It is a sorry sight – a chief minister calling the country’s prime minister “a coward”, and “a psychopath”. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal uttered those words against Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the CBI, investigating corruption charges against the chief minister’s principal secretary in some of his earlier assignments, raided that suspect’s work place and residence. These raids angered Kejriwal and hence his comment. If you didn’t read or hear the names correctly in the news, you might think Gabbar Singh in Sholay was being quoted as saying, “You don’t know what I am made of”. That was also Kejriwal directing himself at Modi.
“Kejriwal has spoken out his mind, firmly suspecting Modi behind the CBI action and asserting himself. What’s wrong with that?” would be the defence of AAP supporters. But there is more to it, beyond Modi and Kejriwal.
The words coward and psychopath are not bad words by themselves. They could be titles of novels or movies, one of them a thriller. But when we use them to criticize those in public life, they make a different impact. If they come out in private conversations, that is perfectly all right. If readers of online news portals use them to comment on Modi, in the aftermath of the CBI raids, that would be excusable – though they may not be accepted as a decent expression. If a political opponent of any minister publicly employs those terms against the minister that would not be excusable. If the media were to put out those words, as their views, against any minister, that would be even more inexcusable. And a chief minister or a prime minister employing those words against the other is horrendous. Why is it so?
Standards of decency and decorum differ between person to person, depending on their status and on the set-up in which they function, though some basic standards apply to everyone everywhere. A defence minister of India warning a belligerent neighbour will use a language of dignity, maybe combined with firmness, while in any hand-to-hand combat an Indian soldier facing an enemy soldier may, if he has time to say anything, speak the language of the ground. Stricter rules govern holders of public offices when they write or speak – here too their position makes a difference. Judges, especially Supreme Court and High Court judges, have to employ the language of studied moderation and be highly restrained even when they have to criticize proven offenders. The President of India and the Governor of a State must also be well restrained – they rarely have to come down on individuals. A chief election commissioner or other election commissioners, when they speak on poll malpractices by any political party, should also use sober language. Compared to them, political functionaries like a prime minister or chief minister have more liberties with their words while taking on opponents, and yet they too have a limit. But Kejriwal may ask: does restrained language click on the political turf?
We know Mahatma Gandhi was pitted against a harsher and mightier opponent – the British Empire – than the one Kejriwal faces now. The foreign rulers tormented the Mahatma directly too by imprisoning him. By Kejriwal’s thinking, the Indian leader could have called the monarch or prime minister of Britain a psychopath or worse. The Mahatma had reason to sharply criticise a foreign ruler subjugating Indians, which was more demeaning to crores of his countrymen than what a CBI raid on a Delhi secretariat officer may do to its chief minister. But Gandhiji did not do it, was dignified in his speeches and writings, made the opponent respect him and finally won.
Agreed, everyone is not a Mahatma. But being dignified in language is not something a Mahatma alone can do. Scores of others who are not a Mahatma, especially the ones who held high public offices, have done that in India. Or take Narendra Modi who could have spoken the same words referring to Kejriwal and said, “You are a coward and a psychopath, not me”. If India had heard that, Kejriwal cannot complain since he gets what he gives, but that would be an equally bad thing to say. Not just equally. A prime minister using those words on a chief minister, even in retaliation, would be more unpardonable and would horribly sore public discourse – here Kejriwal may surely agree.
Kejriwal will also know this. Some world leaders have spoken in praise of Modi. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot said, in reference to Modi, “There is so much to learn from him”. British Premier David Cameroon described him as “a man with a clear vision.” A White House Press Secretary said at a news conference that “President Obama has found Prime Minister Modi to be somebody who is honest and direct ….” So, even those who have not heard about Modi will not take Kejriwal seriously.
A chief minister of Delhi calling the prime minister names, that too at the capital city, is quite a sad spectacle. It is like a family member chiding another when guests are watching – as foreign envoys stationed in Delhi get to know Kejriwal’s latest attack on Modi. Sitting in Delhi, they would feel like hearing it next door. Have we made a mistake in not keeping Delhi as a full Union Territory – like Chandigarh – to be calmly administered by whichever party runs the Central government? If a party or coalition which governs at the Centre administers Delhi too as a full Union Territory, instead of Delhi having an elected assembly and a chief minister of its own with reduced powers, the city would be free of petty political tussles and battles which are galore in our land. That alone would give rulers more energy and higher concentration levels, which is good for the whole of India. Like Delhi, Puducherry has also an elected assembly with a chief minister with reduced powers, but since it is located away from Delhi a different party ruling Puducherry cannot kick up petty rows and be constantly disturbing a central government’s functioning mood and draining its energy.
If Delhi is governed fully as a Union Territory, Kejriwal would himself find it a blessing if he becomes the prime minister of the country. Now BJP could welcome the idea of full Union Territory administration for Delhi, but if Kejriwal thinks otherwise it means he rates his chances of becoming the prime minister very low. And he would not also want to give up his present vantage position of chief minister – like any other chief minister from any other party. It is easy to create new positions of power for politicians, but impossible to wind them up – even if experience shows reversal is a better choice.
A day before attacking Narendra Modi over the CBI raids, Kejriwal commented on Rahul Gandhi who, Kejriwal felt, was talking out of ignorance on some issue. Kejriwal did not use harsh words against Rahul, similar to coward or psychopath. He said Rahul was “just a kid”. That is a decent phrase, has a good punch and is evocative too. If he had deep animosity against Rahul, like against Modi, he might have called Rahul “an ignoramus and an idiot”, but those words would not jell well like “just a kid”.
Leaders opposing Kejriwal and his ways could be looking for words that decently describe him and still have some bite. They may say, for example, that Kejriwal is “just an adolescent”.
Kid or adolescent, both should grow up.
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