The reason I am quoting the Prime Minister verbatim is because that deadline is about to end now, and for those who believe the notebandi has failed, there is talk of penalty with shoes. Be it on social media or in political circles, I have noticed many people commenting that the punishment should involve shoes. There was such emphasis on this that I thought that the Prime Minister must have mentioned the shoes himself, which is why I re-heard what the PM had said in his speech. He did not mention shoes at all. Then how are people talking about shoes as a means to "justice" at the end of 50 days? That too while speaking about the Prime Minister?
But let me also say that the Prime Minister's speech itself is problematic: he speaks about punishment being meted out at a public square, which could be interpreted to mean that the PM is endorsing mob mentality as constitutionally valid. It could be that this is the kind of punishment that comes to his mind when he thinks about those who oppose him, which is why he accidentally spoke like this. In our thoughts, we often unconsciously hold words or idioms based in society's feudal mindset. Hitting someone with a shoe is in principle anti-Dalit. If you investigate stories about hitting someone with a shoe, you will find that this sort of language was used only by those who were upper-caste. And this was done only against the Dalits or weaker sections of society. Hitting someone with a shoe is the language of hate. I hate the language of hate as much as I hate the politics of hate. At an event in Delhi, I too had once said in jest that shoes will be thrown. I requested the organiser to ensure that my comment was removed. I was not proud of my language.
And now I am once again objecting to language. How can the constitutional head of a stable democracy like India preach about a crowd punishing someone as it sees fit at a public place? The courts decide punishment, and there are laws for it. Elections can be seen as a fair referendum and losing an election can be seen as punishment, but there are no elections being held at the end of these 50 days. Also, you could argue that elections should not be seen for politicians as the only measure of right or wrong. There have been many articles highlighting the mistakes made with demonetization, but has the PM accepted even one of them? He was asked many questions, but he did not give any straightforward answers; instead, he attacked those who opposed him. He used creative phrases while indirectly speaking about those who were opposing him. So these may be taken as mistakes made by the Prime Minister, but a crowd in kangaroo court style cannot decide what mistakes he has made.
Just as this part of the PM's speech is undemocratic and feudal, the language of his critics referring to this excerpt on social media is also becoming undemocratic and feudal. When there was no mention of shoes, why did the thought of shoes arise? Pictures of shoes are being shared on Facebook and Twitter. It is being stated on social media that "50 days are almost up, where should the welcome with shoes be arranged?" Do those who oppose him also secretly hold the desire to become part of or lead the baying crowd? Many people are writing again and again that "the shoes are ready, please let us know where we should we meet you."
The government speaks the language of power. But if people also start speaking the brutal language of power, society should be worried. Democracy provides the space for open criticism. In a civilized fashion. Use that. Why are so many people on Twitter resorting to the language associated with hate-filled trolls? Are we abandoning what democracy allows and encourages - criticism with decorum and substance and meaning? People who talk about hitting someone with shoes should have their blood tested to see if they are becoming moral and communal trolls.
Go ahead and make fun of the PM, criticize him when needed, perhaps even take a dig at him, but stay away from the thought of throwing shoes. This I am not saying out of reverence for the post of the Prime Minister. I am against the feudal mentality of throwing shoes on anybody as a means of punishment. The language of our democracy should be such that the weakest in our society should feel safe. Critics also have another duty - that of introducing alternative ideas. The government, rich with power, may exercise the equivalent of shoe-throwing with income tax notices, jail, threats, phone recordings related to opponents. But how can those who argue these practices use the same methods?
In one of his speeches, the Prime Minister had said that even if he needed to put one lakh people to work for the removal of black money, he would. Why do those who oppose him not remind of these words again and again? If the PM really is serious about this plan of his, then one lakh young people could get employment. If a PM who could not appoint a Lokpal in two and a half years talks of giving employment to one lakh people, then these words should be written on every wall. The income tax department itself needs 20,000 officers and employees. I am surprised that a politician like Lalu Yadav is using these feudal symbols, when his statements used to be so original and democratic. Have our leaders also started speaking the language used on social media? If so, it is not right.
By the way, this idea of throwing shoes has come not only to the PM's critics and those opposing him, but to his own ministers. A few days ago, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, was accused of recommending that payments be cleared in Arunachal Pradesh to someone allegedly involved in a scam. When Mr Rijiju was questioned by reporters outside the Home Ministry in New Delhi, this was his response: "Who is planting this news? If they go there (Arunachal Pradesh), they will be beaten with shoes."
(Ravish Kumar is Senior Executive Editor, NDTV India)
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