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Unbecoming of the Prime Minister

DH News Service, Bengaluru, Feb 9 2018, 0:31 IST

Standards in public life, including parliamentary conduct, and the terms and styles of public discourse and speech have steadily fallen in the country in recent years. Since public life is dominated by politicians, they are the ones who are most responsible for this deterioration. Often, those who hold high offices forget the norms of conduct that should go with their office and bring themselves down to the level of common politicians who live by the wrong and spiteful word without realising the damage they do. Prime Minister Narendra Modi reduced himself to the level of such a politician when he replied on Monday to the motion of thanks to the President's address to Parliament. It was a political speech, usually heard from electoral pulpits, and not suitable for the occasion on which it was made and the forum where it was delivered.

The President, in his address to Parliament, highlights the government's achievements in the previous year, mentions its policies and announces its plans for the current year. The Prime Minister in his speech replies to the questions and issues raised during the debate on the address and defends and explains his government's policies and actions. But what Modi did was to make an all-out attack on the Congress and its past and present leaders, and the governments and its leaders who held office before him. The Prime Minister made not only political charges but also personal attacks and sweeping statements of counterfactual history, marshalling uncertain "what-ifs" as if they were obvious facts, in a display of undignified rage and contempt, born of a certain ideological upbringing, for an opposition party. The role of the Congress party in Partition and Jawaharlal Nehru's role in the creation of the Kashmir problem had no relevance in a speech in Parliament on the President's address. The issue of the country's democratic traditions and the reference to the Lichhavi past and gana rajyas were also beside the point, made merely to belittle Nehru's contribution to the making of our democracy.

The Prime Minister misused the forum of Parliament to deliver a tirade marked wholly by negativity and rhetoric, unproven charges and assumptions, personal attacks and innuendo. There was even a derogatory comment about a lady member, which shows him in a poor light. The speech signalled that Modi has started his campaign for the next elections, and that it is going to be an ugly campaign, built around a negative view of, and attacks on, the opposition rather than the performance of his government. There is a special responsibility on the Prime Minister to uphold Parliament's traditions and to maintain good standards in public speech. Modi has set bad precedents in these respects.

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