Distasteful tiff

The offensive remarks of UP Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi, made from a public platform, involving state chief minister Mayawati are most condemnable. They were very insensitive and as Mayawati herself said, “humiliating, uncivilised and derogatory” even in a private context. They were especially crude as they were couched in the language of sexual violence against a political rival. The Congress has dissociated itself from the remarks as there can be no defence for the language or its implied attitude, deliberate or otherwise, in public discourse. The issue of compensation for rape victims that Joshi sought to highlight is to be treated differently and not through crude remarks with personal references. The Congress needs to more than dissociate itself from the remarks as a sign of disapproval of Joshi’s grievous offence.

But, it must be said that Mayawati’s response was as excessive as Joshi’s remarks were inappropriate. In line with her habit of using a hammer to swat a fly, she has booked Joshi under provisions of the Indian Penal Code and non-bailable sections of the law against atrocities on Scheduled Castes and Tribes, much like the invocation of the National Security Act against Varun Gandhi for his provocative anti-Muslim speech. This was when there was no caste-based aspersion in the remarks and she had apologised for them. Joshi’s house in Lucknow was also attacked and set on fire by masked men. The arbitrary streak in Mayawati’s nature and the sense of political insecurity after the Lok Sabha elections in which the BSP did not do well in the state were probably at the root of the over-reaction. The Congress which did well in the elections has been trying to make inroads into the BSP’s political base and this has made Mayawati nervous. The controversy over the erection of statues has also earned adverse publicity for the chief minister.

Vindictiveness and strong-arm measures will not help Mayawati to retrieve her lost political ground. She also tends to personalise issues and revels in self-glorification. A more mature approach to politics is expected of the chief minister of the country’s most populous state and a leader with a wide following across states. An excessive and unreasonable reaction, which itself can be faulted, casts a shadow over the gravity of a wrong word or action. Mayawati should not have allowed that privilege to her critic.

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