At a rally in east Midnapore ahead of the upcoming Assembly election in West Bengal, newly-inducted BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari took a potshot at Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew and TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee, calling him “babu shona” — a term of endearment for young boys in Bengal. Adhikari’s intention, of course, was not to shower affection on his erstwhile party colleague. He was only carrying forward a tradition of political rhetoric that infantilises opponents and reduces them to caricatures.
Name-calling ahead of elections has become a part of hyper-aggressive political stratagem, gaining traction over the last decade among all parties. In the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP repeatedly referred to Congress MP Rahul Gandhi as “Pappu”, a moniker that has chased him since; pre-poll campaigns in 2014 also saw Mamata Banerjee referring to then-Prime-Minister aspirant Narendra Modi as “Danga Babu (Mr Riot)”. More recently, in October last year, at a rally in the state ahead of the assembly elections in Bihar, the Prime Minister referred to the RJD’s chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav as “Jungle raj ke yuvaraj (crown prince of anarchical governance)”.
This culture of one-upmanship, where words speak louder than action, has plenty of takers, given that election campaigns have now come to be driven by the cult of personality. Barbs and insults guarantee instant visibility on social-media platforms, laughter and the satisfying thunder of applause at election rallies. What they fail to do, however, is to take the conversation in a meaningful direction. Perhaps it’s time for elected representatives to rethink poll rhetoric. Because once the dust settles on campaigns and the task of governance begins, it is not the tall talk that matters, but the willingness of leaders to listen.