There’s a quote that says, “ A foul tongue reveals more about you than the one you are using it against”. Apart from the corruption and petty mudslinging by political parties, the use of abusive language is common, especially during election times. Foul-mouthed rants against rivals have become a strategy to gain more publicity and prominence. Many parties base their public image on the fact that any publicity is good publicity so they are willing to do whatever it takes to get fame and achieve success.
The use of abusive language in Indian politics and society is definitely not new. What is new and surprising is that even in this day and age - political leaders, including prominent influential leaders tend to indulge and resort to such vile practice. This has led to the general debasement of the language of debate and is considered to be the “new normal” in politics.
For instance, in Tamil Nadu, the leaders of the DMK and AIADMK hurled the foulest, derogatory abuses against each other in public meetings and were soon joined by the Shiv Sena when it turned on the minorities. There are numerous examples of loose canons and instances where abusive language has been used - either as a form of retaliation or to get attention from the public. From Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan publicly calling rival politician Amar Singh a “debauch” and “broker” to BJP MLA Heeralal Regar passing a horrible comment at a public rally saying that, “Sonia and Rahul Gandhi should be stripped off their clothes and sent back to Italy”; there are way too many shocking examples which is a clear indicator that politicians need to be held for their irresponsible, insensitive and gross remarks.
The war of elections to garner the most votes gets so toxic that politicians partake in defamation and abuse as a mode of revenge and retaliation. In 2013, both the Congress and the BJP had approached the Election Commission of India (ECI) in search of derecognition of each other over the use of intemperate language during the state elections in five states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, and Delhi The ECI then had put the political parties “on notice” over the use of abusive language.
Abusive language is not a modern trend or even one based on Indian elections - it has been a global trend and politicians in nations, including the supposedly most civilized ones, engage in profanity. Unfortunately, many countries use filthy language as the new medium for the modern political narrative. As standards of political discourse and politics plummet to new lows, an argument is rarely complete without abuses hurled at the rival.
The Election Commission has notified all political parties multiple times and has warned them of taking action for repeated use of "intemperate and abusive" language while campaigning. While the Commission recognizes the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution, using derogatory language in the pretext of ‘freedom of right’ is absolutely intolerable. Moreover, the right to freedom of expression and speech is not an absolute right and does not transcend moral rules and principles and boundaries of bare minimum decency.
The EC states that “Attacks on personal character and conduct of political rivals, in utterances and through posters/h
oardings, tend to incite mutual hatred, disharmony or and aggravate the differences between different political parties and classes of citizens on the grounds of religion, caste, community, which the Model Code of Conduct dissuades from being resorted to”.
While many common folks might use “bad words” to converse normally, it is not the crude language itself that is prohibited but rather its use to insult someone. With politics, of course, it’s always important to look beyond the words themselves to see how language is being used to create a particular effect. In this case, the use of abuse affects not just the opposition but also the public’s perception and point of view. The use of abusive language could go both ways, garner attention from the public but that also poses the risk of getting called out for their misdeeds and catching flak for it.
In psychology, the ‘true feelings theory’ can be used to the best explanation as to why politicians tend to use abusive language. Psychologists say that foul language is razor-sharp and tends to convey a speaker’s “true feelings” and can work well to hammer home a point. But like a razor, the more you use it, the blunter it gets. Therefore, the more one uses it, the power and legitimacy of one’s feelings get overshadowed and invectives are tossed at institutions instead of individuals.