The recent utterances by YSR Congress chief Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy in the heat of the bypoll campaign in Nandyal have yet again brought to fore not just the steady deterioration in civil political discourse but also the bitter personal rivalry between him and Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu. It’s true that a lot is riding on the August 23 by-election for both the opposition party and the ruling Telugu Desam Party, setting as it does the tone for the 2019 elections. But no matter what the stakes, Jagan has this time crossed the Laxman Rekha.
Addressing a public meeting, he said at the top of his voice that the “likes of Naidu should be shot dead in the middle of the road” ostensibly for not keeping his poll promises. Slapped with a notice by the Election Commission, he clarified it was figurative, not literal. But then, he gave the game away when a couple of days later, he called for hanging Naidu.
It’s obvious that it’s a well-calculated strategic manipulation of hatred intended to achieve his immediate goal. As such it falls into the bracket of hate speech. To his credit, the chief minister has not tried to pay him back in the same coin, though his party leaders couldn’t resist calling him a maniac among other things.
Hate speech isn’t unusual among politicians but calling for murder is unacceptable even by their standards. By resorting to this kind of tactics, Jagan has further vitiated the already toxic political environment and may end up reinforcing the growing cynicism in the society against politicians. In the worst case, what if one of his many followers takes him literally? The Election Commission will hopefully crack the whip and drive some sense into the ambitious leader.
Politics at the end of the day is public service and debate and disagreement are a part and parcel of the same. Demonisation of rivals may reap dividends in the short-run but in the long-term, it will spell the death of civil political discourse and unleash anarchy.