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Crude hate speech

Crude hate speech

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 9, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/168340/Crude-hate-speech.html

EC's reluctance to act tells a sad story

In the heat and dust of the battle for the masnad of Delhi, it is unfair to expect total and absolute compliance with established decorum in public discourse. Boastful claims are made, unsubstantiated charges are hurled and baseless allegations are levelled as politicians vie for votes and, with the advent of 24x7 news channels, media space. While much of what is said at election rallies is aimed at swinging public opinion - although it is debatable whether voters are easily persuaded by empty rhetoric - some of the utterances are no doubt prompted by deep-rooted animosity and hence qualify as hate speech. For instance, when RJD boss and Minister for Railways Lalu Prasad Yadav says, "Had I been the Home Minister of the country, I would have run a roller on Varun Gandhi for his remarks offending the feelings of 17 crore Muslims across the country," it is not an off-the-cuff remark or words uttered carelessly. He deliberately chose to speak in such an offensive and provocative manner because he was addressing a rally in Muslim-dominated Kishanganj constituency of Bihar. That India has been spared the agony - some would say ignominy - of having Mr Yadav as the country's Home Minister is only incidental to the issue. What is important to note is that he has no qualms about cynically exploiting communal sentiments for securing the votes of Muslims in a criminally crass manner. His bogus explanation need not distract us from his brazen violation of norms which he expects others to follow. Similarly, there is nothing innocent about Congress's Andhra Pradesh unit chief D Srinivas's threat to "cut off the hands" of those "who point a finger at the minority community". It is as sinister as the outrageous statements of the party's minorities cell chief who has been inciting Muslims from public platforms in the presence of Congress leaders. Such examples abound.

So how do we deal with politicians who are willing to go to any extent to mobilise electoral support? The Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement, has ruled that election speeches should not be taken literally; that politicians take recourse to expressions and idioms whose meanings are far removed from their intentions. The Supreme Court's liberal view has obviously been interpreted as licence to abuse opponents and threaten contenders. The best protection against crude rhetoric is an active and alert Election Commission of India, which is sufficiently empowered to bring errant politicians to heel. Unfortunately, during this election the EC has neither shown any inclination towards ensuring a free and fair poll nor demonstrated its commitment towards treating all participants as equally accountable for their utterances and actions. This is amply demonstrated by the swiftness with which the EC has acted against the BJP candidate, Mr Varun Gandhi, for a speech whose recording he says has been doctored and for which a vindictive Uttar Pradesh Government has slapped the NSA on him, while dragging its feet on the clear violation of the law of the land by Mr Yadav, Mr Srinivas and their ilk, despite the fact that none of them has denied saying the awful things they have said. In this situation, it would be in order for senior politicians to shun and shame those who refuse to remain confined to that which is acceptable. For starters, the Congress could sack offenders in its ranks from party posts and tell Mr Yadav that his company is no longer welcome. Will it dare to do so?

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