When taunts become toxic and vitiate politics

It is quite obvious that, of late, Congress Party has had a truck-load of troubles. Former union minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has added one more to the stock with his close-to-the-bone taunt against BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

Aiyar's comment to the effect that Modi can never be the prime minister of India, though he can sell tea at Congress meetings might not be meant as a deliberate put-down. But its effect has been toxic in the extreme and it could boomerang on the Congress which is already fighting a rear-guard action ahead of polls. Congress needs to give serious thought to the proverb that if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

As for Modi, it is a godsend. He seems to have struck lucky with the Aiyar jibe that belittles not just Modi's humble origins. Aiyar has, in effect, raised the hackles of the OBCs (Other Backward Community) and the whole tea-vendor class. Truth be told, it has rankled the Congress camp as well because the BJP is guaranteed to inflate it to gargantuan proportions in the coming days.

Aiyar, who is a Doon School-Cambridge educated politician, denigrating Modi and a trade (tea-vending) is certainly off-beam. It's better for him and his ilk in the Congress to remember Mahatma Gandhi's advice to respect all kinds of jobs, including the manual kind. One can, of course, understand Aiyar's keenness in being in the forefront of an anti-Modi campaign in the wake of imminent parliamentary polls. Congress leaders cannot be blamed if they are now champing at the bit to make a dig or two at Modi,  perhaps to assert, indirectly though, that they are loyal to the party's first family at a time when the selection of candidates for polls is underway. 

Unsurprisingly, Modi has replied with multiple taunts directed, not at Aiyar, but at Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. Modi, as everybody knows, is a past master at hurling taunts at the Nehru-Gandhi family, but his verbal assaults are so frequent and so irrelevant that they end up as mere mewls. In fact, personal attacks always produce the opposite effect.

Modi's high-sounding pledges and proposals at his party's national executive meeting in Delhi are all pure balderdash. After all, it's easy to crank up promises but what is difficult is to implement them. Modi's "idea of India" which comprises equality and growth but sans subsidies, giveaways and privileges, seems utopian at best and weaselly at worst.

He also swore by non-violence as a universal dharma, equality of all spiritual paths, the world as one family, empathy with others' sufferings and respect for women. All very good. When riots were raging in Gujarat leading to over a thousand people being killed under his watch, was he playing fiddle or playing a dubious role as alleged by many, including human rights organisations? Why was Aiyar's office attacked following his unfortunate goof-up?

The people have not forgotten the advice given to Modi by none other than the then prime minister and BJP leader, A.B. Vajpayee, to observe "raj dharma".  The snoopgate scandal is in full swing. He is still under the shadow of several cases. One can argue that nothing is proved against Modi so far. True. By the same token, nothing much has been proved against the UPA government which is being accused of rampant corruption.

But nobody thinks that the government is clean by any yardstick. Ironically, the Congress campaign is focussed on a corruption-free government. Ultimately, it is the ordinary people who are being befuddled and befooled by political parties.

Modi said with tongue in cheek that Congressmen went to a crucial meeting to hear Rahul Gandhi named the prime ministerial candidate but returned with three gas cylinders instead.

There is, no doubt, a kernel of truth in his contention that Sonia does not want to sacrifice his son at the altar of politics at the moment because she sees defeat in the polls. But her decision proves that she is more sensible than all those Congressmen who have been clamouring for Rahul's anointment as the prime ministerial candidate.  Aiyar's taunting remark against Modi has set the spurs to the BJP campaign. The saffron party has decided to take their campaign to all tea vendors up and down the country. If all tea vendors decide to vote for the BJP the blame will fall squarely on Aiyar.   The question is whether he will be allowed to stand as a candidate in his home turf, Myladumthara in Tamil Nadu.

The knowledgeable Aiyar, for a moment, forgot the fact that several of the top-flight leaders of yesteryear had humble origins. Some of them, as young students, studied under street lights to become great achievers.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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