New Delhi: Union Minister and BJP leader Narayan Rane’s “slap remark”, aimed at Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, has earned him flak for its unparliamentary nature.
It triggered such outrage that Rane was arrested for a brief period, while Shiv Sena cadres vandalised BJP offices in some cities and clashed with some of Rane’s supporters.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, in his weekly column in party mouthpiece Saamana, accused Rane of being a repeat offender.
But even Raut’s party chief Uddhav Thackeray has made similar remarks. Since the arrest of Rane, videos have surfaced of the normally reticent Thackeray hitting out at his Uttar Pradesh counterpart, Yogi Adityanath, saying he felt like slapping him with a chappal (slipper).
The comments reportedly made in 2018, were in response to Adityanath allegedly garlanding a statue of the Maratha king Shivaji while wearing chappals (slippers).
Experts say the recent controversies reflect the change in political discourse, from once civil back-and-forth to the increasingly unsavoury and unparliamentary language that politicians have been hurling at each other.
Sanjay Kumar, political analyst and psephologist, said that while in the early decades, there were instances of politicians resorting to unparliamentary language, of late, it has become a sort of norm rather than the exception.
“Politics currently is at its very low,” Kumar said, adding that such comments and language was not confined to just one party.
The only difference is the degree of the unparliamentary language, he said.
Sonia Gandhi a perennial target
Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi has been at the receiving end of many such unsavoury comments.
In 1999, BJP leader Pramod Mahajan compared Gandhi to Monica Lewinsky, the woman former US President Bill Clinton had an affair with.
Nearly two decades later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an oblique reference to Sonia Gandhi as the “Congress’ widow”.
While campaigning in Rajasthan in 2018, he accused the Congress of multiple scams, which he said included the widow pension scheme.
“Ye Congress ki kaun si vidhwa thi jiske khaate mein paisa jaata tha? (Which Congress widow got the money in her account?),” he said.
Years earlier in 2015, the Bihar BJP politician Giriraj Singh decided to add a dash of racism to his lack of political correctness, while attacking the Congress president.
“If Rajiv Gandhi had married a Nigerian lady and not a white-skinned woman, then would the Congress have accepted her (Sonia Gandhi) leadership?” he asked.
Singh later apologised.
But that didn’t stop Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Lalu Prasad Yadav from returning the favour — in similar unsavoury terms.
“He (Singh) should be made to wear bangles, vermilion, bindi, and his face should be blackened” as he has “crossed borders of indecency”, Lalu had said.
Congress, BJP no better
The Congress is no stranger to returning the compliment when it comes to using unparliamentary language, with party leaders sometimes targeting each with the choicest of remarks.
In 2013, Congress leader and then general secretary of the party, Digvijaya Singh, called party MP and a close aide of Rahul Gandhi, Meenakshi Natarajan, a “sau tunch maal”, which loosely means a “desirable object”.
Joining him on this dubious roll of honour is former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath. During the 2020 by-elections in MP, the senior Congress leader referred to Imarti Devi, who had defected to the BJP along with Jyotiraditya Scindia, as an ‘item’. She returned the favour by calling him a “lucha-lafanga (scoundrel)” and a drunkard.
Another Congress leader who got into much trouble for his unparliamentary language was Salman Khurshid. While campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Khurshid referred to Narendra Modi as napunsak (impotent).
Speaking about the 2002 riots, Khurshid said at the time, “We don’t accuse you (Modi) of killing people… Humara aarop hai ki tum napunsak ho (Our accusation is that you are impotent). You couldn’t stop the killers.”
Not just on the receiving end, Prime Minister Narendra has also made his share of unsavoury jibes.
In 2012, hitting out at then cabinet minister Shashi Tharoor, Modi referred to his late wife Sunanda Pushkar as a ‘Rs 50 crore girlfriend’. “Wah kya girlfriend hai. Apne kabhi dekha hai 50 crore ka girlfriend?” (What a girlfriend. Have you ever seen a 50-crore-girl friend),” Modi said.
In 2016, BJP leader Dayashankar Singh (who was later expelled from the party) compared BSP chief Mayawati to a prostitute.
“Even a prostitute fulfils her commitment to a man after she is paid. But Mayawati, such a big leader in UP, sells party tickets to anyone who pays her the highest amount,” Singh said. “If someone gives her Rs 1 crore for a ticket, she will give it to the other person who is offering Rs 2 crore.”
Change in political discourse
On such acrimony in recent politics, political analyst Rasheed Kidwai explained that earlier the level of discourse was more civil and nuanced, where no one outrightly took each others’ names and the remarks were more focussed on issues rather than personal attacks.
He, however, added that even in the 1960s and 1970s, despite the civilised discourse among opposition leaders, there were a few instances when leaders hit out at each other.
In 1966, socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia called Indira Gandhi a “gungi gudiya (dumb doll)”. Morarji Desai was called a CIA agent. And during the 1989 parliamentary election, the favourite election slogan of the Opposition was “Gali gali me shor hai, Rajiv Gandhi chor hai”, following the Bofors scandal.
Kumar explained that gradually ideology has taken a backseat and political rivalry and winning elections is the focus, at any cost whatsoever.
“The last decade has seen a lot of name calling among politicians,” Kumar said. “Earlier leaders never took each others’ names and would mainly allude to things. Now, the attacks on politicians are no longer on their political ideology but are very personal.”
A Chennai-based historian and author, who did not wish to be named, said all of this is a far cry from the days of former Tamil Nadu chief ministers M.G. Ramachandran or MGR and Karunanidhi.
Although bitter rivals, he said they never took potshots at each other and never even mentioned each other. “MGR’s biggest insult to Karunanidhi was ignoring him,” he explained.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)