Adding injury to insult

Updated - November 17, 2021 02:35 am IST

Published - July 26, 2016 01:10 am IST

The quality of a country’s democracy is reflected not only in the robustness of its institutions but also from the texture of its political discourse. The tasteless and indefensible >remarks by a Bharatiya Janata Party leader about Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, which provoked similar vulgarity from herself and her partymen, paint a particularly depressing picture of India’s democracy today. Dayashankar Singh, vice-president of the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit, employed a coarse analogy with prostitution that smacked of a deep-seated sexist bias, ostensibly to highlight Ms. Mayawati’s alleged practice of allotting the party ticket to the highest bidder. The unpardonable slur was bereft of nuance and had no place in civilised political discourse. The BJP moved quickly to take action against Mr. Dayashankar, but this firmness seemed borne in large measure of the desire to curb the political fallout in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous State that goes to the polls next year, and which has a sizeable Dalit vote. The expelled party functionary’s remarks were made at a time when the BJP is already on the back foot in Gujarat where it is battling protests and popular >outrage following the brutal assault of four Dalits by self-styled cow protection activists.

For her part, Ms. Mayawati would have done well had she stopped with defending her party’s fund-raising policies and drawing attention to Mr. Dayashankar’s prejudice against women politicians. Regrettably, in trying to pay her detractor in the same coin, she justified the use of sexist and highly derogatory remarks by BSP men directed at the wife and minor daughter of Mr. Dayashankar, who went into hiding fearing a physical attack on himself. As a result, the opportunity to seize the high moral ground was squandered; more importantly, so was the chance to highlight the need for a reasoned debate on maintaining a certain decorum even in the heat of political combat. Like the BJP’s disapproval of Mr. Dayashankar, it is possible that Ms. Mayawati’s aggressive response, a clear overreaction, is tied to narrow electoral considerations and the need to extract whatever political capital was possible from the situation. The irony is that it is unlikely that any of this ugly theatrics will sway voters. As a strong woman politician, Ms. Mayawati will carry memories of many slurs she has borne as she emerged to take over the reins of the BSP and attain the political stature she has. She has the power and the ability to alter the very lexicon of politics in the Hindi heartland. This is something she should recognise rather than fritter away in a torrent of angry words.

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