Do Voters Relish Vitriolic Campaigns? Is Vilification The Key To Victory?

Raman Swamy

The rhetoric has become shrill.  It is inducing a feeling of nausea and searing the sensibilities of sane citizens.  It could also be inflicting lasting damage to the emotional psyche of the nation.  Who knows? Who cares?

Instead of lively, even if partisan, debates on policies, personalities, issues and ideologies, the focus in the Gujarat election campaign has veered harshly toward nasty personal taunts and sadistic diatribe. 

Verbal vitriol is being directed at individual leaders with the intention to not just hurt but to wound.  There is no attempt to conceal the loathing and lust for power that fuels all political ambition. When the vilification provokes equally harsh counter-responses, it acts as a trigger for orchestrated outbursts of false outrage. 

The twisted logic is – I can hurl abuse upon you, using the most derogatory and demeaning epithets.  But you have no right to retaliate in the same vein.  I can call you names that cast doubts on your ancestry - a Babar Bhakt and a Khilji ka Aulad. But if you refer to me as Tughlaq, you are crossing the lakshman rekha of decency and civilized conduct.

Well, duplicity is what the art of politics is all about, my friends.  Or didn’t you know?

However, when politicos manufacture ear-splitting controversies, something even worse happens. The competitive shrieking of the media talking-heads takes over.  Rabid, almost demented, scenes are enacted on the small screen, unashamedly one-sided by design with no room for counter-narratives, let alone rebuttals or self-defence. 

When public discourse breaks the barriers of sanity and ethics, what can one say, what does one do?  Nothing. Except to express dismay that the vulgarities are unworthy of the personalities involved in the largest democracy in the world.   

But again, who cares? There’s an election to be won. It is imperative to ensure a majority of seats in the legislature, any which way. There will be time enough later for sweet-talk, ethics and decency.

Or maybe this is what Democracy is all about. When stakes are high and the competition is becoming too close for comfort, all-out attack is imperative, even to the extent of threatening to dismember your rival’s body parts. That’s why it’s called cut-throat politics. For example, BJP’s Bihar unit chief Nityanand Rai said that any finger or hand raised against the Prime Minister would be “chopped off”.

This is entirely justified in the context -- because the post of Prime Minister is sacrosanct.  Even though the previous incumbent Dr. Manmohan Singh was mocked as a “night-watchman”, the Congress president Sonia Gandhi was called a “jersey cow” and Rahul Gandhi was labeled a “hybrid calf”.   Even though these words were uttered by the same leader who is so offended at being called “neech”.

There is an element of devilish cunning involved. Online trolls and the captive press can be trusted to act on cue, transforming the feigned outrage into hours of strident sound-bites and stirring up even more controversy. 

Strangely enough, the public at large clearly appears to revel in the mud-slinging too – otherwise the TV channels would be losing their audience, which they are clearly not.

Voters seem to relish big leaders calling each other filthy names. Perhaps it makes it easier to choose.  On polling day, the most foul-mouthed candidate usually wins.

Dec 11, 2017

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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