We sorely miss the old-school parliamentarians. They were wise, witty and humorous, and said what they wanted to in a very civilized, polite manner. Not that their words lacked power, not that they failed to hit home. They did. But they were careful not to hit below the belt, nor fling baseless and unsubstantiated charges against one another. Politics, then too, was competitive alright, but not a do-or-die blood sport that one had to win at all costs by defying all canons of good behavior. Unfortunately, the Nehrus, the Vajpayees, the Hiren Mukherjees, Madhu Limayes, Pilloo Modys, L K Advanis, etc., no longer dominate the political discourse. Those were such simple times when the country, fresh from the bloody shocks of the Partition, had barely recovered.
A young Vajpayee, newly elected to the Lok Sabha, made a scintillating intervention, at the end of which Nehru complimented him for his oration, while disagreeing with what he said. And went on to add for good measure, ~…tum bahut acchha bolte ho, ek din pradhan mantri zaroor banogey. ~ Can you imagine such an exchange in the current Parliament? Of course, no question. The language of the political discourse has become so coarse, so debased that instead of exchanging ideas and suggestions, and offering well-informed criticisms, they now throw verbal stones at one another. Parliament has become a wrestling arena where they jostle with lung power, trying to out-abuse and out-shout each other, often from the well of the House. And, mind you, what happens in Parliament is a mere reflection of what happens out of it, albeit on a much larger scale in the absence of a moderating influence of the rules and procedures of parliamentary etiquette and the presiding officers who are expected to regulate the proceedings.
The hullaballoo last week over the remarks of Mani Shankar Aiyar, the irrepressible Congress leader with a sharp tongue, when he called the prime minister ‘neech’, is symptomatic of the decline and fall of standards all around, and not just in politics. For, politicians do not fall from the sky, they come from the same backgrounds from which come members of all other professions. In the case of Aiyar, the actual surprise is that he is one of the more educated politicians around, boasting of an excellent academic record from the best of Indian and foreign universities. Besides, his long stint in Indian Foreign Service ought to have helped him inculcate a measured tone of speaking, diplomatese being an art-form itself which prepares you to say the harshest of things in a roundabout manner.
Therefore, the real surprise is that this diplomat-turned-politician should periodically stir the ugly pot of vile abuse and invective – and thus embarrass his own party. And each time get away because he is essentially a Gandhi family loyalist, having known Rajiv Gandhi from the days the two were at the Doon School. On the eve of the 2014 Lok Sabha poll, Aiyar had angrily boasted that Modi will never become prime minister, condemned as he was to remain a life-long ~chaiwalla~. He was proven wrong, we all know how. Now, he has forced his own leader, Rahul Gandhi, on the back foot, and allowed Modi and the BJP to exploit his ill-chosen invective in the on-going Gujarat campaign.
As we said, Aiyar, being a bona fide intellectual, he should desist from making news for all the wrong reasons. He can say what he wants to, but in a civil manner. After all, he is no Tej Pratap Yadav, the uncouth and uneducated older son of Laloo Yadav, who publicly threatened to skin the Prime Minister after his father’s security status was downgraded from Z to Y category. The same Laloo son had earlier threatened to disrupt the wedding ceremony of Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi’s son, boasting openly that he would go and slap Modi publicly. Following the threat, the venue of the wedding was changed as a matter of abundant precaution. The point is simple. Politicians should learn to behave like grown-ups and not like rowdy and abusive delinquents. Is that asking too much from those who aspire to preside over the destiny of one hundred and twenty-five crore Indians? We think not.