Old hands flinch at insulting politics in India

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 November, 2002, 12:00am

Youth, slick television performances and a penchant for polo shirts are some of the distinguishing features of the Bharatiya Janata Party's younger generation of leaders. So are their verbal atrocities. Anxiety is rising that this newly ascendant bunch of men and women are trampling on all proprieties and crossing the bounds of decency.

'During 60 years in politics, I've never heard such insulting language,' said A. B. Bardhan, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). 'Political discourse must observe restraints but this new lot are abrasive and vulgar, and they flaunt it. They abuse anyone they don't like.'

Ever since the Gujarat riots last spring and the campaign of hate launched against Muslims by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, things have been said in public about religious minorities that have never been said before.

Mr Modi accused Muslims of breeding like rabbits and being sympathetic to terrorists. He taunted Chief Election Commissioner James Lyngdoh in public and insinuated that Mr Lyngdoh and opposition leader Sonia Gandhi 'plot' in church.

Egging Mr Modi on is the radical World Hindu Council, an extremist organisation affiliated with the BJP.

Nobody bats an eyelid when the council fans sectarian hatred by saying Muslims 'need to be taught a lesson' or how they can only survive if they win the 'goodwill' of Hindus. This is part of its nationalist Hindu ideology. What disturbs politicians and commentators is the crossing over of this unrestrained rhetoric to the mainstream BJP.

The new leaders - Arun Jaitley, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Sushma Swaraj, Pramod Mahajan and Mr Modi - are perpetually shrill. Mr Modi calls Mrs Gandhi 'that Italian woman' and BJP spokesman Mr Naidu responds to questions about the statement by saying: 'She is Italian, isn't she, so what's wrong?'

Editor Vir Sanghvi is appalled: 'Ever since Naidu took over, there has been an all-round decline in the BJP's official statements. The BJP comes across as shrill, self-righteous, needlessly combative and utterly without restraint. A new generation is in charge and it knows no limits.'

An example was the recent spat with Mr Lyngdoh. The party went where no other Indian politician had dared to tread, vilifying him for bias and political motives in delaying elections in Gujarat to allow more time for the situation to return to normal.

Mr Bardhan, along with politicians from other parties, is shocked at the BJP's refusal to observe certain standards.

Recently, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee ticked off BJP colleague Pramod Mahajan for a sly juxtaposition of Monica Lewinsky and Sonia Gandhi in a speech on Mrs Gandhi's foreign origins. Last month, Mrs Gandhi apologised to Mr Vajpayee for having suggested he had lost mental balance.