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Shobhaa’s Take: A nation full of ‘idiots’

Shoba De

I absolutely love the level of political discourse these days. Forget content. Forget style. Forget logic. Forget civility. When the gloves come off, what we get is straight and simple name calling. If it’s crude you want, it’s crude plus rude, you get! This is such a departure from those distant days when political sparring required an education. A brain. Finesse. When citizens would hang on to every elegantly phrased jibe. Or follow a stimulating argument between well-matched foes. What do we get today? Bollywood dialogues. Silly parodies of popular movie songs.

Nitish Kumar sang from the film 3 Idiots, prompting no less a person than Prime Minister Narendra Modi to taunt him to keep “practising” the song, since he’d be getting ample opportunities to sing after November 8. Bihar, with its three principal parties (the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Janata Dal-United and the Congress) slugging it out against the Bharatiya Janata Party, holds the key to BJP’s long-term future. It’s a matter of perception. If the BJP wins, critics will be on the backfoot. If it loses, Diwali will be celebrated with extra gusto by those impatiently waiting for signs of BJP’s vulnerability and eventual weakening, down the line.

Watch out, India. Whichever way Bihar goes, there will be major patakhas this Diwali. In that sense alone, all eyes are on the state which, strangely enough, has received a stamp of approval from Melinda Gates! And every utterance by influential commentators is being micro-analysed for vital clues. Arun Shourie’s disparaging comment that the BJP is nothing more than the “Congress with a cow”, found several takers (it is an irresistibly delicious description), even though everybody knows there’s no love lost between Mr Shourie and Arun Jaitley. Now that Mr Shourie has given up his BJP membership, he is seen as a loose cannon capable of bad mouthing not just his old party but its top leadership as well.

Mr Shourie has never minced his words, nor couched his opinions in goody-goody terms. Which is why citizens admire him. But no matter what the provocation, men like Mr Shourie use their thoughts and words soch samajh ke and very effectively. They are great communicators, capable of swaying public opinion. Mr Shourie’s politics can be debated. But his intellectual prowess is indisputable. For that matter, so is Mr Jaitley’s. Pity the two aren’t batting for the same side. Together, they could form a formidable team.

The disappointment comes when politicians disgrace themselves by squabbling like garden variety hoodlums. One is seeing a lot of that during heated television debates, during which comparatively new players given the job of doing the dirty work for the party they represent, think absolutely nothing of descending to disgustingly low levels that would shame illiterate street gangs in our roughest neighbourhoods. Some of the political spokeswomen use such uncouth language and gesticulate in such a crass way, one wonders who briefs them before the show? It was astonishing to watch such a creature take on another creature (also a woman), by resorting to the most juvenile tactic. The kind out-of-control bachchas use when they run out of logic during a school yard tussle. This particular spokeswoman kept screaming, “You shut up! You just shut up!” over and over again, completely drowning her rival’s words. Of course, the anchor did not intervene. And the high-decibel slanging match continued minus even a half-hearted attempt to monitor the proceedings.

I was told, most political spokespeople representing the aggressive new breed, are instructed to shout everybody else down, and pay zero attention to the topic of the debate. Which is why we are witnessing a hideous new phenomenon of four or six panellists talking simultaneously at the tops of their voices, without the anchor making the slightest effort to regulate them. Anchors themselves are sent off to international news studios to master the art of shouting down everybody else! It is good for TRPs, I was solemnly informed. How can it possible be good for TRPs if the audience cannot make out a word of what anybody is hollering? I was also told that the more controlled, decorous shows, in which participants behave themselves and follow basic rules involving good manners, decorum, civility, are watched by very few people. Really?

If this theory is accurate, it says a lot about public discourse. Some of the regulars on these jarring TV debates, are plain obnoxious. In fact, they are pretty creepy and revolting. Who wants to watch these awful people while they confidently air blatantly rabid opinions? The numbers tell their own story. Since everything today is only about numbers, this is also a sad indication of what’s going on in our society, where there’s scant regard for robust but restrained public debating. There are ministers like Mahesh Sharma and Gen. V.K. Singh in the Modi Cabinet, whose regular pronouncements are so shocking, one wonders what they are doing in those exalted positions in the first place. Perhaps, as a reward for giving serious offence to so many after the Babri lynching, which Mr Sharma had described as an “accident”, he has been allotted a magnificent Lutyens’ bungalow which was once occupied by President A.P.J. Kalam. Wonder which grand mansion Gen. Singh will occupy at some future date?

We have loads of “idiots” in India — not just the three identified by Prime Minister Modi. They exist in all political spheres. Some of them are belligerent and dangerous. Most are a menace to society. What does one do with these idiots? Ignore them? Not an option any more. Fight them? Who wants to get into that cesspool? Live with them? Impossible! India is at the crossroads once again. The Bihar elections will be an important indicator — but not the only one. If the “3 Idiots” pull it off, the joke will be on the BJP. If the BJP pulls it off, the joke will be on the rest India!

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Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle

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