Poor taste

External affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s use of the word napunsak (impotent) to describe Narendra Modi is in poor taste.

While he did not refer to Modi by name and sought subsequently to justify his choice of words by claiming that it had no sexual connotations and referred only to the Gujarat chief minister’s “administrative impotence” in dealing with the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002, Khurshid’s comment has contributed to the deteriorating quality of political discourse in India. Other politicians have pitched in. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, for instance, has called on Khurshid to prove his sexual potency. The BJP has reacted to Khurshid’s remark with deep outrage. But it appears to have forgotten the frequent use of sexual innuendoes by its leaders and friends. In 2004, Yashwant Sinha indulged in sexual name-calling in Parliament when he referred to prime minister Manmohan Singh as ‘Shikhandi,’ a transsexual character in the Mahabharata.  More recently, yoga guru Baba Ramdev referred to the PM as a namard (not-male), while Modi described Sunanda Pushkar as Shashi Tharoor’s ‘Rs 50 crore girlfriend.’ The Left, which takes pride in being more gender-sensitive, hasn’t been circumspect in its language either in describing its political rivals. A CPM member of parliament once likened Mamata Banerjee to a sex worker.

Strength and effectiveness being interpreted in terms of sexual prowess and preoccupation with being manliness, often equated to assertion of control over women, even violently, have their roots in a culture that is patriarchal and misogynist. In such a culture, weakness is equated with being effeminate and indecisiveness is mocked as typical of a ‘bangle-wearing woman.’ As elections near, our politicians, many of whom are bereft of constructive ideas or inspiration, can be expected to let loose rhetoric that will get them media attention.

This is a pity as there are several issues of concern regarding governance, development, violence and so on that need to be discussed in the public domain. Voters are anxious to know what the candidates’ views are on issues of national importance, which touch their lives.  Political parties must act to raise the quality of public debate and discussion. Rahul Gandhi has rightly disapproved Khurshid’s inappropriate remarks.  Parties must adopt a code of conduct that rules out rhetoric that is sexually inappropriate, communally provocative or personally disparaging.

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