Decorum in public debate

The language of political debate even in normal times in our country is not decorous. When elections come, the language deteriorates further. Recently, when  BJP President Amit Shah was struck with swine flu, a Congress leader made a remark about Shah’s disease which was not only offensive but betrayed a lack of sensitivity on the on the part of the leader and by extension that of his party. Now a BJP legislator of UP has made an insulting comment on BSP supreme Mayawati. Faced with severe criticism – the National Commission on Women took cognizance of the comment – she has recanted and said she did not intend to insult the leader, but it is hardly likely to be accepted either by Mayawati, or her party, or the general public for the simple reason that the BJP MLA could not have been so naïve as to think that the language she was using against another woman was not insulting.
The people are familiar with the verbal barbs that TMC leader Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi often exchange, quite often without naming each other. These barbs may not have any subtlety but a directness and meant to show the opponent in a poor light. But they never cross the invisible lakshman rekha. Even at the rally in Kolkata Maidan last Saturday, all opposition leaders took Modi to task but none crossed the limits of civility. To say that they want to vote out the Prime Minister and his party is perfectly permissible as long as no foul language is used. When national leaders of political parties call each other names they not only outrage sensitivity but also set a bad example to their followers.
As the election fever catches on, rival leaders are likely to be tempted to use offensive language and make indecent remarks about their opponents. All parties – ruling as well as opposition – should agree on maintaining decency and decorum in public debate, howsoever bitter the debate may be. Hard words break no bones. Reason arguments, hard facts and figures presented intelligently and intelligibly will be far more effective in influencing public opinion for or against a party and its programme than hard words and abusive language. The Opposition has a special responsibility to maintain decorum in public debate because it often accuses the BJP of intolerance. The people – the voters – are extremely intelligent and critical. They will react negatively to unrestrained or bad language.

Sunday, 20 January, 2019