble ways of life uses such vituperative tongue. He probably has become captive to the circumstances.

As mentioned earlier, Modi himself has been at the receiving end of a most verbal diatribe. He has enough reasons to justify his vicious attacks on his political opponents even going to the extent of calling them names. After all it was Congress president Sonia Gandhi who first used a highly pejorative adjective for Modi calling him ‘Maut Ke Saudagar’ (trader of death) during the assembly poll campaign in 2007.

The adjective for her political opponent was not coined by Sonia Gandhi, though never acknowledged publicly, it’s attributed to the poetic caliber of Bollywood lyricist and writer Javed Akhtar. While Akhtar is credited with penning the most popular film dialogues, jointly with Salim Khan, for Sholay, he could also be equally credited for causing a political disaster by coining the slogan of Maut ke Saudagar.

Akhtar is master of fantasy and not a poet of masses. The prose and poetry penned by such people will seldom contain nuances of real politics. His diatribe against Modi, given voice by Sonia Gandhi, even earned the ire of the Election Commission. The Congress leaders at that point of time had argued that ‘calling a spade a spade was necessary to lift the morale of the dispirited cadre.’

If Sonia Gandhi’s remarks were justified to lift the morale of dispirited cadres, why Modi’s remark, which certainly is less repugnant than that of the Congress president, should be contested by Dwivedi? Having started the verbal dangal (bout), the Congress will now have to either knock out the opponent or get knocked out. It cannot protest at being paid back in the same coin.

Lest the aforementioned arguments be taken as justification of curtness which has come to characterise political dialogue, I must mention that 2007 not only marked the beginning of sophistry but it also end of grand oration.

During the winters of 2007, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee campaigned for his party for the last time. Vajpayee at a huge political rally in Punjab, probably his last public speech, with overcast skies, had thundered, ‘Badal gadgada rahe hain, mausam badalne wala hain (Clouds are thundering, there is going to be a change of regime).’ He appropriately used the words as Akali Dal-BJP alliance leader Parkash Singh Badal was party’s nominee for chief minister’s post and widely expected to lead the next government in the state.

Vajpayee, an orator par excellence, was always very uncomfortable when given a written text for delivering the address. No wonder he never impressed from the rampart s of Red Fort. However, the same Vajpayee would hold Chandi Chowk mersmerised with his political speeches. He would be at his satirical best while addressing his political opponents, making people even today recount his choice of words.

Once at a public function, then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, a linguist himself, called Vajpayee, then Leader of Opposition, a political guru (grandmaster). Vajpayee was quick with his repartee, ‘Mein Guru hoon to aap Guru Ghantal hain (If I am grandmaster, you are the mastermind of all mischief).’ Unfortunately today, neither the Congress nor the BJP are blessed with leaders possessing the scholarship and oration of either Narasimha Rao or Vajpayee.

The author is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and is Consulting Editor, Millennium Post
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