Political parties put on defensive over remarks

Political parties put on defensive over remarks

New Delhi: India’s political parties distanced themselves on Tuesday from controversial and preposterous remarks their leaders made after the terrorist attack on Mumbai.

In the days following the attack, elected representatives seemed to have made a gaffe every time they opened their mouths. Gujarat chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) firebrand Narendra Modi, former Maharashtra deputy chief minister R.R. Patil, BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) veteran and Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthananthan—all invited public wrath for their comments even as the city mourned the dead.

While the ruling Congress party, main opposition BJP and the National Congress Party (NCP) termed the statements of their representatives as “individual remarks" or acts, the CPM said its politburo member’s comments were “regrettable".

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“Certain remarks made by V.S. Achuthananthan are regrettable," said a statement issued on Tuesday by CPM general secretary Prakash Karat. “He has assured that he had no other intention but to go to the home of Sandeep Unni-krishnan, who was brutally killed by terrorists in Mumbai, to pay homage and to condole with the family."

Reacting to Kerala chief minister’s remarks, railway minister Lalu Prasad said, “What the chief minister has said is absolutely wrong and a great insult to our martyr. I would demand from the CPM politburo to remove him (as chief minister)."

Other parties drew a distinction between party statements and individual remarks.

“These are individual remarks and they should individually be held liable for people affected by such remarks. These are not positions of the party but individual rhetoric that should be restrained," said BJP spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy.

D.P. Tripathi, general secretary and chief spokesperson, NCP, said: “In his (Patil’s) case, it was a distortion. However, some other politicians have shown insensitivity, for instance Naqvi’s statement. This is shameful."

“There is an understanding that only the spokespersons would speak and rest is all individual opinion and not the party’s stand. Though there is no gag order, we do hope all politicians would be sensitive and speak accordingly," said Congress spokesman Manish Tewari.

Analysts said that with mass anger being directed at the political class, politicians seem to have been pushed to a corner.

“There are two kinds of things. One, it has to be acknowledged that a significant number of politicians have lost any basic sense of proportion and moral sense. However, a more fundamental problem is that it is not just about a few politicians saying inappropriate things; it is about the absence of a leadership to take control of a collective narrative," said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.

“Naqvi spoke inappropriately because (Opposition leader and BJP veteran) L.K. Advani hasn’t had any cohesive thing to say yet. Thus, there is a vacuum which is allowing all kinds of politicians to say just anything. However, all these statements, though idiotic, do not really have consequences. What is a bigger problem is politicians making dangerous statements and revealing facts they themselves are unsure of," he added.

“Even if you comment against political opponent, it should be couched in a language which is acceptable," BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said.

Political commentator T.V.R. Shenoy called the public anger a “welcome development".

“It is for the first time that people have realized what politicians really are. But I am amused by the unity being displayed by the political class, which seems to have come together to defend itself against public anger," Shenoy said.

Utpal Bhaskar and PTI contributed to this story.

Graphics by Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint