A parade of stand-up comedy acts in Bihar

Political speeches in Bihar and interviews of politicians have transcended the sphere of politics and jumped into the realm of wild and wicked. The language used by politicians is so offensive that Election Commission has had to intervene and advise restraint.

The EC cautioned, “The Commission, therefore, strongly urges and appeals to all political parties, their leaders in all capacities and the contesting candidates to observe utmost restraint and decency in their election campaign speeches and set an example for future elections in the matter of maintaining high standards of conduct and behavior in election campaign.”

A police officer guards Electronic Voting Machines in Samastipur on Sunday for the first phase of Bihar Assembly polls. During the campaign, name-calling and hate speeches by the political parties prompted the Election Commission to intervene. Pic/PTI
A police officer guards Electronic Voting Machines in Samastipur on Sunday for the first phase of Bihar Assembly polls. During the campaign, name-calling and hate speeches by the political parties prompted the Election Commission to intervene. Pic/PTI

Words like narbhakshi (cannibal), pishaach (ghost), jallaad (executioner), zaalim (tyrant), chaara chor (fodder thief), shaitan (Satan) and Dhritrashtra (blind king) have been used liberally by senior most politicians against each other. It thrills a reporter no end to file a copy or edit a visual story where he has senior leaders using such words. After all, in normal times these very same politicians would hesitate to even give a non-committal soundbite, so impervious are they to media requests. But, when its election time, they are all Kapil Sharma in disguise. Each one of them wants to outdo the other in shocking the audience or the viewers of TV channels.

Outrage is the new king. If Donald Trump can so can we. Quite likely, that this is what is going on in the minds of our leaders.

Billionaire and Republican Party Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has single-handedly reduced political discourse in the current US Presidential race to gutter levels. While it has created outrage and negative impact on racial relations in American society, his popularity continues to soar. His comments fuel racism, anti-Muslim sentiments and sexism, which is giving fillip to narrow mindedness even in liberal colleges. Posters of “Illegals, Go Home” have appeared in many college campuses and hashtags of #notwelcome dominate social media sphere. Over 20 anti-muslim rallies were held across America over the weekend. Though they didn’t see massive participation, it did leave Muslims and other minorities feeling anguished and fearful.

After two terms of ultra-liberalism under Barack Obama, this is a backlash from ultra-right wing armed with brashness of language, tone, tenor and mind-set. Trump is dominating the airwaves in America because of his brazen and outrageous comments. And hence, more Americans know what he thinks and what he plans to do if he becomes President.

It is somewhat the same formula that is being adopted in Bihar. In a feudal society like Bihar the tendency of people is to revere power and its blatant display in words and deeds. Meek, gentle leaders might be admired, but other than a few notable exceptions like JP Narain, rarely do they make an impact. Nitish Kumar speaks softly and in a singsong Bihari accent, but by no means is meek, submissive or non-ambitious. He swings between sharp rhetoric to gentle amiability, depending upon his audience.

Though there is a sharp rivalry bordering on hate between the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, the fact is that people in Bihar say they see the two as quite similar! Both are go-getters, both fought against all odds to get where they have, both have battled casteism, both have been called ruthlessly ambitious, both wanted to be Prime Minister of India. One has settled for less. For now.

Nobody can deny that BJP has made Bihar’s election a battle of prestige. It has to win this to nullify Nitish’s national ambition and potential. For Nitish, he wants to better Modi’s record in Gujarat. For Lalu Yadav, it’s a desperate bid to remain relevant and launch his various children into politics, for Congress another feeble attempt at relevance in Bihar where they haven’t mattered for decades.

Today, as polling begins in Bihar for the five phases of voting, over ten million are eligible to cast their votes. Fates will be sealed for 586 candidates today. Unemployment, law and order, poverty, education, housing, water and sanitation, rural electrification are issues that matter in these constituencies. But all that they got was talk of Hindu versus Muslim, goat meat versus cow meat and absurd statements, which would seem comical if they were not dangerous.

The serious depravity of political rhetoric and the refusal to engage in intelligent discourse is a disturbing trend. From politics, it has permeated to journalism and academia. Hate speech is making a negative impact in schools and colleges. Its time to worry when your children and their friends have begun to speak like the politicians whose talk you despise on TV.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash

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