The Indian recruitment system conducts various competitive exams to ensure that only the highly intelligent and efficient people are selected to occupy decision-making positions. NET, CAT, AIEEE, PSC — a veritable alphabet soup, dedicated, it would appear, to try the sincerest of souls. I wonder why the Election Commission (EC) cannot come up with an eligibility test for politicians also. But then I also wonder, will such an exam be free of corruption? Honestly, we do need a sieve, to filter out the so-called masterminds we currently have.

A Political Eligibility Test (PET) could be conducted. The criteria could be general education, social background, familial status, financial position and police record. But the most important is a verbal test, extempore. They should be subjected to a stressful situation and their reaction shoud be observed. If they score satisfactorily but do not perform well, they should be penalised with a detention, suspension or rustication by the EC.

And if the EC fails, matter must be taken up by the Supreme Court. There should be an ingrained, obligatory fear of committing any act detrimental to public welfare. This is no laughing matter, it is meant in deadly earnest. We must set some ground rules to select our leaders, as they formulate the future of our nation, establish our relations with other nations, create an impression about us in the rest of the world, our societal prejudices and our national ideology. It is not an easy task. If India wants to become a developed nation, it should choose all-round leaders.

The atrocious comment by Azam Khan that has gained popularity in the last few days was not to target women in general, or one woman in particular. It was to target the rival ideology but the attempt snowballed and Azam Khan could not undo it. The irony is that he had not even thought of an exit plan.

Within 24 hours, he further distinguished himself, with irrational remarks about reporters, topping it with unparliamentary language in the presence of schoolkids. What can one say, when even the so-called gentleman’s game has sledging in it. Possibly, it’s a chronic affliction that ails men in white.

The EC could only ban Azam Khan from campaigning, as it has done for Maneka Gandhi, Yogi Adityanath and Mayawati in different cases, for just two-three days. The EC, as it was during the reign of T N Seshan, should be the next powerful institution after the Supreme Court. Politicians should run as scared of its rulings as a mischievous student is scared of the principal.

The problem is not the people, but the crassness of our so-called leaders and you can be sure they’re never guilty of crass kindness. Of course, we do have some smart leaders who know the only way to tackle a situation — to own up and rectify their error. The funny part is, most of these errors are verbal. If only they took language lessons. When they have to give a snap reaction, their innate psyche is communicated through their body language and whatever it is that passes for verbal eloquence.

There are innumerable instances of dirty politics setting a bad example for Indian youth. The comments often target a particular religion or women. Sexist remarks are always their favourite. If they think they can keep the Indian women inside the thresholds of homes, they should be outed then and there. No one, not even RJD president Lalu Prasad Yadav, can keep Rabri Devi in a ghoonghat, as BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Choube suggested.

Who can forget Mulayam Singh Yadav saying in Barabanki, “You rural women will never get a chance (to get ahead) because you are not that attractive”. The National Commission for Women (NCW) could only ‘condemn’ Azam Khan’s below-the-belt remark by calling it “extremely disgraceful” and “offensive, unethical and disrespectful towards dignity of women”.

The first General Conduct under the Model Code of Conduct — the foundation of the Election Commission — states that “no candidate shall aggravate or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities”. There would be fewer blunders if our leaders were witty and aware; if they kept their cool in the hottest of situations, if they chose their words wisely and if they stood by their remarks.

When Telangana was in the making and some protesters removed their kurtas in the assembly, a news anchor called them up live on national television and asked them what would they were going to tell their families about their ‘bravery’. The protesters were speechless and dodged the question by not coming to the point. This is what they all do. They are artful dodgers, unwittingly so, and instead of giving answers to the public, they mislead them with jumlas.

These ‘mis-leaders’ need to come back on track, own up their mistakes, put forth a clear purpose before the public and then have the humility to ask them for votes. Oscar Wilde had once said that a woman who cannot make her mistakes charming, she is only a female. I am sure when he said this, he did not have just females in mind.

Pragya Jain is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.