The Congress party doesn’t officially appreciate humour although there are a number of its leaders who may be considered as jokers. During the Emergency, it had even tried to banish humour along with rumour. The latest instance of the party coming down heavily on a leader who called a spade a spade was when the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) suspended former minister T H Mustafa for calling Rahul Gandhi a “joker” and holding him responsible for the party’s debacle in the general elections. The KPCC also provided a bit of irony by passing a resolution hailing the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka in the same breath after Mustafa was punished.
Contrary to what the Congress leaders think, wry humour can be an effective weapon for any person, especially a political leader.
The late E M S Namboothiripad, eminent Marxist theoretician and former chief minister of Kerala, once silenced a foreign interviewer, who asked him whether he stammered always. His reply was, “No, only when I speak.”
One major reason why E K Nayanar, also a former CPM chief minister of Kerala, remained popular with the people was his light-heartedness, although the intelligentsia considered him as a joker, like the British thought about Gandhiji as the “half-naked fakir”. He once landed in trouble with women’s groups for joking about rape, but he wriggled out with subtle wit.
In fact, CPM leaders in Kerala have proved to be wittier than the Congressmen, which may be one reason why they held sway over the masses in the past. Earlier, there was none to beat CPM leader V S Achuthanandan who floored his opponents with his earthy humour. During the 2011 state elections, when Rahul Gandhi campaigned in Kerala, he made fun of Achuthanandan, then 87, and asked him to retire from politics.
Rahul hadn’t taken into account Achuthanandan’s ability to repay him in the same coin. The veteran leader called Rahul the “Amul Baby” of Congress, to which neither Rahul nor his party had any answer.
The decline of the CPM in Kerala can be partly attributed to the absence of leaders with the calibre of those of the previous era. Achuthanandan proved largely ineffective this time because he did not have enough barbs in his armoury to hit his opponents. Instead, what the people heard was street language from Pinarayi Vijayan, whose “stinker” remark against N K Premachandran led to the defeat of M A Baby in Kollam. But Innocent, the comedian in Malayalam films, trounced the never-smiling P C Chacko, with his laughter and devastating humour.
Perhaps, the story of Congress at the national level would have been different if Rahul had displayed Priyanka’s ability for repartees and humour like she proved with her reply, “I am Rajiv Gandhi’s daughter” when Modi reportedly said, “I consider her as a daughter.” In another example of the party’s dislike for humour, it suspended Rajasthan Congress MLA Bhanwar Lal Sharma also for calling Rahul a “joker”. Maybe, there is no place for humour in mourning.