EDITORIAL | Rahul has defamed himself

Congress President Rahul Gandhi addresses an election campaign rally for the General Elections 2019 in Bajipura village of Tapi district of Gujarat on April 19, 2019. PTI

Stereotyping comes easy to human minds which are unable to understand or too lazy to judge the conduct and actions of individuals or even groups of individuals. That is how ideas like criminal tribes and warrior races were born and continue to be in circulation. But Congress president Rahul Gandhi did not just succumb to this temptation when he posed the question why all thieves have Modi in their names, be it Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi or Narendra Modi. He was insensitive and offensive to an entire community when he painted it, in effect all its members, with a black brush just because the person whom he wanted to criticise bears the name Modi. Rahul has been threatened with defamation for his remark, but the issue is not legal. The fact is, Rahul has defamed himself by making the comment. 

Whether Rahul has heard the poet’s question “what’s in a name’’ or not, he should know the value of a name, being himself the bearer of a potent one. He might even owe much of what he is to that name. But people are not defined by their names or those of their communities and should neither be vilified nor venerated or rewarded for them. Rahul’s comment is indicative of the low levels to which political exchanges have sunk in the country, especially during this election. This election, in which no side seems confident of winning a clean majority and all sides seem to fear what a defeat might mean for their future, has brought out the worst in politicians, and many are driven by senselessness, unreason and even primordial instincts and passions. Rahul’s comment is not different from the hate talk that has become the currency of his rival Narendra Modi’s campaign, which stereotypes and stigmatises a community, dubs whole groups and parties anti-national and considers certain names alien and unwelcome. Is the statement that all Modis are thieves an alternative to that narrative?

Rahul also slipped when he claimed that the Supreme Court’s recent order in the Rafale case confirmed the truth of his slogan “Chowkidar chor hain”. The court’s order cannot be interpreted to mean that, and it has issued him a notice on this. It is difficult to stick to truth, propriety and correct conduct in a no-holds-barred political and electoral contest. But the test of a leader’s character lies in walking the razor’s edge, avoiding mistakes and correcting them when they are made. Rahul’s comment on all Modis is an affront, and he should correct himself and apologise for it. He will gain politically and morally by doing so, and it will improve the level of public discourse.

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