Isn’t it time Prime Minister to exercise some restraint when you speak ?

The PM and Amit Shah are both guilty of using language that does not behove the offices they hold. While the Election Commission is oblivious, they must steer clear of abusive and communal overtones

Isn’t it time Prime Minister to exercise some restraint when you speak ?

S.N.M. Abdi

Should the Prime Minister and Home Minister court the scorn and contempt of large sections of countrymen in their quest for votes while campaigning for their party? Or should their speeches conform to standards of decency to ensure that they are worthy of everyone’s respect and the dignity of their high office is not compromised for electoral gains?

And as the cut and thrust of electioneering these days impacts India’s relations with neighbouring countries, shouldn’t the PM and HM desist from remarks which fan anti-India sentiments across the border damaging our national interest? Or, is it okay to sacrifice carefully-crafted foreign policy at the altar of domestic politics? Should Modi and Shah give the BJP priority over India?

PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah-- BJP’s star campaigners in the polls underway in West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry -- must keep their tongues in check so that the high government offices they occupy do not fall into disrepute. They must rein themselves in and steer clear of dirty, petty politics so that their exalted executive positions at the nation’s helm are not disgraced or discredited. If they are despised, their posts will be inevitably tarnished – taking a toll of governance and fuelling unrest.

It would be detrimental for India’s parliamentary democracy if Modi and Shah end up as objects of loathing and disdain because of their election speeches. The PM and HM should command everyone’s respect, regardless of their political affiliation, which is vital for national unity. And, unless we are united, how will we ever evict the PLA from our territories, save Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan, battle Left wing extremism militarily, fight COVID-19 to the finish and nurse our sick economy back to health?

Campaigning in Dispur, Shah recently asked the electorate to choose between an ‘atmanirbhar’ (self-reliant) Assam and ‘Maulana-nirbhar’ Assam. The Home Minister was targeting the Congress Party’s poll tie-up with Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF. Hence, he could have asked voters to choose between an ‘atmanirbhar’ Assam and an Ajmal-nirbhar Assam. That would have been fair and square. But he picked on Maulana – which means a Muslim religious scholar revered by believers – to deride the minority community and create a wedge between Hindu and Muslim voters. Shah’s utterance – widely reported by the media – compel Muslims to view him as anti-Muslim. Shah is responsible for a section of Indians losing faith in the Home Minister who should be perceived as non-partisan by one and all.

While Shah should have restrained from using ‘Maulana’ as a pejorative, his constant harping on ‘infiltrators’ throughout the campaign is straining New Delhi-Dhaka ties. Bangladesh is cosying up to China and even normalising its relations with Pakistan to forestall bullying by India, especially in view of Shah’s threats to expel Bangladeshi infiltrators. Moreover, Shah’s salvos at infiltrators or ghuspethiyas is a self-goal. It’s an admission that the Border Security Force (BSF), which is directly under Shah, is guilty of dereliction of duty at the Bangladesh frontier. One can infer from Shah’s accusations that the BSF accepts bribes from Bangladeshis without papers to enter India.

Modi is belittling his high office even more than Shah. The PM has been branded a “roadside fellow” or sadak chhap on prime-time television, print and social media by Trinamool Congress MP, Mahua Moitra. The outspoken woman lawmaker also called Modi’s behaviour “cheapest” and “basest”. I don’t think any other Indian PM has won such compliments before. It was a backlash against Modi’s ‘Didi, O Didi’ barb at Mamata Banerjee. Moitra likened Modi to uncouth jobless young men, referred to as rock-er-chehle, who hurl jibes like Didi, O Didi at passing women. Modi’s leering, mocking tone while addressing Banerjee provoked Sashi Panja, another TMC leader, to call the PM a “harasser of women”.

The backlash was no doubt fuelled by The Telegraph. Covering Modi’s March 24 election speech at Contai, it reported: “It is the way he (the PM) repeated Didi, O Didi at the rally, several times. Didi, O Didi, he called, again and again - asking for Didi, in a leering, joking tone. She has to be called so many times because she just does not listen to anyone, he said. He seemed to be having such fun saying things in an undertone to a woman. It reminded one of the way a man often makes a lewd comment casually at a woman. Didi, O Didi, he called out, extenuating every syllable to make the fun last longer. In Bengali this practice used to be called ‘comment mara’ or ‘taunt kata’. Classically it was done by pararchyangra (neighbourhood boys, ‘useless’ variety), on pararmeye (neighbourhood girls), as an attempt by the boys to mark their territory. He was using the Bengali ‘comment mara’ tradition to the hilt. Didi, O Didi, he said, and every time the crowd went crazy. So Big Boy Modi, Prime Minister Modi, came to Midnapore and did a ‘comment mara’ to a woman. To mark territory in Bengal.”

During his March 26-27 state visit to Bangladesh, Modi broke all records. He put all Indian PMs who visited Bangladesh before him in the shade. The Associated Press reported that thousands in Dhaka “waved their shoes as a sign of disrespect to Modi” and shouted anti-Modi and anti-India slogans. They were protesting against Sheikh Hasina’s decision to invite Modi to celebrate the 50th anniversary of independence. As anti-Modi demonstrations intensified, the police opened fire killing 13 protestors. The unofficial death toll is 17.

Modi’s real objective was to visit a temple outside Dhaka that’s sacred to the Matua community whose vote determines the winner in seven assembly seats in West Bengal. But shoe-waving apart, Modi will go down in Indian history as the one and only PM whose visit cost the host nation 13-17 human lives.

This is really a blot on India – the outcome of Modi’s and Shah’s dangerously irresponsible and obsessive BJP fixation at the cost of their exalted constitutional positions which they are degrading by their words and deeds.

(The author is an award-winning investigative journalist and commentator. Views are personal)

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