Mani Shankar A Product Of Competitive Sycophancy Within Congress

Published: December 09, 2017 09:36 IST
Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar's use of filthy language against Prime Minister Narendra Modi has received unequivocal condemnation from all sides. The use of "neech" was uncalled for for a politician who has been in public discourse for many decades more than a Congress leader. Perhaps the pressure of public allergy to such contemptuous remarks forced the Congress leadership to take unusually quick action and suspend him from the party. Earlier, when Aiyar addressed the PM as "Chaiwala" and, before that, when he solicited support in Pakistan to unsettle the Modi government, the Congress leadership did not show the courage or find it necessary to take action.

There is a reason behind that. For over a decade, "hate Modi" acquired centrality among India's pseudo-seculars including Left-Nehruvian intellectuals. Their criticism of Modi assumed grotesque forms and Aiyar just represented that trend. None other than Sonia Gandhi had decried Modi as "Maut ka Saudagar" and Left-Liberal intellectuals did not show their dislike for such filthy language from the top. There is also a counter-point by politicians and intellectuals of this shade that some BJP leaders too have used bad language, but it is also true that most of them have been silenced by the party leadership; however, it would be incorrect to say this completely stopped it.

Aiyar's ire against the PM can be understood but his clarification for using "neech" shows that he is still unregretful. Ontologically, "Neech" has been used to point to caste affiliation. Its other meanings emerged later and they, too, are epistemologically not free from the shadow of derisive caste hierarchies. Besides, his remark had more than one meaning and message. It not only disgraced democracy but also communicated that there still exists extreme hate for the Prime Minister within the country.

Aiyar has also used false logic to justify his anger against Modi whose speech on Babasaheb Ambedkar, was according to him, incorrect. Congress claims it has paid due respect to Babasaheb Ambedkar and BJP-RSS is just appropriating his name. This question needs to be settled. Ambedkar was part of Nehru's cabinet, but it was the Congress which ensured his defeat in the first Lok Sabha election in 1952. A former aide of Ambedkar, Narayan Sadoba Kajrolkar, was fielded against him in Mumbai North central constituency and Nehru twice visited that constituency and solicited Communist support to defeat Ambedkar by 15,000 votes. This paved his ouster from the union cabinet. His next attempt to enter Lok Sabha via by-election in Bhandar (1954) was also foiled by Nehru. The Congress' pathological hate for him also prevented him from entering the constituent assembly, and only after the help of J N Mandal, a Dalit leader who later became the first Law Minister of Pakistan, he became a member of the constituent assembly from Bengal. Therefore, Modi is not wrong when he blames Nehru-Gandhi for neglecting Ambedkar. While his bête noire Kajrolkar was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1970, Ambedkar was given Bharat Ratna much later in 1990.

Contemporary intellectual and political discourse has reached a tipping point. The grammar and language of discourse has reached a new low which shows a big contrast to the discourse during 1950s and 60s when politicians and parties eschewed personal remarks, racist comments and abusive words. Most of the leaders were a product of social and national movements and there were a large number of social activists who helped to moralize politics. There were accusations and counter-accusations, but with a mutual understanding for each other. There are two interesting examples. Sampurnanand, a Congress leader, wrote the preface of Jan Sangh leader Deendayal Upadhyay's political dairy. Another example is of a different nature. There was a sense of humor in politics. Once when a member of the House drew the attention of Acharya Kripalani, a socialist leader, to the fact that he was criticising the Congress Party (which he was a member and president of), the quick-witted Acharya retorted, "All these years, I thought Congressmen were stupid fools. I never knew they were gangsters too who ran away with others' wives". (The Congress had enticed his wife Sucheta Kriplani to join the party.)

Both things are missing in contemporary politics. We are now in the age of the binary which has made our public discourse toxic. The seeds of this were present in earlier decades, with Left-Nehruvian intellectuals primarily responsible for institutionalizing the binary. They could defend their corner of secularism and nationalism only by taking resort to vermin against the RSS. Public speeches and even parliamentary proceedings are replete with extreme comparisons between RSS and Nazis and fascists. It was an oft-repeated open appeal to exterminate the RSS, calling its members "Right Reactionaries". The RSS' second chief, MS Golwalkar, was compared with Fuehrer (Hitler) and Ku Klux Klan. The credit goes to the RSS to not to be trapped by filthy discourse. But it certainly emboldened people more junior in organizations to abuse each other as enemies not adversaries. Politicians and parties need to reexamine how to restore legitimate discourse. Left liberals are still not ready to accept the legitimacy of the ruling dispensation and its ideological fraternity, the RSS. Besides, Congress elitism and feudal mindset, both of which are a product of dynastic politics, promote competitive sycophancy and loyalties. Aiyar, an educated politician, is a product of this hate-filled political culture.

This sort of political hatred is being witnessed in other democracies too. For instance, Theresa May, the British PM, horrified by stories from colleagues about the scale and nature of the intimidation, bullying and harassment they suffered during the general election, ordered an enquiry in July 2017.

The challenge is to find a collective will to liberate politics from undesirable invective and to express differences without contempt.

(Prof Rakesh Sinha is associate professor, Delhi University and honorary director, India Policy Foundation.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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