Name-calling and mud-slinging are not new to Indian politics, however, there are also examples aplenty of the deification of mass leaders, putting them on a pedestal higher than the aam junta.
Recently, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) called its leader and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee as "today's Jhansi ki Rani" and warned the BJP government that like the brave queen, the TMC chief will not be cowed down by "attacks". Speaking in the debate on the motion of thanks to the President's address in Lok Sabha on Thursday, TMC leader Dinesh Trivedi drew a parallel between the central government and the pre-independence British regime, alleging that both have used threats and intimidation to quell Opposition.
"Recently a movie called Manikarnika was released... We are reminded of the queen of Jhansi... Who was 'Rani Jhansi'? She was an ordinary woman whom people chose that she should guard Jhansi," he said.
"In Bengal also there is Rani Jhansi whose name is Mamata Banerjee. Mamata Banerjee said that 'sar kata sakte hain lekin sar jhuka sakte nahin' (we are ready to be beheaded but will not kowtow). She is today's Rani Jhansi who is an ordinary woman and not a queen," Trivedi said, referring to the West Bengal chief minister.
"No matter how much you attack us it will not affect us as the public is with us," he added.
Trivedi further went on to explain his analogy by saying: "What happened in Bengal a few days back was done by the British government. During British time what did the Britishers do? They used to scare you, threaten you. They used to enter your house and tell you to support them or else they would attack you. Today, the condition is the same."
However, on Friday Union minister Giriraj Singh while reacting on the TMC leader's remarks alleged that Mamata was a demoness who had destroyed the state. He said that the TMC chief cannot be compared with Jhansi ki Rani, as it would be an insult to the brave queen.
"It is like an insult to Jhansi ki Rani. Someone who can murder those who speak against her cannot be Jhansi ki Rani or Padmavati... She has destroyed Bengal," Singh alleged, terming Banerjee a "putana(demoness)".
Singh added that Mamata did not have the strength to be these women (Jhansi ki Rani or Padmavati) and went on to compare her with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
"The person who supports Rohingyas and Bangladeshi infiltrators... someone who speaks of breaking India and stopping Hindus cannot be called Jhansi ki Rani who strived for uniting the country," he told reporters. In September 2018, BJP's Ashwini Kumar Choubey had called UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi also "putana".
This is not new though. In the past as well, political leaders have been compared to mythological characters, been called names, or being referred to as a controversial character from history. For instance, last week, after a controversy broke out over the NSSO data on unemployment, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini entered our political discourse.
The report on the NSSO jobs survey prompted Congress chief Rahul Gandhi to indirectly invoke Adolf Hitler in criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "The Fuhrer promised us 2 crore jobs a year. 5 years later, his leaked job creation report card reveals a National Disaster (sic)," Rahul tweeted.
Immediately after the Congress president's attack, BJP retaliated by calling Rahul Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. "It's clear that Rahul Gandhi has inherited Mussolini's shortsightedness and has a myopic understanding of issues," the BJP said in a tweet. Those involved in the discourse seemed to have had forgotten that Mussolini was, in fact, an ally of Hitler and not a rival.
Recently, after Congress announced Priyanka Gandhi's induction into Congress the party, many barbs were thrown at her by rival parties. However, a BJP MLA from Ballia, Surendra Singh went on to call her 'Suparnakha' (Ravana's sister). Downplaying Priyanka's political entry, Singh said: “Jab Ram-Ravan ka yudh hone wala tha tab Ravan ne pahle apni bahen Surpanakha ko bheja tha. Rahul ne Ravan ki tarah apni bahan ko Surpanakha ki tarah utara hai (When the battle of Ram and Ravana was to begin, Ravana had sent his sister Surpanakha. Similarly, Rahul like Ravana has sent Priyanka).” Singh also eulogised Modi as ‘Lord Rama’.
“In the upcoming parliamentary elections, Rahul will be in the role of Ravana, while Modi in the role of Rama is already keeping India’s flag high in the world. Like Ravana, Rahul has fielded his sister in this battle and proved his inability to fight against Modi, who will, no doubt, again become the PM,” he added. Singh, who is known for making controversial remarks, had earlier called Mamata also 'Surpanakha’. Mamata, meanwhile, has also been referred to as another female demoness, Taadka, from the epic Ramayana.
Haryana health minister Anil Vij had said, “Chahe Yogi Adityanathji ki rally ho, chahe Amit Shahji yatra nikaalna chahte ho usmein rukawat daalti hai. Kabhi kisi ka helicopter rokti hai, isliye poori tarah se Mamata Banerjee wahi kar rahi hai jo Taadka kiya karti thi. (Be it the rally of Yogi Adityanath or Amit Shah's public address, she puts obstacles in the way just like Taadka used to when saints used to do holy work)."
The battle of 'political lords and demons', however, is not just limited to a verbal feud as posters and banners of various political parties often depict their leaders as mythological leaders.
Two posters went viral recently which portrayed Rahul and Priyanka as 'Lord Rama' and 'Goddess Durga' respectively. It is interesting to note here, that reportedly, Priyanka's grandmother Indira Gandhi was also once portrayed as Goddess Durga.
There are more such instances, for example, there is a temple in central India dedicated to Indira and Rahul has been portrayed as Rama on posters in 2018 as well. At that time, he was shown aiming a bow at his political rival, Modi, who was likened to Ravana. Like Ravana, Modi was portrayed with 10 heads, his face copied into each of them. Taking an apparent dig at BJP, a slogan etched in the middle of one the poster read: "Woh Ram naam japte rahe, tum bannkar Ram jiyo re (Let them keep chanting the name of Lord Ram, you [Rahul Gandhi] be Lord Ram himself)." The poster exuded the hope that Rahul will usher in 'Ram Rajya' in the country and will end the "BJP's misrule".
Another poster in Uttar Pradesh, put up by a Samajwadi Party (SP) worker for celebrating the union of SP and Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the state, had depicted SP chief Akhilesh Yadav as Tipu Sultan and Mayawati as Rani Lakshmibai. The local leader claimed that the partnership of both will win over the Opposition.
Such deifications, Krzysztof Iwanek writes in this article, happen because "the district-level gung-ho party activists may sometimes go to extremes to make their efforts noticed and their voices heard".
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Updated Date: Feb 08, 2019 19:49:03 IST