The relative smoothness of the no-confidence motion in Parliament, hug and all, was welcome. But it does not hide the ugly truth—that civility in public discourse is disappearing in our country. Ministers use abusive language against opponents. Party spokesmen react with anger to legitimate criticism. Some leaders go to the extent of threatening to kill people they disapprove of. These tendencies were unheard-of in the early years of independence. Discourtesy began with Emergency and has reached dangerous levels under the present dispensation.
Early this year, Goa minister Vinod Palyekar called Kannadigas “harami” and said the Karnataka Government consisted of “habitual liars”. Of course he later said he was misquoted by journalists—a typical escape route for irresponsible politicians. This man represented the little known Goa Forward Party. The big leader of the big party, BJP, recently described the opposition as “a bunch of mongoose, snakes and dogs caught together in a flood”. Such attacks expose the low civilisational level of those who make them; their victims are not scarred at all.
Barack Obama’s vice-president Joe Biden recently drew attention to what should be the norm in public life. He criticised fellow Democrats for routinely attacking Republicans. He called that “divisive partisan politics” and said: “It’s mean-spirited. It’s petty.” His own stand was: “We should not look at Republicans as our enemy. They are our opposition. They are not our enemy.”
That sounds as if he was talking about India, that he was cautioning Indian politicians against “divisive partisanship” and telling them that such politics was mean-spirited and petty. But if a generation of our politicians have decided that pettiness is the way to win elections, is there a way out?
Decencies of the kind Biden mentioned are ignored and violent partisanship promoted when the ruling regime is itself given to partisanship and mean-spiritedness. Childish was the way the BJP’s national spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao reacted to the Tamil movie Mersal, in which star actor Vijay had a dialogue criticising GST and demonetisation. Rao, shamelessly, went on air to say that “film stars had very low IQ and very low general knowledge.” Another spokesman said: “It’s unfair to criticise the PM when he is working so hard.” The net result was that the film got more box office draw, and the BJP’s image went a notch down.
The way small-time leaders of the BJP make statements that are actionable under law is a trend that deserves attention, the more so because no action is taken by anyone. Bihar’s BJP leader Nityanand Rai told party workers last November: If anyone even raises eyebrows at the Prime Minister, break his hands and if necessary chop them off. The party’s Madhya Pradesh MP, Paresh Rawal, tweeted: “Instead of tying stone pelters on Army jeep, tie Arundhati Roy.”
When Afrazul Khan was set on fire by Shambu Lal on charges of love jihad last November, Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy said: While jihadis were killing thousands across the world, how could anyone ask about just one man being killed in Rajasthan? At a Hindu Aikyavedi meeting in Kochi, its president KP Sasikala asked secular writers to perform mrityunjaya homa at Shiva temples to save themselves from Gauri Lankesh’s fate. Kundan Chandravat offered Rs 1 crore to anyone who beheaded Pinarayi Vijayan. These are violations of the Indian penal code. Those in power are duty-bound to take action against them. But action was taken only in one case. And what action? Kundan Chandravat was removed from all the posts he held in the RSS.
When the law shuts its eye before crime, it only means that violators have the backing of those in power. This is not always an ideological game. Kerala Police, headed by a comic figure, is split into factions that play political games; casual detainees in police stations are tortured to death in scandalously sadistic ways. In the Bastar region, both Congress leaders like P Chidambaram and BJP leaders have been promoting police action for “clearing out Maoist-infested areas”.
The impact became evident when IK Elesela, SP of a district in Bastar, spoke as chief guest at a heavy vehicles launch last year. He said human rights activists should be crushed on the roads with heavy vehicles. A sick man with a sick mind. But his punishment was a mere transfer.Bastar is in Dandakaranya. Today, despite nice debates in Parliament, all of India is Dandakaranya with asuras and rakshasas ruling the roost. There are Kharas and Dushanas around, but no Rama and Lakshmana to destroy the demons and protect the people.