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Sadhvi, Didi and venom

  By Vijay Darda | 08-12-2014

These are sure signs of the falling standards of our public discourse. A Union minister talks of “Ramzade versus Haramzade” and a chief minister refers to a bamboo, of course without making the shoving part explicit. Making the situation even more damning is the fact that both are ladies. As if adding fuel to the fire they get support from their partisan defenders. In the case of the Union minister, the support comes from the highest level — the Prime Minister. He says that she has apologised, so let us forgive and move ahead with ‘nation building’. Pray, what kind of nation — one belonging to the Ramzades or Haramzades?

The defence of Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti comes in the form of other alibis as well. She is a first time MP, she comes from a rural background and is from a socially backward class. So, the message is don’t mind her language. None of these can be held as valid arguments. Indeed, these cast a slur on the poor people with rural background from socially backward castes. But then all her senior learned ministerial colleagues are arguing that in Parliament there have been cases of much worse behaviour, and we have moved ahead after saying sorry. So, why stall Parliament over this abusive language? Well, the plain thing is that letting her get away with a proforma apology and fully realising that she is not at all sorry for her remarks is simply not a deterrent enough punishment to arrest the rise of hate speech in our electoral campaigns. But then surely the powers that rule the country do not want to punish her.

She may have been discovered recently at the national level, but in her native Fatehpur and Uttar Pradesh she is known for her fiery oratory in her katha vachak style. She is surely a first term MP, but no stranger to electoral politics, having lost two assembly elections in 2002, and 2007 and won it in 2012. She is a serial offender with her ‘ramzade versus haramzade’ lexicon and does not hesitate to use it even with her party colleagues. Indeed, she was the only lady among the 21 ministers inducted this time, and seems to have been rewarded with a ministerial berth specifically for this ‘talent’. Or else there is nothing in her CV to merit an inclusion into a Central ministry that is premised on the principle of minimum government, maximum governance.

The fact that the BJP not only endorses her campaign stance, but even wants to deploy it in the all important Delhi state assembly elections notwithstanding such a controversy, is the real give away. It is not her abusive language that the BJP is defending in Parliament, but it is her powerful oratory that the BJP cannot sacrifice as it helps in dividing the electorate. Polarisation is the keyword for the BJP, it has worked for it in the past, and could provide rich dividends in the future as well. Hence, this stout defence of a Sadhvi, who uses abusive language.

Thus, the real issue with the Sadhvi is neither the quality of language, nor her lack of decency. These are peripheral, cosmetic details. The real issue is her blatant bias. In fact this bias extends beyond the religious divide. It envelops those who vote for the BJP, and those who don’t. In that sense it violates the basic principles of our Constitution that prohibits any discrimination against anyone on any count. We all have a bounden duty to uphold the Constitution, and hence her offence is beyond forgiveness.

As a parliamentarian, I am aware that disruption of the proceedings is not just a waste of public money but has several other negative fall-outs. At a personal level, it is quite tough for a member or a minister to spend hours preparing for a particular debate or question and then to realise that the proceedings have been stalled. The opportunity to raise the same issue, comes back after a lot of difficulty — that is if at all it returns. But then here I am reminded of a doctrine that had been formulated by the BJP during the UPA decade. At that time, they used to argue that disruption is a democratic method of expressing opposition.

This is expressly so in the Sadhvi’s case. Her hate speech is a direct assault on a voter’s right to exercise his/her franchise. It challenges the foundations of our democracy. This is not something that can be forgiven or forgotten. The Prime Minister used to assert in his campaign speeches that he would be a vigilant chowkidar of our national interests. Now is the time for him to deliver on that promise as defending the Constitution has the highest priority. Only through an appropriate penal action would he enhance his standing as a democrat, and further India’s credentials as a robust democracy.

As for the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her bamboo vocabulary, we should note that it comes with no defence or explanations. Her supporters argue that Mamata Banerjee is Mamata Banerjee. In the sense that she makes her own rules, and lives by these. This by itself is quite a serious matter in a democracy where the rule of law prevails, and even if it can be argued that she did not break any law, the fact remains that for a chief minister of state to use such abusive language is simply not acceptable.

We cannot ignore the fact that our public discourse has become more vitriolic and acidic because there is not enough sense of outrage among the people over such acts. This indifference comes from the fact that the political class seldom acts against those from its tribe who commit such violations. Realising this, the people get cynical about politics and politicians. The last week in Parliament got wasted in the demand for action against the Sadhvi, and if she goes scot free, then indeed this would be a totally wasted opportunity for restoring some element of grace and decency in our public life. There is room for wit, criticism, irony and biting satire. But let us zealously keep abuse and bias out of our democracy.


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