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JANUARY 26, 2019

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

he diatribe expressed by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) It has been a patriarchal privilege and prerogative to use
member of legislative assembly (MLA) against the Bahu- offensive language so as to morally denigrate women. But, when a
jan Samaj Party (BSP) chief has beaten all previous re- particular woman uses the same language against another wom-
cords of the political use of contemptuous language. The foul an, it should compel us to see the source of such corrosive con-
language used by the people’s representative in question is tempt, as being not just in patriarchy, but also, more fundamental-
extraordinarily devastating as it seeks to push a person—a ly, in caste. This particular inversion of masculinity is not because
woman, a man and a person belonging to the third gender— of the gender concerned, but because it is caste that tends to domi-
beyond any recognisable limits of humanity. The MLA and her nate or overdetermine the politics of contemptuous expression.
party leaders did express regret and tender apologies to the BSP The woman legislator’s outburst awakens us to a larger ques-
chief, but more as a perfunctory, formality than out of genuine tion. The affirmative reproduction of patriarchal language by a
regret. However, such calculated gestures by a moral offender woman suggests that she is disinterested in her own truth,
are seldom adequate for repairing the damage done to any self- wherein she herself is a victim of the masculine language. The
respecting personality, including the BSP chief. The use of public endorsement of such language seeks to baffle her and
offensive words publicly produces a long-lasting impact. Such keep her from approaching the truth of her own patriarchal
language, through anti-social gossip, continues to remain in subordination which necessarily becomes her predicament. A
circulation long after the actual expression of the tirade, person whose party politics compels her to produce such a lan-
thanks to the strong presence of caste and patriarchal con- guage, perhaps, fails to realise that in such a reproduction, she
sciousness that feeds into such gossip. Moreover, such calcu- denies men, women and persons belonging to the third gender
lated gestures of regret and apologies do not go too far, except from being legitimate bearers of the right to equal dignity.
in simply excoriating rather than destroying completely the It is desirable that political agents should conduct criticism of
vice of contempt that is driven deep into the caste and patriar- the political formation in the current context at the level of
chal consciousness. The questions that we need to raise are: Uttar Pradesh and also at the national level. The critiques need
Why the contempt against a particular person? What is the na- to be conducted within the reasonable limits set by the demo-
ture of this contempt? And, what moral implication does it cratic ethos which is constitutive of mutual respect for the po-
have for a person who holds such contempt? litical presence of different social groups and political parties in
The contempt that mediates through such diatribes has to be opposition. Such a critique must be processed with arguments
understood primarily in the context of the political challenge of containing in them a minimally normative energy sustaining
the electoral alliance between the BSP and the Samajwadi Party ethical capacity for mutual respect. Argumentation, although
(SP), which seems to have been perceived by the members of the some arguments may seem to be weak or poor according to es-
BJP as formidable. Ironically, the expression of offensive lan- tablished standards, does provide a breathing space that would
guage is an acknowledgement of such a challenge. Interesting- otherwise be infested by offensive political speech. After all, de-
ly, singling out the BSP chief for such an assault doubly confirms mocracy offers a greater space for argumentation and overcom-
this fear of opposition. Of all the leaders from the opposition, it ing one’s prejudices that corrupt the basis of a valid argument.
is the BSP chief who has been at the receiving end of such offen- Weak or inadequate arguments may be bearable as they do not
sive language. There are two factors that can explain this “spe- immediately threaten the democratic fabric that has weaved
cial treatment” meted out to her. First, the BJP legislator in within it decency, mutual respect and dignity, which are the
question has chosen as the subject of her diatribe a person who most essential components of democratic politics. The political
has decided to firm up the alliance without succumbing to being ambition to continuously capture governmental power without
targeted by the ruling party. Second, the challenge posed by a any argumentation invariably leads to the overplay of foul lan-
person from a lower caste, and that too from a woman, is not guage. Does not being a part of a robust democracy, for its own
bearable for this BJP legislator. The fear of such a woman is, dignified survival, make it imperative on us to give a chance to
then, at the core of her diatribe. an argumentative culture in politics?
Economic & Political Weekly EPW JANUARY 26, 2019 vol lIV no 4 7