In RG-Namo standoff, whose wit is Churchillian and whose Trumpian?

Labelling govt by Rahul Gandhi as “Suit-Boot Ki Sarkar” and his latest quip describing current dispensation as ‘Hum Doh Hamare Doh ki Sarkar” are as memorable as any repartee by Winston Churchill

In RG-Namo standoff, whose wit is Churchillian and whose Trumpian?

Sujata Anandan

Rahul Gandhi is far too compassionate and considerate of other human beings to compare with the legendary Winston Churchill. Yet, increasingly, his wit and ready humour reminds me more and more of the wartime British prime minister in his exhibition of political wit and stylish insults.

Churchill was known never to personally target any of his opponents but trade insult for insult with memorable words. While Rahul Gandhi may not be in that league, some of his quips against Narendra Modi have been devastating and as damaging as Churchill's against his opponents and some of Modi's insults to Gandhi simply do not compare. To that extent while Rahul Gandhi and Churchill are worlds – and generations – apart, there is one common trait they share – unlike Modi, never target anyone personally but when the moment is opportune, return with such a comeback that neither the target nor anyone else is likely to forget in a long time.

For example, when the first woman British MP Nancy Astor once told him if she were his wife, she would poison his coffee, Churchill lost no time in responding he would indeed drink it if she were his wife!

When another woman MP Bessie Braddock accused him of being drunk, he traded insult for insult by labelling her ugly. “What’s more, tomorrow morning I will be dead sober but you will still be ugly!” It remains unspecified if he meant her to be physically ugly or simply an unsavoury personality.

But my absolute favourite is this one – when he received two tickets to an opening of his play from George Bernard Shaw with a note saying “Bring a friend – that is if you have one!”, Churchill returned the tickets saying, “I am too busy to attend the first show. Send me tickets to the next one – that is if there is one!”

Rahul Gandhi, however, has not traded insults with his tormentors in the way Churchill did but labelling the Modi government as a “Suit-Boot Ki Sarkar" and his latest quip describing the current dispensation as 'Hum Doh Hamare Doh ki Sarkar" –are as memorable as any repartee by Winston Churchill.

The British Prime Minister lived in an era before social media but I believe he would have been a great hit on Twitter which has been very unkind to Rahul Gandhi. In this era of fake news and one-sided reportage, Gandhi was pulverised by opponents for describing a particular news agency as “pliable". The person at the receiving end of that remark could not get over the description for months. Now, that Gandhi remark is comparable to one made by Churchill against the editor of a newspaper which had written a long and disparaging article against him – "Your paper is eminently readable but I entirely disagree with it. I like the martial and commanding air with which you treat the facts – you stand no nonsense from them!”

I am sure if Twitter had existed then, the editor would have gone as bucolic as the Indian one did in response to Gandhi's remark.

Why Gandhi also reminds me of Churchill is because, like the latter, he avoids the personal vilification of his opponents but retaliates at an appropriate time with a quip whose underlying humour stays in the minds of both friends and rivals.

During an uproar one year in the British parliament, Churchill remarked, “The spectacle of a number of middle-aged gentlemen in a state of fury is really quite exhilarating to me.” Now Rahul Gandhi did not quite say it, but the uproar after his ‘Hum doh, Hamare doh’ remark wherein the treasury benches were in uproar and in their fury let slip on the record, who the ‘Hamare doh’referred to was quite as exhilarating and I am sure caused even Gandhi a few moments of unadulterated amusement.

The Churchill brand of wit and humour, and swift political repartee have all but vanished from the face of the earth and this is as true of India as it is of the US, the UK or any other democracy. For example, former US president Donald Trump was routinely disparaging about women, unlike Churchill who responded to them only in retaliation to the insults they offered first. Apart from the number of personal and professional insults heaped on Hillary Clinton, his presidential opponent in 2016, he said about Carly Fiorina, a Republican presidential hopeful, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”

Not quite in the Churchill league of ‘you will still be ugly in the morning’ for Fiorina had never called him an oversexed misogynist that he was and then this one about journalist Megyn Kelly – 'you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever', referring to her periods just because she had asked him tough questions. A far cry from Churchill's 'I will drink the poison' remark to Nancy Aster.

Those comments remind me of the despicable ones by Narendra Modi for Sonia Gandhi and Sunanda Tharoor, the late wife of Shashi Tharoor. Even before Modi was a figure on the national scene or Sonia had offered him any provocation, he had described the Congress president as a Jersey cow on account of her foreign origins and just because Sunanda Tharoor was a rich woman in her own right he had called her Shashi Tharoor's fifty Crore girlfriend - and she was not even a public figure.

Now look at Winston Churchill. At the height of the women’s suffrage movenent (which he was against), he was lashed with a dog whip by one of the protestors – in the face where he suffered a deep cut. He grabbed the whip and quietly put it in his pocket and proceeded to his meeting. Asked if he had suffered any damage, he said “Oh, no. It was just one of those foolish women."

He was then the Prime Minister of one of the mightiest nations of the world, unlike Trump who was not even President when he made the unsavoury remark against Kelly or Modi who was not even a Prime Ministerial candidate when he attacked Sonia and Sunanda. I haven't heard any such remarks but of Rahul Gandhi, for men or women. Between Churchill and Trump or Modi, I then know who I prefer.

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Published: 14 Feb 2021, 4:35 PM