The recent “underwear” remark by Samajwadi Party veteran Azam Khan against his one-time colleague, and now rival, Jaya Prada has shown how low Indian political dialogue can stoop in election season with politicians cutting across party lines indulging in crass misogyny and sexism. While politicians have never had any issue with making below the belt comments, the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has seen some of them cross the “red line” more frequently.
Interestingly, this election season has seen unprecedented personal attacks and verbal volleys on women politicians. From calling Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi “Pappu ki pappi” to stating that BJP made Hema Malini “dance” to get votes, the frequency of such remarks has only increased as the election fever heats up.
However, such sexist remarks have not only been targeted at women politicians. Karnataka minister B Z Zameer Ahmed Khan mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appearance and said his wife left him because “his face was not good”. Last month, Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha said PM Modi “sounds like a blonde”. “He has white hair. But he sounds more like a blonde,” he had said.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan too has not been spared, with Kerala Congress chief K Sudhakaran calling the CPI(M) leader “worse than a woman”.
“When he (Vijayan) assumed power, we thought he might do something like men. But he has become a senseless chief minister. Even a woman would have done better. He is worse than a woman,” Sudhakaran said.
Even though the Election Commission had set an example by banning Azam Khan from campaigning for three days for the “indecent and repugnant” remarks he made against Jaya Prada, and Union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi has been booked for violating the model code after he referred to Azam Khan as “Mogambo”, it has been seen in the past that such deterrence hardly works in India’s charged political scenario.
In the run-up to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, then BJP Uttar Pradesh vice-president Dayashankar Singh had created a storm for saying Mayawati’s behaviour was worse than that of a prostitute while accusing the BSP supremo of selling election tickets. Despite being sacked from all party posts for six years, he shared the stage with PM Modi at several election rallies and in 2018 was reinstated as vice-president of the party in Uttar Pradesh after BJP came back to power in the state.
From her dressing sense to her looks — most of the sexist jibes have been directed at Congress’ new inductee and party general secretary in-charge Priyanka Gandhi. While BJP leader Mansukh Mandaviya said that having a nose like Indira Gandhi does not make Priyanka like her grandmother, Kailash Vijayvargiya said the Congress was relying on “chocolate faces” due to a dearth of candidates.
Another BJP leader Harish Dwivedi questioned the sense of dressing of the Congress leader. “Priyanka Gandhi wears jeans and top in Delhi, but when she comes to rural areas she is clad in a sari and wears sindoor,” Dwivedi said.
While, in the past, attacks on rivals used to involve remarks on ideology, government policies or even one’s religion, sexism and misogynistic salvos seem to be the “new normal” in the modern political scenario.