How to kill democracy and discourse? Call each other names

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The modus operandi of political debates around the world seems to involve weakening the opponent with derogatory ad-hominem insults, while the significant mass of voters remain woefully uninformed.

Ad hominem attacks keep us mired in a futile battle. | Pixabay

“Pappu” means a small boy. It most likely caught on from the “pappu pass ho gaya” ad campaign of a decade ago. “Feku” which probably means fake or someone who makes fake promises. “Kujliwal” meaning an itchy person is used to refer to Arvind Kejriwal, the Delhi CM, probably in the sense that he is someone who is always complaining. “Jhumla” is used in the sense of “empty promise” but the word actually means sum or aggregate. These lowbrow labels are not used exclusively to refer to politicians. Anyone who supports any Modi policy is a “bhakt”. Anyone who opposes any Modi policy is Sickular. If you support AAP, you are an AAPtard (the etymology should be a no-brainer). Terms like “Gabbar Singh Tax” may be thrown around when the topic beckons.


This phenomenon is not limited to our country. “Fake news” is any news that criticises Trump. Hillary Clinton was “Crooked Hillary” during the 2017 U.S. Presidential election campaign. Trump recently called Kim Jong-un “Rocket-man”. Kim returned the favour by calling Trump “old”. If all the above sound familiar, it’s probably because you may have used them during your school days amid other profoundly wounding insults such as donkey, monkey, fatty etc.

  ad hominem (adj.)

implies an attempt to win a debate by attacking the opponent's character by name-calling or open derision, rather than by refuting their argument through logically reasoned rebuttals. Who needs the skill of persuasion or the backing of facts when you can simply make your opponent back down, stung and emotionally battered, and emerge as a last man standing?

Public discourse

Such an ad-hominem approach does severe harm to the very purpose of debate and discourse. It damages if not destroys democracy’s chances of uplifting society. And it essentially seems to benefit political parties, keeping the facts of an issue out of the public discourse and popular consciousness. Parties that use and encourage the use of the above derogatory terms have been successfully deflecting your attention from the actual issues that need discussing or investigation.


For instance, when Rahul Gandhi brought up the issue of Amit Shah’s son’s business growth, you’d ideally expect the political discourse to have involved an explanation or qualification from the person accused or, by extension, his father, who is said to be the influence behind his growth. Irrespective of it being true or false, it should have been defended and countered with facts. The news, however, was not the BJP’s defence or the data behind Congress’ accusation. Instead, it was covered for Rahul Gandhi being asked to step out of his diapers, a reference to him being a kid or a “pappu”.

There are numerous such instances in day-to-day political exchanges where the actual issue is being shrouded by the barrage of childish name-calling. It can’t be too outlandish to suspect whether all political parties secretly collude to enact the charade of name-calling simply to keep the public engaged in futile duels, keep them in the dark. Except for a precious few who put in the effort to understand the mechanisms and numbers when it comes to issues like GDP, unemployment or FRDI bill, the general voting mass is kept in the dark by people on both sides of the political spectrum. And uninformed voters nullify the benefits of being in a democracy.

While a productive political discussion involves the participants making cogent points and responding in a balanced manner that forwards the narrative and reconciles discrepancies, unfortunately...

... the political discussion today is more like...

Person 1: All Feku does is fake promises. Demonetisation and GST are scams.

Person 2: Typical of what one can expect from a fan of pappu and aaptard.

Person 1: Only bhakt like you will fall for the Jhumlas.

Person 2: Pappu needs to come out of his diaper and Kujliwal should apply cream. You sickular and libtard are anti-national and should go to Pakistan.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the former American President, said, “The real safeguard of democracy is Education”. It is up to the masses to choose not to vent their discontent through name-calling like five-year-olds and vote based on the conclusions arrived at through rational debate and discussion on issues that matter.

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