Crass politics

Those fortunate to witness the early, heady days of Independent India recall the proceedings of Parliament with reverence, as much for the level of intellectual exchanges as for the abundant mutual respect across the aisle. The common purpose of struggle for Independence gave away to ideological differences and Parliament was the arena for some stirring debates on myriad issues of national significance. The hankering for power that marks today’s politics with all its virulence was yet to surface, and reading them today can only make one nostalgic for the passion involved in those discourses. Hiren Mukherjee was one of the bitterest critics of Jawaharlal Nehru in Parliament and yet the two shared respect for each other.

But then most of them had shared a glorious past — having participated in the freedom struggle and even having spent years in jail together. Unfortunately, this etiquette has progressively become a thing of the past. There is a commonly perceived, all-round erosion of values. It is a time of innocence lost, a time when little can shock, and nothing can surprise. It is the Vulgar Era. Today, Parliament and state legislatures no longer excel in debates; they have become venues for ugly verbal exchanges and sometimes even fisticuffs. Outside the legislative precincts, the situation is worse.

The choicest epithets hurled by H D Deve Gowda against Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa on Sunday mirrored the sad state of affairs in the country’s polity. The language employed by Gowda is at odds with his stature. Arguably, he is a father figure in Karnataka politics, a former chief minister and most significantly a former prime minister. He should be setting examples in correct political conduct. With half-a-century of political life behind him, Gowda is expected to raise the bar of political decorum, not to lower it. The perceived or factual malfeasance of NICE or the chief minister can never justify his intemperate expressions. He has subsequently tried to defend his unacceptable language, saying that those were directed not against the chief minister but against Advocate General Ashok Harnahalli. No person in public life, let alone Gowda, can use such abusive language against anyone. Gowda has let himself down, badly. In the process, he has done great harm to the polity as such behaviour by people who held top positions can only strengthen public cynicism about today’s political class.

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