The Art of Political Name-Calling: 2019 Ka Shakuni Kaun?

Politics

The Art of Political Name-Calling: 2019 Ka Shakuni Kaun?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

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rafting a juicy insult is a hallowed art form in Indian politics. From the Congress to the BJP, and every party in between, vitriolic name-calling is the bread and butter of election season. And with 2019 around the corner, the discourse is fast looking like it will put even an AIB Roast to shame when it comes to crassness. With around six months left until India’s general elections, the political atmosphere will only be more heated.

So now is a good time to make like you’re preparing for a Shakespeare test and remember who said what to whom, so you can keep better score when the next round of gaalis pick up. Brush up on the art of the smear campaign, because name-calling is the key to winning or losing elections. Don’t we all know how the “chaiwala” jibe probably won Modiji the PM’s chair? The Congress will never live that one down, but it won’t stop anyone from coming up with the choicest epithets in the future.

Dissing and slamming down the opposition with gaalis is what politicians do for a living. Their imaginations are so fertile, and the name-calling so creative, that Trump’s “horseface” (aimed at Stormy Daniels) and “rocket man” (Kim Jong-un) jibes seem like compliments in comparison. Our netas think nothing of personal slander; after all, this is the lot that has termed the PM a “maut ka saudagar” and the leader of the Opposition a “nali ka keeda”. Both parties seem to have realised that name-calling may be the key to winning or losing this election.

This epiphany might be the reason behind both Modi and Rahul acquiring a bouquet of colourful sobriquets. Of course, Rahul takes the lead in this department. After being christened “Pappu” by Amit Shah before the last election, he’s now also known as “Shehzada”, “Naamdar”, and “Yuvraj”, as if his surname wasn’t reminder enough of which family tree he is dangling from.

Brush up on the art of the smear campaign, because name-calling is the key to winning or losing elections.

Rahul haters (and baiters) even celebrate #PappuDiwas on his birthday, mocking the poor boy’s very existence. It got so bad for poor Rahul that last year, the Election Commission had to step in and stop his political opponents from referring to him as Pappu. It only prompted Times Now to come up with the hashtag #PappuCensored. Oddly though, the EC allowed the use of Yuvraj. So the hashtag became #PappuBanaYuvraj.

None of these are abusive words in themselves, but the context is always derisive and mocking. Of course, there are some outliers… like Jairam Ramesh labelling PM Modi “Bhasmasur” and Sharad Pawar referring to him as “Hitler”.

Meanwhile, Modi is not just a “Feku” or a “maut ka saudagar”, he is also a “neech kisam ka aadmi” according to Mani Shankar Aiyar, and a “chowkidar” who became a “chor” in Rahul’s eyes. The last one was repeated loudly, and frequently, in the context of the Rafale deal. Naturally, the saffron party saw red and retaliated by calling the mahagathbandhan a maha“thug”bandan, with all the crooked politicians banding together to defeat Modi.

But the Indian political insult acquires maximum effectiveness when paired with the nation’s favourite pastime/entertainment – religion. By pairing their epithets with mythological epics, our netas can win both the hearts and minds of the voting public. What better way to sway the masses than to evoke the symbolic icons and imagery from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata? Sitaram Yechury describes the BJP as the Kauravas. He has labelled PM Modi as Duryodhana. By association, Amit Shah becomes Dushasana. Together, this evil pair, supposedly plotting the destruction of free India, will be vanquished by the Pandavas (their avatars being Yechury’s opposition cronies, of course).

But the Indian political insult acquires maximum effectiveness when paired with the nation’s favourite pastime/entertainment – religion.

Like old Doordarshan reruns, the Mahabharata has to be followed by the Ramayana, and it was Randeep Surjewala of the Congress who did the honours. At a recent press conference in Bhopal, he equated the BJP with Kaikeyi and the RSS with Manthara. According to him, Ram has been exiled for over 30 years, all because of the BJP. (He was referring to the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, and using this argument to win over voters who are not with the Left.)

This development is sure to bring boundless joy to countless grandparents tired of trying to teach our generation about our mythology. Now, the politicians are doing their job for them. I had a lively debate with a friend over whether PM Modi was referring to Renuka Chowdhury as Draupadi or Surpanakha when he mocked her contemptuous laughter in Parliament.

It’s only a matter of time until an irate speaker pulls out the big guns on stage at a rally, and someone gets called Ravana or Mahishasura. And what about Karna, the permanent prince-in-waiting? The sons of erstwhile politicians all qualify for that slot, with too many names to list.

I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the arrival of Shakuni.

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