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HomeTalk PointBJP’s leaders have frequently described Sonia Gandhi as 'barmaid' and 'waitress'

BJP’s leaders have frequently described Sonia Gandhi as ‘barmaid’ and ‘waitress’

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As the chaiwala taunt is back in the Gujarat election campaign, ThePrint asks the question–

Has Congress stepped on its own toes for a second time with the chaiwala meme?

In this age of affirmative action and heightened ethnic as well as class and caste sensitivities, it has become extremely important to be politically and culturally correct. Our political class lacks these simple etiquettes. Actually, our society, highly discriminatory on issues of caste and class status, has lost grace and dignity in public discourse. In private conversations, it is worse.

The degeneration of political or cultural idiom is now universal. But the Congress party should have been more careful, cautious, and considerate. It claims the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Its ideology, as expressed in its slogan, ‘Congress ka haath, logon ke saath’ addresses all people – underprivileged, poor, Dalits, workers, peasants. The ‘chaiwala’ surely belongs in that category.

The meme was obviously aimed at Narendra Modi (though it is another matter whether Modi actually sold and served tea at the Vadnagar railway station, because nobody in the region remembers having bought tea from him there).

Here are other sharp perspectives on chaiwala jibe against Narendra Modi:

Sanjay Nirupam, Congress Spokesperson, Mumbai Congress President
Sambit Patra, spokesperson, BJP
Kancha Ilaiah, writer and Dalit rights activist

It is immoral to refer to any human being by his/her caste, colour, class, trade, or physical handicap. The Congress did apologise and withdraw the remark, but this was not the first such gaffe. Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, St Stephen’s College alumnus and an elite diplomat, had tried to humiliate Modi by taking recourse to the same term ‘chaiwala’ in 2014, before the Lok Sabha election.

But obviously, Modi and the BJP cannot claim moral, cultural, and political high ground. From Subramanian Swamy to Paresh Rawal, its leaders have frequently described Sonia Gandhi as “barmaid” or “waitress”. Leaders of its ideological predecessor Jana Sangh often used to ridicule and undermine the stature of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as a “widow”, as well as mocking her by referring to her sleeveless blouses, her ‘bob cut’ hairdo, and by calling her “non-matriculate”.

That was in the sixties, and one would’ve thought that over the years, there would be some political maturity. But even now, in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, BJP leaders quite often refer to caste to insult leaders coming from ‘lower’ or formerly ‘untouchable’ castes.

We have expanded the political base, disseminated information through mobile phones, spread education far and wide, but we remain culturally backward and politically immature.

Kumar Ketkar is a senior journalist and economist.

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  1. Sir, bad culture is bad culture. There’s no excuse for it. Certainly not whataboutery! Let them clean their bases, but is Congress going to promise us cleanliness in their public life? Or are they going to go for “an eye for an eye”, if so then stop invoking Mahatma Gandhi as part of their legacy. This “shoot and scoot” tactic may be a virtue for the Bofors gun, but is as crass and tasteless as the kind of filth their opponents have been generating. Will we have someone nice and clean to vote for, or will we be left with a choice between all the “nangas in this political hammam?”

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