The ordinary Indian is likely to be so desensitised to the crassness that Indian politics is capable of that she can be excused for thinking of the Supreme Court (SC) as Victorian in its politeness. Why else would the apex court be so appalled by the uncharitable words that politicians routinely employ for rivals? Name calling and insults have long been par for the course in politics. The degree of refinement, of course, varies. There are subtle insults, imaginative ones, outright rabid ones—the full spectrum. And no one seems above them. Prime minister Narendra Modi, who was called a “psychopath” by Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, had once called Congress leader Shashi Tharoor’s deceased (then alive) wife, Sunanda Pushkar, Tharoor’s “50-crore girlfriend”. Tharoor responded by calling Modi’s wife, who had not been officially acknowledge by the PM till then, “priceless” and “worth much more than an imaginary Rs 50 crore”. Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi once called Modi “maut ka saudagar” (a man who trades in killings) while Gandhi herself, on more than one occasion, has been deprecatingly called “matashree” (queen mother) by Modi. Gandhi has also been called an “Italian barmaid”, referencing both her Italian origins and the alleged job she held while studying in the UK. All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen leader Akbaruddin Owaisi has called Modi a “zaalim” (tyrant) and “shaitaan” (the devil), while, during the Bihar elections, Modi imputed that RJD leader Lalu Prasad may have been possessed by the devil. Lalu called Amit Shah “narbhakshi” (man-eater), who had earlier called him “chaara chor” (fodder thief).
The SC took exception to the names that Kejriwal was called in placards held by BJP supporters at a protest against the sealing drive in Delhi. But Kejriwal himself has dealt insults as much as he has received. The court’s advice to politicians to mind their tongue is something that netas should pay heed to. But, two words: Augean stables. Will the SC chiding politicians for using derogatory language make their choice of words chaste, if not less biting, when they attack their opponents? Precedence is against this. In political slanging matches, even allies and fellow partymen haven’t been spared—Goa CM and BJP leader Manohar Parrikar once called BJP patriarch LK Advani “rancid pickle”.