Monday, May 12, 2014

It's Modi's bravado vs Priyanka's braggadocio. If not, the next choice is 'Item Girl'

When politics get dirty, good becomes bad and wrong becomes right. The abandon with which election-struck leaders cross the limits of decency these days is matched only by their brazenness in violating rules and norms of conduct. They misinterpret one another to gain points and they use bad language without qualms. These are people who want to become law-makers. What makes them so contemptuous of the laws that govern electioneering, to say nothing of common courtesies? The desperation of a make-or-break election may explain it, but not justify it.

Consider the strange parallelism between Narendra Modi and Priyanka Gandhi. Both are unbeatable as headline-grabbers. Both send the media into a frenzy. Both speak as though they own the country. Both project power. Both flaunt a style and a tone that strike half the population as arrogance and the other half as braggadocio, but may in fact be closer to bravado (which is defined as boldness intended to impress or intimidate).

Modi makes no pretence of his intimidating tendency. When a media interviewer asked an inconvenient question or two, Modi sat up and told the man: "Remember you are talking to Modi". Priyanka has not advanced to that level yet, but she has an unshakable conviction that the nation must recognise her family as very special. In an earlier election when Arun Nehru campaigned against her family, she berated the public by asking, "How could you allow this man to step foot on Rae Bareilly's soil?" Similar was her indignation in this election when there was criticism of Rajiv Gandhi and she said: "They have insulted my martyred father on the soil of Amethi. Workers in Amethi will reply to their neech rajnithi".

It was Narendra Modi who had "insulted" her martyred father. And it was not insult. It was legitimate political criticism of a Rajiv Gandhi action that had changed the course of Andhra Pradesh politics. (Only a party secretary at the time, Rajiv Gandhi had insulted AP Chief Minister Anjiah so publicly and so unnecessarily that all Andhra people felt offended. N. T. Rama Rao raised the issue of Telugu atmagauravam - self respect - and crushed the Congress).

But then, Narendra Modi on his part descended to levels lower than Priyanka's in their nasty hit-and-hit-back game. Illogically and unconvincingly, he twisted Priyanka's neech term to mean low caste when it only means low-level. Caste politics can be handled at a high level, as Ambedkar showed, or at a truly neech level as UP politicians including freshly imported Amit Shah have been showing. But "low-level" politics become "low-caste" politics only through misinterpretation. Modi convinced none but the converted by his contrived play on words. Ironically, he was attacked by Mayawati for encroaching on the caste territory where she believes she has proprietorial rights.

Perhaps misinterpretation and misrepresentation are preferable to the exchange of bad words. In this election, Narendra Modi has been called a monkey and a donkey, Rahul Gandhi a merchant of lies and Aam Aadmi an item girl. Baba Ramdev's criticism of Rahul Gandhi was easily the most uncultured. Compared to him, the Labour MP in Britain was a picture of civilisation when he roasted a Tory MP with the words: "The Honourablle Member is living proof that a pig's bladder on a stick can be elected to Parliament". Ours is modelled on the British Parliament, isn't it?

With claims of winning more than 300 seats, the BJP perhaps feels that it can sidestep inconvenient electoral laws. The flaunting of religion is a case in point. Narendra Modi appearing at the Varanasi rally with the city's holy temples forming the backdrop on the stage was bad enough. In Ayodhya's twin city of Faizabad he spoke with the picture of Lord Rama in the background. This was a direct violation of the Representation of the People Act which includes "the use of or appeal to religious symbols" among corrupt practices that are disallowed. Was it essential for a party confident of 300 seats to so casually ignore a law of the land?

Perhaps something amiss in that 300 figure?