Minding their own language: sacking the sadhvi won’t cure it

Guttural remarks are not new to our politics

ajay

Ajay Singh | December 5, 2014




Not long ago – to be precise, just before the 2007 Gujarat assembly elections – Congress general secretary BK Hariprasad described Narendra Modi in a highly innovative figure of speech in Hindi: “Kaunsi nali mein peda hua hai, pata nahin hai. Khudko baap ka naam bhi pata nahin” (he is a vermin of a drainage and he does not know who is his father).

Party chief Sonia Gandhi heard it and feigned ignorance. Hariprasad was never taken to task for his utterances. His continued significance within the Congress has only confirmed the apprehension that his vituperation was strategic and endorsed by his leadership. Hariprasad never expressed any regrets nor did the Congress leadership ever apologise for taking the political discourse to a guttural level.

For those who seemed chagrined by Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti’s “Ram-zaade versus haraamzade” comment, it would be appropriate to introspect and atone for debasing the language of politics. Any avid watcher of politics would testify that expressions of the haraamzade variety had found place in political discourse decades ago. The Hindutva forces legitimised it at the local level. At the peak of the Ayodhya agitation, many ‘religious’ leaders had resorted to idioms and phrases not conforming to civilised conduct.

Since these discourses continued at the subterranean level in order to inflame passions and mobilise people, the top leadership chose to ignore the risk of it getting out of control. In politics, expediency has always been a preferred tactic. The BJP gained from it and the Congress too used it as per convenience which was reflected in Hariprasad’s oratory.

At the regional level, how much the debate has changed is reflected in an outpouring by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee who used an expression that would be unacceptable in bhadralok parlance. In subaltern discourse, Mamata’s expression of “shoving the bamboo up the rear” is obviously quite prevalent. But the Bengali bhadralok appears unduly aghast over Banerjee’s remarks. Is it not true that her Marxist adversaries had resorted to even worse expressions against her when they were in power? Now the table is turned against them.

If one looks at Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Odisha where regional players are strong, there is a discernible sea-change in political language and expressions. The obvious reason is that the political leadership was hardly concerned about the quality of content in political discourse so long as the message was delivered effectively to the masses.

The fact that Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti owed her ascendancy to her rabblerousing skills is not a secret. The saffron-clad sanyasin with dalit background would perfectly fit into the Sangh Parivar’s objective of assimilation of the depressed castes into the larger Hindutva fold. She knows her strength and can easily get away unscathed, with many such speeches in the same vein as Hariprasad. The issue cannot be addressed merely by removing the sanyasin from the union cabinet.

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