Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The politics of name calling in UP elections

by Ratnakar Tripathy

It is a sign of our times that every time you complain about the low levels our political lingo has stooped to, the very next day one more abyss shows up and the touchstone for what is a bad word and what isn’t reaches a new low. So does it help really to complain or should one wait for the ultimate even though what the ‘ultimate’ means in the case of the 2017 assembly elections in UP?  Like every quarrel in the street and in the school, the first point of dispute and quite often the last is who started it. But I do remember right since my childhood I have seen two kinds of verbal duels – one that kept on escalating till both the parties got tired and the disinterested audience got bored for lack of a clear outcome, and the ones that rapidly ended up in fisticuffs. That is why I now believe the whole verbal game in politics just now is to help each other degrade themselves as far as possible to show an utter, utter lack of civility. You may take it as an attempt to create a level ground form where each one may start a new round of fighting. So even as we complain about the declining levels of political discourse let me assure you this can be an endless process till a new beginning is made. The problem in the meantime [and daily life always means in the meantime] in the case of UP however, is the audience is not hanging around for entertainment but to make a wise vote, and there are vital governance issues at stake. I am not sure the voter all over the world remembers that, which is becoming a major problem with the modern democracies. The popular expression ‘the buck stops here’ seems to apply equally or more to the voter rather than the top man in the hierarchy.

To come down to specifics, in the last few days and indeed for quite a while our honorable PM has indulged in what may be called a ‘politics of acronyms.' The idea is to twist the opponent’s name into a new and damaging full form. To take an example, PM Modi claimed that Mayawati’s party BSP is ‘no longer Bahujan Samaj Party but 'Behenji Sampatti Party'. By way of retaliation, BSP Chief Mayawati hit back at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, terming him as 'Mr. Negative Dalit Man,' while addressing a rally at Uttar Pradesh’s Sultanpur amidst the ongoing assembly elections in the state. Akhilesh Yadav did not waste much time either and said he ‘will ask the biggest superstar of this century (Amitabh Bachchan being the brand ambassador of Gujarat) not to promote the donkeys of Gujarat.’ There is not much guessing to do here to see who Akhilesh is referring to. The fact is as the seven-phase elections in UP proceed, political workers are getting overwrought, nervous and tired of repeating the same cant, the same development jargons, the same electoral goodies when they feel the need to rise above the platitudes, this is the kind of rubbish they come up with.  

This is why I feel that the trouble with our political discourse is not that politicians are using bad language but that they seem to say the same thing with various degrees of tweaking. Of course, as experts on the whole gamut of structured ideologies, we the commentators see a great deal of difference among the parties. But does the ordinary voter see things systematically and inter-connectedly? I do not think so. They seem to look at the rhetoric as some kind of a mosaic where some of the features seem appealing, and some do not depending on the voter’s interest or fancy.

According to the political pundits, the one thing that appears to apply universally in the 2017 elections is there is no wave in favour of any party visible on the ground. The voter is thus looking neutrally at the parties in the fray. With each one promising development in more or less the same vein, the voter may not exactly be torn by a dilemma. In fact, the voter may not be concerned with the lofty ideals of development at all and perhaps more concerned with security for himself and his neighborhood. Really, the voter may have all come down to the level of the utterly basic and no one seems to have noticed. So the fight in UP may be determined by the voter’s appetite for either peace or conflict in the society – the trouble is aggression and violence seem very exciting when not happening at the doorstep and peace can seem such a dull idea. But these are matters so deep they are almost subliminal and not open to quick journalistic analysis. I am not sure even a voter really knows what is going on within. On 11th March next month when the counting of votes takes place, we will, of course, know for sure if UP wants peace or is itching for some avoidable excitement.

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