Traditionally, Indian lawmakers have used humour and witticism more effectively while occupying the Opposition benches in the House. It has helped them pack extra punch in their criticism of the government, and often made the parliamentary discourse simultaneously more focused and more palatable.
In the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who last month lamented the gradual fading away of humour and wit from parliamentary proceedings under the intimidating glare of the media — this trend, however, appears to be changing.
Ruling party MPs have been using more wit, humour, poetry and couplets in the Lok Sabha than the opposition. While this is likely to be the result also of current parliamentary numbers as well as differing styles of speechmaking by individual MPs, the overall incidence of the use of wit has also been rising.
In the first 8 sessions in the lifetime of the present government, poetry and humour was used on 88 occasions in parliamentary debates. The corresponding numbers in the lifetimes of UPA-II and UPA-I were 51 and 18.
In the first 8 sessions of the current Lok Sabha, Hindi poems and couplets (38 instances) were the most widely used linguistic tool to make a point. Urdu couplets followed close behind (36 instances), the majority (19) of them being spoken by BJP members.
Bengali, Punjabi and Sanskrit couplets have also been spoken on the floor of the House. Mirza Ghalib was the most quoted poet — half a dozen references were made to his couplets or to couplets thought to be his.
“Politicians use humour to create a certain image in the mind of the audience. In some cases, humour is used to bring levity in the House and to get the attention of other members and a wider audience. It is also used to create bonding with members (on the other side).
Humour has been used by some MPs as a relational management strategy (and)… to procure more time from the Chair,” says a 2014 thesis on ‘Discourse analysis of Indian Parliamentary debates with special reference to wit and humour’, by Dr Muckta Karmarkar.
A senior opposition MP conceded that BJP members’ speeches had a “lot to do with the confidence that they have gained after their victory”, and that “they have good orators who honed their skills while in the opposition”.