In the age of television and mobile phones, and hyperactive social media, one would expect our leaders to exercise restraint in words, particularly when they are uttered on public platforms. Nasty language and poor choice of words beamed into homes make them look bad and certainly conveys a low impression of the quality of politicians in general. As leaders, they are supposed to be role models for the country, exemplars of decent conduct.
But do they care? Well, going by the evidence from the ongoing elections so far, they care two hoots about negative public opinion. They would be themselves – crude, insensitive and even vulgar – no matter what. Uttar Pradesh leader Azam Khan’s recent below-the-belt attack on BJP candidate Jayaprada was more par for the course in the current unedifying political scenario than an exception.
If you thought unrestrained deployment of words such as chor, dacoit, gaddar, deshdrohi, Anarkali and traitor marks a new low in our political discourse, think again. Knowing the capacity of our leaders to plumb new depths, we should be prepared for worse. We are aware of politicians comparing rivals with animals – kutta, gaddha, gidgit etc – and using cuss words plentifully in private to vent displeasure with others. However, their complete disrespect for the camera is a revelation.
Obviously, they are hardly bothered about their image outside their constituencies. The likes of Azam Khan know well that inside their constituencies such words don’t matter much. People are familiar with the leader and know his language. If he is polished and all decorum one fine day, it would be so out of character. Imagine the late Bal Thackeray being flawlessly refined in his Dussehra speeches at Shivaji Park. It would be so disappointing for his countless fans! So they can carry on. In any case, those watching television hundreds of miles away don’t vote for them.
Or, is it a case of leaders following the trends? The language everywhere, including the all-pervasive social media, has turned coarse, irreverent and hurtful. The social media deserves special mention since it has managed to take human ugliness in all its hues from the margins of our consciousness to the heart of it. It has allowed bad, offensive behaviour shift from the fringes to the mainstream. Watch television debates and the ugliness hits you in the face like a gust of bad breath. Curiously, these have gained massive viewership, making people shift from routine entertainment programmes to such debates. What else explains the success of shows of anchors like Arnab Goswami?
It is possible politicians are following the cue. Being bad does make them good for television or social media, the fastest route to people these days. They aim at the shock value of their utterances, not propriety or decency. The more offensive it is, the better. Imagine the number of debates Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s Chowkidar chor hai jibe at Prime Minister Modi has generated on television. In the times of shrinking attention span, it’s not a bad idea to be nasty. No publicity, like they say, is bad publicity.
Is this trend here to stay? By all indications, yes. The shift of politics from issues to emotions, of general attitude from moderation to aggression and the popular appreciation for combativeness are likely to sustain the trend. Add to it, the many fault lines in the Indian society that has opened up with the ascendance of the ideological Right in the country. The Left and the Left eco-system that included the Congress had created their own divisions, there are additions to it now.
So, expect our leaders to get worse over time. And restraint to take a permanent back seat.