Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Tapas Pal courted controversy recently with his vitriolic and shameful speech threatening CPI (M) women supporters with rape. “I will shoot them myself… and let loose my men to rape your women,” Pal was reported as saying at a TMC rally.
Pal joins the ranks of his fellow partymen Manirul Islam and Anubrata Mandal, who made similar statements in the past. He also joins a growing list of politicians afflicted with the foot-in- the-mouth disease. His incendiary speech added to the ignominious chapter of foulspeak in West Bengal’s violenceridden politics. Since Pal is an elected representative, his speech obviously sparked a national outrage and went viral in the social media, forcing him to tender an apology.
But one must have a heart for Pal. He was only following in the footsteps of his and TMC’s ‘Dear Didi’. Back in 2012, TMC chief and Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee had labelled a case of rape a fabrication. She said the incident, intended to malign her government, was contrived. As if for effect, the state government transferred Kolkata Police crime wing’s then chief Damayanti Sen after she cracked the case and found evidence to counter the CM’s claim. But for Bengal politics such incidents are not new. Even the ‘erstwhile’ CPM was guilty of similar hate-monging while in power and the media has amply chronicled them.
So why is it that, particularly in politics, such streaks of visible violence and vengeance between rival parties happen? Perhaps a more appropriate question is, given their position, why can’t our lawmakers just keep their emotions and tongues in check? And why is it that Bengal exemplifies that which is not to be said – remember Pal, Didi, Subroto Chakrabarty – a State of callous statements?
Why is it that only after media reports such unwarranted statements that politicians apologize – like Pal, or his wife, did – or political parties like TMC take note? One ostensible reason could be that common sense eludes our politicians when they make such insensitive and reprehensive statements. They don’t bat an eyelid when they throw the word around – unmindful of the media presence.
What is disturbing is that such statements are being made by our elected representatives. The recent election campaign saw the discourse plunging to a new low. What is further damning is that most often, hungry for publicity, political leaders ‘demand’ the presence of media, but forget to take care what they say or do lest they make it to the news channels, news pages or social media mentions.
Another reason may be people’s tolerance level and the societal attitudes about political violence. Our politicians enjoy enormous immunity in terms of public accountability unlike other countries where similar statements could have led to the end of their career. The callousness with which politicians have been shooting off about sensitive issues has rarely invited any action.
Pal’s remarks can be seen in the context of an ongoing spate of misogyny by those in power, said writer and columnist Namita Bhandare. She cites Samajwadi Party boss Mulayam Singh Yadav’s speech at an election rally in May that he is against the tougher new rape laws because “boys will be boys” and sometimes make “mistakes”.
Besides Mulayam, such comments came from some ministers too. Goa CM Manohar Parrikar’s statement that “if a woman is raped, she faces inquiry by one inspector, but in case someone wants to set up an industry, he has to face 16 inspectors” is, at best, shocking. What we forget is that in the era of 24x7 media, such remarks are heard and amplified manifold across the country in repeated visuals on TV. Such visualization is likely to give rise to disturbing tendencies, putting people, particularly women, in great danger.
“People holding important positions should be cautious about making statements which are against the law of the land,” says Dr Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research. “It is the responsibility of civil society groups to mobilize people and create an atmosphere to make them understand the dangers of such a sick mindset in society. There should be zero tolerance for such bizarre statements.”
Violence begets violence. Perhaps this syndrome is now percolating to law-makers like Pal. It is being said that what Pal did surpasses any kind of political audacity that Bengal witnessed in recent times. What Pal should realize is that the clapping and cheering crowd internalizes this culture of violence. Moreover, when people in a position of power like Pal make such remarks, they embolden criminals too. It is high time to arrest this trend.
It is because of this political hatred that the national media always gets negative reports from the State. No wonder CM Banerjee blames the media for the Pal episode. She claimed that CPI (M), along with the media, hatched a conspiracy against Pal.
Our elected representatives are supposed to facilitate development in their respective constituencies and work for peace and welfare of the people. Men like Pal should know better. He must understand that his responsibility as a lawmaker is to ensure peace and not to fuel fire.
Peace and development was on Banerjee’s lips during her recent visit to Darjeeling. “We want peace and I’m here with a message of peace. Let there be development; I won’t tolerate disruptions of any form,” she had said then and the media had reported it extensively. She must restrain her leaders and supporters, and truly live up to her words.
Politicians must be careful with their words and actions, as an accidental slip of the tongue could lead to a political crisis. The onus really is on the political class to act in the interest of all. And they, nay all, must realize that the media – as the eyes and ears of the masses – is keeping close watch.