WITH elections to four state assemblies, political parties are trying fair and foul means to run down their rivals. Though most campaigners of the parties have maintained decency in their criticism, a few of them have stooped to a very low level. Former Union minister and Congress leader C P Joshi said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Water Resources Minister, Uma Bharati and Sadhvi Ritambhara being from lower castes did not know Hinduism as only Brahmins knew about Hinduism. UP Congress leader Raj Babbar likened the fall of rupee to the age of Modi’s mother who keeps away from politics. Another Congress leader Vilas Muttemwar said that nobody knew who the father of Prime Minister Modi was. Such remarks are highly unbecoming of political leaders. It is a pity that the Congress has not learned any lesson from the last Gujarat elections. The Congress paid a price for its former minister Mani Shankar Iyer using an indecent epithet for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It helped generate sympathy for Modi and swung the elections in BJP favour in the last two weeks.
Some of the BJP leaders have not lagged very far behind. In an election speech in Chhattisgarh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ridiculed Congress president Rahul Gandhi by asking him whether his (Rahul Gandhi’s) grandparents lay water pipelines in Chhattisgarh. BJP spokesperson G V L Narasimha Rao said Rahul Gandhi had brought in mafia from Italy into Congress party. The list of such utterances is unending. Use of indecent language by political leaders is not a new phenomenon. However, the level is going down with every election. Political campaigners are using double meaning phrases and sometimes brazenly obscene epithets against their rivals to draw public applause. There is a growing trend of oneupmanship in vocal tirade against leaders.
Use of dirty language is often a sign of weakness and desperation among political parties. It is a pity that all of them get away with their indecencies. We hear complaints being made to the Election Commission and the EC serving notices to the users of indecent language asking them to file their replies within a specified time. However, we have not seen any impact of the Election Commission action. The EC seems to be completely helpless in the degeneration of the language of political campaigns. With the level of language going down, it is high time that a law is brought up to ensure that the action was taken promptly by the authorities concerned, which would serve as deterrent to the political parties. Use of words and phrases and epithets that do not form a criticism of the conduct of the person in his public office should be stopped under the Election Code of Conduct. Obscene epithets and metaphors are used by politicians against each other all the time, but their frequency and stridency increase during election campaigns. The political parties and campaigners descend to the lowest level to damage the image and prospect of their rivals. The Election Commission must revisit the code of conduct to specifically incorporate provisions that would dissuade political campaigners from using indecent language. The Election Commission should be given more powers to deal with the verbal obscenities political campaigners hurl at each other during the elections.
Perhaps use of foul language is growing because a section of politicians believe that this gets them to swing voters away from the object of their attack. For instance, C P Joshi’s remark – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Water Resources Minister, Uma Bharati and Sadhvi Ritambhara being from lower castes did not know Hinduism as only Brahmins knew about Hinduism – could fetch him votes from the upper castes. It was probably deliberately meant to please the upper castes. BJP leaders have been obsessively running down Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi with some snide remarks about Italy. Perhaps the BJP leaders who use such language believe that by constantly harping on Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origin, they would get more ‘nationalist’ votes. There are instances, however, when use of bad language against rivals has boomeranged, as it did for the Congress in Gujarat.
No matter what is the impact of use of bad language, political leaders must give up hurling them at each other. Democracy must be conducted with decency. Resorting to street language or drawing-room slang does damage to democracy. In democracy, political parties and leaders are allowed to criticize their rivals but their criticism must be restricted to their conduct in public office. The top leaders of the political parties must frame a code of conduct for their party campaigners. Those who violate it should be expelled.