If swords were the weapons of choice in the battles of yore, in the electoral battlefields now, it is the sharp tongue of the politicians. The thin line dividing healthy criticism from base calumny is getting thinner as electioneering enters the last lap and contestants try every trick in the book to grab eyeballs.
In the final phase of campaigning for the April 6 polls in Tamil Nadu, former Union Minister A. Raja (of the 2G fame) drew blood, nay tears, from none other than Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami and got grounded by the Election Commission. The commission on Thursday banned him from campaigning for the DMK for 48 hours, which meant he could make his poll speeches again only on the last day of the campaigning, April 4.
Sources in the DMK tell me they are in a way happy because the former union minister was becoming an embarrassment as his ‘offensive’ oration might have added a few points to the ruling AIADMK’s account, especially vis-a-vis women voters, at a time when pollsters were predicting a change in regime.
Raja’s Spirited Rhetoric
Actually, Raja was right in arguing with the Election Commission (EC) in his reply to the notice that he did no wrong. Campaigning for the DMK candidate Dr N. Ezhilan in Chennai’s Thousand Lights constituency, Raja said Edappadi was no match for his party leader, M. K. Stalin, who rose to his present position only after toiling for the party from a very young age, starting with incarceration under the MISA during Emergency, building up the youth wing, becoming an MLA, taking on responsibilities as a Chennai mayor and later deputy chief minister of Tamil Nadu. He became the party president only after his father-mentor M. Karunanidhi died on August 7, 2018.
So, when compared to Stalin’s journey, Edappadi’s rise to the chief minister’s position was like “a premature birth,” said Raja. This was a reference to the post-Jayalalithaa crisis in the AIADMK that prompted her all-powerful associate Sasikala to name hitherto little-known Edappadi Palaniswami as the replacement for ‘rebel’ O. Panneerselvam to the chief minister’s post. And Raja thereafter added a punch line too—“… a doctor called Modi comes from Delhi to hold the hand of this premature baby to certify good health”.
All hell broke loose after that spirited rhetoric. Edappadi Palaniswami or EPS in a subsequent campaign outing in the city ‘almost broke down’, telling his women audience that if the chief minister could have his mother, a poor farmer who died recently after leading a respectable life, humiliated (by Raja), one could imagine the plight of women if the DMK came to power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too echoed the same ‘fear’ during his campaign trip to Tamil Nadu. A. Raja subsequently said he was truly sorry if the chief minister “is feeling hurt” by his remarks. But Stalin was hardly amused, issuing a stiff diktat to his party campaign speakers to observe decorum; his sister and MP, Kanimozhi, came out with an angry statement in support of women, without naming Raja.
He had used the metaphor of childbirth while describing the political evolution of the two rival leaders. There was absolutely no reference to EPS’ biological mother; he was misquoted and his words were selectively used to show him in poor light and gain political advantage at poll time, Raja argued, but to no avail.
Dravidian Podiums Have Seen Worse
The point of interest is not just Raja’s rhetoric, it’s also how the CM cried over it. Dirty metaphors of this kind have been used extensively on Dravidian podiums over the last five decades. Their authors have not attracted even mild indignation of the educated and enlightened class, who saw it as part of an evolving socio-political milieu and a result of the long-silenced oppressed segments expressing themselves out loud. Often, such abuses drew appreciative giggles and applause from the crowds and the ‘orator’ acquired star status that got them more invites for similar rallies.
It’s not uncommon to find such ‘star’ speakers shift loyalties after an election and abuse the ex-sponsor during subsequent outings. Useful for the party to dish out some entertainment of the base kind until the VIP speaker’s arrival on the dais, they are not taken seriously by anyone. A. Raja does not fall in this category anymore, he has climbed the DMK ladder; but, of course, old habits of wallowing in similes of the suspect kind pop up every now and then.
So why cry over such stupid metaphors, particularly when the person made no mention of the politician’s mother and only described his manner of political ascent? Did that tugging at hearts, particularly of the women voters, help the CM and his ruling party in their desperate race to catch up with Stalin’s DMK? And did the indomitable Election Commission use a good Tamil-English translator to help decipher Raja’s speech against CM Edappadi?
The Jayalalithaa episode
Perhaps, no leader has been as vulgarly abused as J. Jayalalithaa in Dravidian politics. Since she had a film background and shared screen space with MGR as the leading lady in several movies, she ended up being at the receiving end of obscene remarks made by political rivals, particularly after she became the successor to his throne. But she did not cry; on the other hand, she roared vengeance, and both masses and the classes loved her for that.
I must recall the case of the late K. Kalimuthu. A forceful orator in Tamil from his student days, he became the agriculture minister in the MGR government and after his death, threw his lot with Janaki Ramachandran who projected herself as MGR’s successor and leader of the AIADMK. His abuse of Jayalalithaa is remembered to this day not just for its vulgarity but also for the manner in which she treated her tormentor. Janaki became the chief minister of Tamil Nadu but her government lasted for a mere 24 days. And when Jayalalithaa became the CM, taking over the Janaki faction, Kalimuthu fell at her feet. She made him the Speaker of the Assembly and praised his Tamil oratory and scholarship.
So, there is a lesson here for Edappadi Palaniswami: he should not cry since he swears by his very brave Amma (Jaya). And, there is a lesson for A. Raja too: there are simpler ways of making people understand his anti-Edappadi rhetoric, without drawing on his silly stock of similes. Tamil is among the greatest of languages, let not the so-called learned sully it.