I am not sure when it happened; perhaps it had always been so. Or maybe, the advent of social media and the pernicious notion of “sound bytes” served as a catalyst to raise it to epidemic proportions. Another theory is encapsulated in a delightful Italian word – maleducazione. Unlike English, which forces dichotomies such as literate/illiterate and educated/uneducated, the Italian maleducazione implies an educated person, but one who has been so poorly. Of course, as any etymologist would point out, mal and educazione – the meaning ought to be obvious.

What I am rambling about is the wanton abuse and molestation of the English language and of History by political commentators in India. With complete disregard for meaning or context, words like “fascist,” “Nazi,” and “storm trooper” are thrown about. Once upon a time, rhetoric was a skill that was taught in schools and honed by public figures. Cicero’s Catiline Orations, powerful and terse, are remembered and oft quoted to this day, over 2,000 years later. Public figures today might like to note that Cicero did not resort to name-calling or false representation; not once did he call Catiline the present-day Tarquin, nor did he insinuate bloodbaths on the streets of Rome. Such restraint – accuracy, or truth – is seldom seen among today’s politicians, journalists, or other commentators, who run pell-mell from one linguistic/historical blunder to another.

The latest offence is B. Raman’s latest post, “A Wake-Up Call for the Nation” on his blog, Raman’s Strategic Analysis. The former R&AW (Research and Analysis Wing) head of counter-terrorism uses the dissatisfaction expressed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) over the forceful projection of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate in his exercise of tortured rhetoric, tenuous hyperbole, and questionable history. Indeed, there are many ill-informed, amateurish, and polemical reports easily available on television or the internet, but one by a person of formerly senior rank may carry some weight among the general public and thus deserves closer scrutiny. So, to proceed in the same structure as Raman has laid out for us:

4: “…pressure tactics adopted by the supporters of NaMo to force the party to accept NaMo as the prime ministerial candidate.”

5: “…stepped- up efforts of the supporters of NaMo—many of them NRIs based in the US— to see that NaMo is accepted by the BJP and the RSS as the prime ministerial candidate.”

It would seem common sensical that a political party is answerable to its members and supporters. If Modi’s supporters used their campaign contributions or other services to the BJP as leverage to push the candidature of Narendra Modi for the prime ministerial slot, it would be an example of the democratic functioning of the party. Unlike the autocratic Congress (and many other political parties), wherein blood lines seem to matter more than merit (an idea supported by the rank and file), power is far more decentralised within the BJP and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). I am not sure why Raman would fault this structure; after all, the idea of candidates being chosen by the average party member rather than the higher echelons is not rare, the US primaries being the greatest example.

6: “…Nazi Storm Trooper-like methods adopted by many followers of NaMo to impose their will on their party and then the nation. Anyone aware of the methods used by the Nazi Storm Troopers to force the German people to accept Hitler as their leader would be struck by the similarity of the rhetoric and PSYWAR methods used by these pro-NaMo elements.”

For your information Mr. Raman, Hitler won an election and became Chancellor and then Führer in, regrettably, an entirely legal process – elections, followed by political horse trading (between Franz von Papen, Kurt Schleicher, and Paul von Hindenburg), and finally the Ermächtigungsgesetz. Secondly, the Sturmabteilung (for I hope you are at least using the term ‘storm trooper’ with some accuracy and do not mean the Schutzstaffel) targetted political opponents in street fights – as far as I know, the media has not reported violence against political enemies of Narendra Modi. Third, using terms like ‘psywar’ may impress the uninitiated, but it is still meaningless. The use of propaganda for political purposes, to sway the voters, is used by all political actors and even many non-political actors such as NGOs. Media, loudspeaker systems, telethons, and public speeches can all be considered ‘psywar.’

7: “…Their worrisome methods, reminiscent of the methods used by the Storm Troopers, consist largely of abuse, vituperation, disinformation, character assassination and psychological pressure. Whereas the Nazi Storm Troopers did not have the benefit of the computer and the Internet, the NaMo Brigade, which has established a dominance over the means of propaganda through the Net in the absence of any opposition to their methods from secular and liberal elements, has been using the social media networks in their PSYWAR.”

“Abuse, vituperation, disinformation, character assassination and psychological pressure” over “social media networks” can even describe the comments beneath a YouTube video! While misbehaviour of any sort in any medium cannot be condoned, Raman ignores the “abuse, vituperation, disinformation, character assassination and psychological pressure” over mainstream “media networks” against Modi and the BJP. The “absence of any opposition…from secular and liberal elements” that Raman rues is merely his regret that a political party of his choice was not able to monopolise all channels of information and thus become the only source of information for the average Indian. There is little room to argue that India’s English media is slanted heavily in favour of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and the effective blockade of any other point of view has pushed a nascent Indian Right to forms of media with fewer bars to entry.

