Bad boys club on political horizon? By Sagarika Ghose in Times of India, January 15, 2017
(Note: Frankly speaking journalists and TV anchors are fast disappearing from the landscape of Modiji’s India. Sagarika, Rajdeep, Arnab were most popular on primetime English Indian channels but no more, all had to shift to safer, innocuous locations. Sagarika is an instructive and entertaining writer with a global outlook in today’s divisive world. Disgustingly attention seeking Presidents and PMs like Trump, Modi are replacing sober, self-efacing ones like Obama and Manmohan. This is to put in context the incoming bad boys club, the writer deals with.
All too visible a place in a country is its politics. It is also the face of any nation reflecting its beauty or deformities,(Akathin azhku mukathil therium) Beauty of the heart is reflected on the face, says a Tamil proverb. So too are one’s words: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” and words betray one’s character. In short the language of politicians displays or betrays the character of a country to the outside world.
Now compare the quality and content of language spoken by top politicians in India and US which the writer cites as examples. Don’t they present a very sorry picture, a poor, uncivilized culture in both the countries? Yet, is that the whole reality? Hence the reason why politicians should be extremely careful to avoid the use of all sorts of vulgar language in their public discourse. People disagree and politicians disagree, but one should know how to disagree in an agreeable manner. That alone will project the good name and image of one’s country.
So compare the languages used by persons like Trump, Obama, Modi, Banerjee, Kejriwal etc. Think of some one calling Sonia a ‘Jersey cow’, journalists, ‘news trades’ or ‘presstitutes’. Hence the writer rightly points out the need on the part of politicians to avoid the use of nasty language and show of all false politeness in order to hold high the decency and dignity of the nation they represent. Only then they can be called good ambassadors of the country and not a club of bad guys.
Politics everywhere is infested with ideological rivals and they are most welcome to sword fights using sharp arguments against arguments but not resorting to personal abuse, which is beating below the belt. Sweatch Bharath should extend its service urgently to the preset political discourse in India which is becoming a gutter of the vulgar, rotten and stinking. james kottoor editor)
“Our political dialogue (has) become so corrosive…so coarse with rancour that those whom we disagree with are seen as malevolent,” said outgoing US president Barack Obama in his stirring farewell speech. Indeed what a contrast between Obama’s speech and the language we’ve heard recently both in America and India. With the departure of Obama The Decent, politics is looking increasingly like a bad boys club.
US president-elect Donald Trump snapped “You are fake news” to a CNN reporter. “Modi will return to Gujarat like the son of a rat,” screamed senior TMC MP Kalyan Banerjee. Modi has often referred to the UPA as ‘ma-bete ki sarkar’ and when he was Gujarat CM even called Sonia a ‘Jersey cow’. For Arvind Kejriwal his critics are ‘dalals’; for Modi journalists are ‘news traders’, his ministers call journalists “presstitutes”. Even Rahul Gandhi joined the chorus of bad boys when he mocked the PM for not managing a padmasana.
So where have all the nice guys gone? Is there no space for decency anymore or is being decent and well-spoken seen as signs of weakness?The guru of Indian political incorrectness was the late Bal Thackeray who prided himself on saying things others wouldn’t. But while Thackeray was marginal through much of his career, putative Thackerays are mainstream today.
Those who defend the bad boys club insist that their behaviour is a robust reaction to the tedium of political correctness.
How long, for example, will leaders talk about Hindu-Muslim brotherhood when Islamist terrorists are killing innocents? Why should the liberal media be allowed to take the moral high ground when many of them have feet of clay? It’s time not just to call a spade a shovel but to run an axe through the so-called value-based politics of the ‘old elite’. True, decency cannot be measured by false politeness. But does uttering so-called hard truths now mean just plain nastiness?
Do politicians mirror society? After all the most popular shows on TV are those where guests are encouraged to say the most outrageous things. Perhaps this is the Big Boss syndrome, the TV show where guests are judged on how obnoxious they can be. Brashness rules and bad behaviour attracts attention and popularity. You don’t trend on Twitter unless you say something suitably offensive.
Bashing the media in particular gets instant applause, almost as if it’s a rebellion against a seemingly unaccountable class who deserve their comeuppance. Women are not spared either. Remember the PM’s famous “50-crore girlfriend” jibe against the late Sunanda Tharoor or Donald Trump’s brazenly sexist remarks. None of this is considered offensive anymore, instead it’s seen as political machismo. This is political dabang-ism not by exercising brawny shoulders but by unleashing an acerbic tongue.
Politics is no longer a contest of ideas but a dangal between personalities. Since policies on all sides are more or less the same, the confrontation lies in personal abuse not ideological rivalry. Demonetisation can’t be a substantive debate: it’s about Modi vs Rahul or Modi vs Mamata.
Manmohan Singh’s soft voice was seen as lacking leadership qualities. Dr Singh may have taken tough decisions like on the Indo-US nuclear deal but did not exude prime ministerial braggadocio. He was hobbled by the UPA’s dual power centre and didn’t have a 56-inch chest. He may have navigated the economy through choppy waters but committed the cardinal error of not drawing attention to himself.
But today it’s the narcissism and swagger that emanates from a leader that sends out a powerful signal that he means business. Wielding power is not enough, the leader must be a disruptive hell-raiser, a rule-breaker. Such a leader may provide thrilling campaign rhetoric but surely governance takes place in staid prose, not in high-decibel poetry.
An excess of self-expression is revealing a darker side. With the rise of TV and social media, there are suddenly a plethora of forums for politicians to vent their views and they’re doing so in competitively violent language. What a pity it would be if the cerebral Dr Singh or the scholarly Trinamool MP Sugata Bose became marginalised dinosaurs in their party only because they behave so impeccably.
However, there is some good news. Today the bad boys club may outnumber the rest but the relative success of Naveen Patnaik, Akhilesh Yadav and Nitish Kumar shows that netas don’t always have to speak in harsh tones to make a mark. To borrow the current lexicon, “bad-ass” may be today’s high compliment, but it’s the graceful Obama who’s still universally given an even higher compliment: “awesome”. To quote Obama again, “the potential of democracy will only be realized if politics better reflects the decency of ordinary people.”