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Narendra Modi-Congress tussle in Parliament: Poor political discourse is symptomatic of larger malaise

The tussle between the ruling party and the Opposition has reached a nadir with series of elections round the corner. This degenerated discourse, ranging from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's blistering attack on Nehru to today's Congress and Congress making a mountain out of a molehill on the remark against Renuka Chowdhury, reflects a larger malaise in the political system. These are not an aberration. The personality-centric political system, decadent political values, sensation-chasing character of the media, etc are all responsible for this phenomenon.

The elections are not too far away. Normally, poll eve is associated with an unprecedented rise in political temperature. Civilised discourse will be the first casualty in such a situation. The growing rhetoric only strengthens the speculation that the elections to Lok Sabha will certainly be held before its term expires.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed Lok Sabha on Wednesday. Image courtesy: @BJP4India/Twitter

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed Lok Sabha on Wednesday. Image courtesy: @BJP4India/Twitter

The electoral arena is personality-driven, with the political parties essentially being the fiefdoms of their leaders. The distinct difference between ideology-driven parties and dynast-led parties is increasingly getting blurred with the rise of the Modi phenomenon in the BJP. The leaders down the line in parties are more loyal to their masters. This is evident from how the BJP's next rank of leaders, including Union ministers, rallied behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Renuka Chowdhury episode. In fact, Modi was subtle and satirical. It was not a planned response from the prime minister. His response only reflects his irritation at the absurd behaviour of a senior Congress Parliamentarian. But the continuation of the episode only speaks of the degenerative political culture where politicians leave no stone unturned to heckle at their political opponents, not on the issues concerning the average Indian but primarily on personal vendetta.

The political parties are woven around the charisma of their leaders. The democratic discourse, therefore, turns into an anthology of leadership in which pathological hatred towards political adversaries is an integral component.

The callous political culture blurs the boundaries of decency. The semantics of politics are no longer concerned with ideological predilections. This is evident from how Modi took the lead in making disparaging comments on generations of Congress leaders rather than answering critical questions raised on his four-year rule. Modi's address on Motion of Thanks to the President's speech was either election-oriented tirade on the past Congress rule or uncritical defence of his own government's policies. Instead, a serious debate free from partisan rhetoric on issues confronting the nation like rural distress, joblessness, humongous inequalities, parallel economy, and multiple forms of deprivation etc, would have served democracy much better. But such scholarly discourse cannot be expected in an age of political expediency, that too when signals of early polls are discernible.

But it is wrong to find fault only with the political leadership. The mainstream media loves the toxicity of the language rather than the essence of political discourse as negativism is the news value. With the sound-bite journalism and a mad rush to catch eyeballs to capture the television rating points dictating the market place, the language turns much more bitter and the discourse gets more acrimonious.

The rabble-rousing mobocracy gets larger media attention than democratic discourse. The celebrity-gauging, sensation-chasing, myriad hour multi-channel television industry and its venerable talk shows, described by noted historian Romila Thapar as shouting matches, further perpetuate such an obnoxious political behaviour. In a media-rich political environment, publicity-hungry politicians feel it is their sacred responsibility to indulge in rabid reactionary statements or unabashed spectacles of public behaviour. If not this, maybe the most cost-effective way of reaching out to their electorate would be via conventional or social media. The ubiquitous social media has further vulgarised and vandalised the public debate.

In this rat race, a leader or a party may be way ahead at a given point in time and in a given context. But none disown such a grotesque grammar of politics. The players may change. But the rules of the game remain unaltered.

This is the age of post-factual politics. In such post-truth political culture, debates are framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy.

Quite unfortunately, in democracies, recrimination and abuse seem to be fetching at the hustings too, as has been illustrated by the Donald Trump phenomenon. In the market place, what sells is sale worthy. What interests public is in public interest. This applies to market place of politics too. Parties and politicians consider their cause righteous, and their rivals' an existential threat. Politics is perceived as the survival of the fittest.

The gift of the gab is characterised by the levels to which one can stoop down.  The poverty of political philosophy rebukes democracy. Politics resembles theatre of the absurd.

However, all this is in the name of serving the great Indian democracy. Alas, this is how Animal Farm instinct permeates democratic discourse. Objections to such language are merely squeamish as the institutional regulations and the social control over such mercenary political behaviour are either feeble or dysfunctional.

Democracies are defined by the levels and depths of people's  participation. But such inexorably acrimonious language in politics dissuades away right-thinking people from politics. Such a political trend is the antithesis of democracy.


Published Date: Feb 10, 2018 10:39 AM | Updated Date: Feb 10, 2018 10:39 AM

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