8: “Nobody can object to their campaign in favour of NaMo as the Prime Minister despite his perceived misdeeds of the past. But one has reasons to be concerned over the ways adopted by these elements in an attempt to enforce their will on the nation. If they succeed due to lack of adequate public knowledge of the sinister implications of their strategy and the inadequate attempts to counter their methods, the nation may have to pay a heavy price.”

If nobody can object, Mr. Raman, then what is your point? And besides, what does ‘perceived misdeeds’ even mean? Over 100 MPs belonging to the UPA are ‘perceived’ to have committed grievous ‘misdeeds’ in ‘the past’; Laloo Prasad Yadav ran Bihar from jail (no perception here) through his illiterate surrogate and wife, Rabri Devi. If misdeeds are Raman’s real concern, there are plenty of targets for him to spread his ire. Let it be reiterated that recently, a Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) found no reason to prosecute the Chief Minister.

It would also be helpful if Raman elucidated what ‘sinister’ motives Modi’s supporters may have. As Raman himself states in no unclear terms, they want to propose his name as the NDA prime ministerial candidate and hopefully win the 2014 general elections. How is the exercise of democracy sinister?

Left without much of an argument, one strategy is to deploy ambiguous terms, hoping to hit something of relevance in the fog. Raman claims ‘lack of adequate public knowledge,’ but that is the story of India – government archives are not declassified in India after 30 years as they are in Europe and the United States. It is not clear what Raman expects, and from whom – ‘NaMo brigade’ is not a particularly good descriptor, nor is it a clear body whose records can be obtained through an RTI request.

9: “India needs a strong, efficient and effective ruler, but not a Hitler. That ruler has to be chosen by the people through their free will and not imposed on them through stage-managed and orchestrated pressure.”

Is there a point to this, or is Raman referring to Modi as a Hitler? Perhaps Raman has not heard of Godwin’s Law, but reductio ad Hitlerum is a philosophical fallacy; inappropriate hyperbolic comparisons are not an argument. Unless, of course, Raman wishes to assert that Modi and his supporters believe in eugenics, racial superiority, and genocide. [Wow, this Raman dude is really looking dumber than a paragraph earlier!]

10: “…dangerous implications of the pressure tactics and Storm Trooper methods being used to force the BJP, the RSS and the Nation to accept NaMo who is being sought to be projected by these elements as God’s own choice to rule India…”

Ten paragraphs into Raman’s post, it is still not clear who ‘these elements’ are, and how they are forcing the BJP, the RSS, or ‘the nation’ into accepting Modi. It is true that there is a wide consensus that Modi would be an excellent choice for the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate, but that has a lot to do with the governance Modi has demonstrated in Gujarat. Even the NDA is hard-pressed to suggest a better candidate, despite Panchajanya’s mindlessness. And this decision has not yet been forced upon even the BJP, let alone the NDA or the nation!

11: “…important…to educate public opinion on the activities of these elements and the great harm that they can cause to our democracy.”

Clearly, Raman has not heard of the Emergency. But if we really want to get into what harms democracy, here is a short list for starters: creating religious vote banks in the name of secularism, ill-considered amendments to the constitution of the land (Shah Bano), badly-worded laws such as the Marriage Laws Amendment Bill, poorly conceived laws such as Kapil Sibal’s  ‘Strangulation of Freedom on the Internet Bill,’ banning of books, not protecting the personal safety of authors (Taslima Nasreen) deemed unpopular by a vote bank…need I really go on?

12: “…focus not on the past misdeeds of NaMo, but on the future misdeeds that are likely to be committed…”

Raman ends on a funny note – he alludes (compares himself?) to noble Brutus’ character in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, who decides that Caesar must be killed, not for any fault he has, but for sins he may commit if he were crowned. The justification did not serve Brutus well, and it should not serve Raman and opponents of Modi well now, for in a decent society, we judge people by actions they have committed, not ones they may commit.

I have used Raman’s diatribe as an example, but my larger point is that commentators on all points of the political spectrum hurl words they simply do not understand as insults – fascist, liberal, Nazi, secular. Usually, it only proves how obtuse the commentator is. It is an exercise in histrionics, sadly reciprocated by the other side (lest there be a stupidity gap, no doubt). It demeans the analyst and lowers the standard of analysis; it puts intelligent observers off and inflames the hoi polloi, who would even otherwise be swayed by something as simple as even a party symbol. It is a cheap, populist trick and is indicative of about the same level of IQ, and most importantly, it bores those of us who were actually looking for a meaningful discourse.

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Jaideep A. Prabhu is a specialist in foreign and nuclear policy; he also pokes his nose in energy and defence related matters.

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