High office, low conduct

New Delhi: Former prime minister Manmohan Singh addresses after 'Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament for 2017, and Development' was conferred upon him, in New Delhi, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. (PTI Photo/Shahbaz Khan) (PTI11_19_2018_000202B)

The standard of politics has steadily deteriorated in the country over the years, and it can be clearly seen from changes in the terms of engagement, conduct of leaders and the language of discourse. There was a time when standards of decency were adhered to and respect for others in public life, especially in the opposition, was an accepted norm. But times have changed, and it is a rare politician who maintains some standards and values in public life. Leaders of all parties are to be blamed for this degradation of conduct and language, but people in responsible positions are particularly guilty. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has especially done much to lower the standards through his speech and conduct. So much so that former prime minister Manmohan Singh, who was an epitome of decency in public life, was moved to comment on this and advise Modi to avoid using the kind of language he now uses in public, especially when he visits a state ruled by an opposition party. He said that the prime minister should set an example and should show restraint in his speech, and remembered that his own relations, when he was prime minister, with chief ministers of opposition-ruled states were always cordial. 

Modi has a way with words and uses rhetoric to make his point. That is fine for a politician, but it is unbecoming of the prime minister to denigrate the opposition with abusive words and phrases and to misrepresent and misinterpret facts. In his election campaign, Modi has spoken without restraint, and without sensitivity. In Madhya Pradesh, he said demonetisation was like a poison to kill termites, and criticising the Congress, said an old man stops weeping for a dead son after a year but the Congress cannot stop talking about demonetisation even after two years. How does the prime minister know that a father stops grieving for his lost son after a year? This was reminiscent of his description of victims of communal violence as “kutte ka bachcha'' in an interview before he became prime minister. 

Modi has spewed vitriol not only on current opposition leaders but also on those who are no more. He asked Rahul Gandhi in Chhattisgarh: “Tumhare nana-nani, dada-dadi pipe lagake gaye tey kya”. That’s not political discourse, that’s not even an election campaign speech, that’s downright street-level abuse. In stooping so low with undignified language, Modi has lowered the dignity of the office of prime minister. Modi should listen to the advice of his predecessor, a man much senior to him, learned and more experienced, and who has practised what he is preaching now. The responsibilities of the office of prime minister include decent talk and conduct. 

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High office, low conduct

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