EPW Editorial


Members of the BJP have been losing their grip on the 2019 election as well as on their tongues.


The diatribe expressed by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of legislative assembly (MLA) against the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief has beaten all previous records of the political use of contemptuous language. The foul language used by the people’s representative in question is extraordinarily devastating as it seeks to push a person—a woman, a man and a person belonging to the third gender—beyond any recognisable limits of humanity. The MLA and her party leaders did express regret and tender apologies to the BSP chief, but more as a perfunctory, formality than out of genuine regret. However, such calculated gestures by a moral offender are seldom adequate for repairing the damage done to any self-respecting personality, including the BSP chief. The use of offensive words publicly produces a long-lasting impact. Such language, through anti-social gossip, continues to remain in circulation long after the actual expression of the tirade, thanks to the strong presence of caste and patriarchal consciousness that feeds into such gossip. Moreover, such calculated gestures of regret and apologies do not go too far, except in simply excoriating rather than destroying completely the vice of contempt that is driven deep into the caste and patriarchal consciousness. The questions that we need to raise are: Why the contempt against a particular person? What is the nature of this contempt? And, what moral implication does it have for a person who holds such contempt?


The contempt that mediates through such diatribes has to be understood primarily in the context of the political challenge of the electoral alliance between the BSP and the Samajwadi Party (SP), which seems to have been perceived by the members of the BJP as formidable. Ironically, the expression of offensive language is an acknowledgement of such a challenge. Interestingly, singling out the BSP chief for such an assault doubly confirms this fear of opposition. Of all the leaders from the opposition, it is the BSP chief who has been at the receiving end of such offensive language. There are two factors that can explain this “special treatment” meted out to her. First, the BJP legislator in question has chosen as the subject of her diatribe a person who has decided to firm up the alliance without succumbing to being targeted by the ruling party. Second, the challenge posed by a person from a lower caste, and that too from a woman, is not bearable for this BJP legislator. The fear of such a woman is, then, at the core of her diatribe.


It has been a patriarchal privilege and prerogative to use offensive language so as to morally denigrate women. But, when a particular woman uses the same language against another woman, it should compel us to see the source of such corrosive contempt, as being not just in patriarchy, but also, more fundamentally, in caste. This particular inversion of masculinity is not because of the gender concerned, but because it is caste that tends to dominate or overdetermine the politics of contemptuous expression.


The woman legislator’s outburst awakens us to a larger question. The affirmative reproduction of patriarchal language by a woman suggests that she is disinterested in her own truth, wherein she herself is a victim of the masculine language. The public endorsement of such language seeks to baffle her and keep her from approaching the truth of her own patriarchal subordination which necessarily becomes her predicament. A person whose party politics compels her to produce such a language, perhaps, fails to realise that in such a reproduction, she denies men, women and persons belonging to the third gender from being legitimate bearers of the right to equal dignity.


It is desirable that political agents should conduct criticism of the political formation in the current context at the level of Uttar Pradesh and also at the national level. The critiques need to be conducted within the reasonable limits set by the democratic ethos which is constitutive of mutual respect for the political presence of different social groups and political parties in opposition. Such a critique must be processed with arguments containing in them a minimally normative energy sustaining ethical capacity for mutual respect. Argumentation, although some arguments may seem to be weak or poor according to established standards, does provide a breathing space that would otherwise be infested by offensive political speech. After all, democracy offers a greater space for argumentation and overcoming one’s prejudices that corrupt the basis of a valid argument. Weak or inadequate arguments may be bearable as they do not immediately threaten the democratic fabric that has weaved within it decency, mutual respect and dignity, which are the most essential components of democratic politics. The political ambition to continuously capture governmental power without any argumentation invariably leads to the overplay of foul language. Does not being a part of a robust democracy, for its own dignified survival, make it imperative on us to give a chance to an argumentative culture in politics?



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