Those whom we vote to rule us, those whom we make our lawmakers, and those whom we expect would speak decent language – are our leaders, ministers, MPs and MLAs – speak a language children can be ashamed of and criminals can be proud of. George Orwell, in his Politics and the English Language wrote: “In our time, political speech is largely a defence of the indefensible...The great enemy of clear language is insincerity”. And our leaders are the most insensitive, insincere lots, who, just to secure votes, use the language our teachers often would warn us.
The political rhetoric, like the vulgar talks in the streets, in India keeps on sliding down and down in recent times though we have been accustomed to abusive talks, mud-slinging and fistfighting by our lawmakers leaders in the parliament and assemblies. Why do our leaders use abusive language? Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse, says “Persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions”. Churchill’s famous ‘blood, sweat and tears’ was to draw emotions, but Max Atkinson, in his book Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need To Know About Making Speeches and Presentations, argues that political rhetoric becomes effective in inviting audience applause to political speeches. In recent times, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, because of oratory, has no match when it comes to fetching applause from the audience.
So, while addressing a large crowd on the 38th Foundation Day, BJP President Amit Shah hurled stinging attacks on the opposition parties by equating them to ‘snakes’, ‘mongoose’, ‘dogs’ and ‘cats’. Well, the opposition unity is becoming a problem for Shah who told a story to the audience. There is a tale, Shah told, when all the trees, plants and leaves are swept away during a devastating flood, animals including snake, mongoose, dog, cat, cheetah, and lion take shelter on a single banyan tree because they all are scared of the water below the tree. The metaphor used is for the Prime Minister who, like flood, has created fear among the opposition.
Let us look at some of the most uncivilized and unparliamentarily language that our leaders spoke. Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, the Minister of State for Food Processing Industries in the Modi government, in an election rally in Delhi on 1 December 2014, asked the gathering to choose between a government of ‘Ramzaadon’ (followers of Lord Ram) or ‘Haramzaadon’ (bastard Muslims).
Remember Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan publicly calling rival politician Amar Singh a ‘debauch’ and ‘broker’ in May 2009? Or BJP MLA Heeralal Regar shouting at a public rally in Tonk, Rajasthan, in March 2014 that, “Sonia and Rahul Gandhi should be stripped off their clothes and sent back to Italy”?
In April 2014, Amit Shah was banned from holding rallies and making speeches in Uttar Pradesh by the Election Commission of India and it was only when Shah vowed not to use “abusive or derogatory language” that the Commission rescinded the ban.
Even Baba Ramdev did not lag behind. In April 2014, while campaigning in Lucknow, he remarked: Rahul used to go to the Dalit households to experience honeymoon. And if he had married a Dalit ki beti (dalit girl), then by now, who knows, he might have become the Prime Minister of India. I wonder why he is not marrying a Dalit girl”. The Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar describing Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “neech kism ka aadmi”.
In response, BJP leaders mocking former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a “maun baba” (silent hermit), “namard” (impotent), while the Congress president Sonia Gandhi called the Prime Minister Modi “maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death) with reference to the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. The former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar had described P V Narasimha Rao in parliament as ‘Mauni Baba’ (silent saint).
In late November 2017, RJD leader Tej Pratap Yadav threatened to skin Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while Union Minister Babul Supriyothreatened to skin some people who shouted slogans against him when he visited Asansol during recent riots.
In January 2018, after Dr. Manmohan Singh finished his speech about demonetisation ‘constituting organised loot and plunder’, the Prime Minister Modi, in his reply, spoke: “Dr Sahab is the only person who knows the art of bathing in a bathroom with a raincoat on”.
In 2015, Amit Shah warned the voters in the Bihar Assembly elections that crackers would go off in celebration in Pakistan if BJP were to lose. “Go to Pakistan” slogan is a pet abuse used for Muslims to polarise the environment.
In late 2014, Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena made his candidature for chief ministership of Maharashtra when he said: “If a chaiwala can become prime minister, why can’t I hope to be chief minister?”
In 2016, UP BJP Vice-President Dayashankar Singh called Mayawati worse than a prostitute, for which he was expelled from the party. Priyanka Chaturvedi, the Congress spokesperson took the phrase from Outlook magazine ‘hate hags’ for women supporters of Modi.
The JD(U) leader Ali Anwar commented: “Good, Smriti Irani has been made Textiles Minister, it will help her cover her body”, while Samajwadi Party leader Shivpal Yadav questioned Mayawati’s character, her relationship with Kanshi Ram, and called her mad.
In 2011, late Subhas Chkraborty had lampooned Mamta Banerji by saying that “she is an infertile woman; what does she know about mother? Joti Basu has called Mamta 420 and CPM state secretary Anil Biswas commented: “even the devil would not touch her (Mamta)”.
The SP leader Beni Prasad Verma called Modi an “animal who needs to be controlled with a whip”.
In 2015, Giriraj Singh asked: “Had Rajiv Gandhi married a Nigerian woman and if she was not a white-skinned woman, would the Congress have then accepted her leadership?” He spewed venom against those who wouldn’t vote for PM Modi should go to Pakistan. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s remark that those who eat beef should go to Pakistan is a b;ame on a community.
Veteran Kerala CPI(M) leader VS Achuthanandan called Narendra Modi a “slaughterer”, while Raj Thackeray criticised Jaya Bachchan who asked Maharashtrians to excuse her for speaking in Hindi. Thackeray said: "Guddi buddhi zhali pan akal aali nahi." (Guddi has grown old but has not attained wisdom with age).
In fact, the Rath Yatra and the Ram Mandir agitation of the late 1980s early 1990s gave birth to the language of hate in political mobilisation. Leaders like Praveen Togadia and Sadhvi Rithambara have used vitriolic language. In 2002, during election campaigns Narendra Modi, then CM, used derogatory statement referring to Muslims: “hum paanch, hamare pachees”.
While campaigning for the Himachal Pradesh assembly elections recently, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared the Congress to “termites” and asked the voters to wipe out the party.
Political canvassing is an absolute art. In Animal Farm, Orwell writes: “The animals formed themselves into two factions under the slogan, "Vote for Snowball and the three−day week" and "Vote for Napoleon and the full manger”.
In 2007, Ronald R. Krebs and Patrick Thaddeus Jackson wrote “Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms: The Power of Political Rhetoric”, in which they present what they call a model of “Rhetorical Coercion”, the basis of which argues that while “we cannot observe directly what people think…we can observe what they say and how they respond to claims and counter-claims.
If our leaders think people don’t watch them they live in a fool’s paradise. In democracy, people are the best judge who know who is speaking what and how. Recently, Home Minister Rajnath Singh rightly pointed out that the political leaders are facing ‘credibility crisis’ in India due to the perception that there was a vast difference in their "words and deeds" since telling lies is mandatory for success.