Elections 2019: Death By Political Correctness

Narendra Modi’s pungent description of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as “corrupt no.1” seems to have unleashed the proverbial cat among the pigeons, and the Congress has now moved the Election Commission claiming that Modi’s words meant disrespect to a martyred Bharat Ratna.

Whether Modi’s rhetoric has plunged the political discourse to a new nadir is irrelevant because poll speeches are seldom attended by equanimity, and poise and grace are buried under the heat and dust of political battles.

But the issue does lend itself to a debate of the larger subject of speaking nothing but good about the dead.

Former Minister P Chidambaram did rake up the Latin phrase De mortuis nihil nisi bonum meaning “Of the dead, say nothing but good.” It is a nicety, to be sure. But it comes with some strings attached. It is mostly a political correct civility extended in the immediate aftermath of a death. It is not an honour provided for perpetuity. If it were the case, our annals would be just varnished hagiographies. Lines of history should not be asterisked.  

The flipside of political correctness is it can become a tool for restricting speech, and sly and smart ‘liberals’ have a way of hijacking general courtesies to serve their carefully constructed agendas. But frank and fierce opinions on the dead serve a democracy well, while mealy-mouthed squeamishness for the dead undermines it irreparably.    

Rajiv Gandhi regime’s involvement in Bofors graft is well known and verifiable. It cannot be wished away or shoved under the carpet of political convenience. Raking up his gory assassination are at best ad hominem references that divert and distract the discussion rather than offer helpful illumination.

At any rate, the Congress itself is now in a political relationship with the DMK, the party that was accused of having helped Rajiv’s killers (Jain Commission interim report.) So Congress’ complaints ring hollow.  

Modi’s words were crude, coming from the Prime Minister. But it is still a matter of opinion. He can be hauled up if only they were illegal.

The Congress would have been well advised to not target the BJP (and Modi) on the count of disrespecting the dead. Instead, it could have gone hammer and tongs against the BJP for being duplicitous on the question of venality. After all, the BJP is in alliance with the AIADMK whose former leader J Jayalalithaa was in fact convicted for corruption. On this issue, it is the BJP’s voice that rings dubious.  

Of course, in the election meetings in Tamil Nadu, the State Congress leaders did talk of her corruption and the court verdict against her.

Perhaps the consideration for a dead leader was itself dead then.

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