The unkindest cut of all

With the panauti remark, politics reached a new low: getting personal is routine and hitting below the belt a new norm; but calling someone, and that too a Prime Minister, an ‘ill omen’ is unacceptable. 

There seems to be three players in this sordid drama: politically, the one who started it; another who was involuntarily dragged in and the third who is being quoted posthumously. Simply put they are Rahul Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mrs Indira Gandhi respectively.  

Let us begin with the willing initiator; namely Congress scion Rahul Gandhi.  

For starters, it was the Congress led by Rahul Gandhi that fired first. 

Expectedly but uncharitably, he targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi blaming him for the World Cup defeat: Achha bhalaa hamare ladke wahaan World Cup jeetne waale the, par panauti harwaa diya, our boys were going to win the World Cup, but panauti got them defeated, to quote the Congress scion while addressing an election rally. He also said “PM means Panauti Modi”. 

For record, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present in the stadium to witness the World Cup Finals between India and Australia. 

As for terminology, Panauti is commonly understood to be a word that means ill omen. The word is used for a person or situation that brings trouble and bad luck. 

In astrology, panauti refers to a phase of a tough time due to the movement of planets. The word is commonly used for a person, situation or a period that is full of worries and reverses. 

Against this backdrop for Rahul Gandhi to call Prime Minister Modi a panauti was nothing short of it being an unkindest cut in recent times. 

The event was the Cricket World Cup which had sent the entire country and perhaps part of the World in a tizzy. 

India had, before it entered the finals, won  ten straight matches displaying its prowess, grit, determination and ability as a first rate cricketing team. 

The line-up comprising Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and others was formidable; Mohammad Shami emerged as a leading wicket taker but where Shami couldn’t Jasprit Bumrah did with his outstanding performance; and ofcourse Rohit Sharma stood tall as skipper. 

 Therefore the stage was set for a breath-taking performance followed by an expected win. 

The Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, Gujarat was the go-to place in India on November 19: the day the final of the Cricket World Cup was being played between India and Australia. 

Such was the craze that both airlines and hotels made a killing on sales. If reports are anything to go, booking sites displayed hotel room rates between rupees 40,000 to 75,000 for one night. 

Flight costs, too, had skyrocketed: up to 25,000 rupees for a flight that ordinarily cost rupees 5000. 

All was well till India lost the World Cup finals. Hell broke loose with politics playing out. The focus shifted: from cricketers to politicians with Rahul Gandhi using a derogatory terminology for the country’s Prime Minister.

Therefore when senior BJP leaders and ministers lashed out at Gandhi they were not off the mark. 

If BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad said that Rahul Gandhi’s remarks were “shameful, condemnable and disgraceful”, Union Minister Rajeev Chandrashekar said Gandhi’s comments showed “signs of desperation and mental instability”. The Prime Minister, Chandrashekar tweeted, “is a nightmare for the Crooks of Congress”. 

The BJP was stung and rightly so. It went a step further and pulled out Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother India’s late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from the grave as it were. The BJP accused her of insulting the Indian hockey team that lost to Pakistan in the 1982 Asian Games final.

Mrs Indira Gandhi, the BJP said, left the match midway after India started trailing: a move, the BJP said, adversely affected the  players’ morale. 

While on Mrs Indira Gandhi Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma gave a different reason for team India’s cricket World Cup loss in the final match. He said the Indian cricket team lost the finals because it was played on Indira Gandhi’s birthday, he said.

Mrs Indira Gandhi was born on November 19. 

Caught in the crossfire and the tongue lashing is none other than Prime Minister Modi who watched the match, gave away the victory cup and also met the Indian team in the dressing room. 

This too raised hackles. 

Trinamool Congress’s Kirti Azad criticized the Prime Minister for “breaking rules” and invading the privacy of the Indian cricket team: “The dressing room is the sanctum sanctorum of any team…ICC does not allow anybody to enter these rooms apart from the players and the support staff”.

 Stating that Mr Modi should have met the team “outside the dressing room,” Azad tweeted: “Would @narendramodi allow his supporters to come and console or congratulate him in his bedroom, dressing room or the toilet?

For the record, after India lost to Australia in the final, Mr Modi had visited the dressing room to console the Men in Blue. 

Pictures of the Prime Minister consoling the Indian team went viral. 

On another count, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that the men in blue were “turning saffron”. She was referring to the colour of the practice jersey of the Indian players where they were seen supporting saffron coloured jersey instead of the customary blue: “Now everything has been turned into saffron,” Bannerji said at an event.  

Even as Azad accused the Prime Minister of “breaking rules”, other opposition parties condemned the move on grounds that “players looked uncomfortable after the defeat and cameras were thrust on them to record the ‘pep talk’. 

Union Minister Amit Shah was right in saying that Gandhi had hit “below the belt”. Not many would disagree. 

Politics and criticism within a limit is one part but getting personal and so despicably, quite another. Add to this the fact that one is insulting the office of the Prime Minister of the country: on that account at least one must measure one’s words. 

As for Mr Modi it is a damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t kind of a situation. Had he gone to the stadium and left without meeting the players, critics would have lashed out, quoting  instances where he feted and interacted with athletes: be it those who participated in the Asian Games, the Indian contingent which brought in a medal-haul in the Commonwealth games and so on and so forth. 

Therefore, had he given a go-by to the Indian cricket team particularly when they lost the final, it would be nothing short of sacrilege. About breaking the dressing room rule and equating it to a bedroom or a toilet is a bit of a stretch, to say the least.

With the panauti remark, politics reached a new low: getting personal is routine and hitting below the belt a new norm; name calling, a done thing irrespective of the person’s age or dignity of  the office he holds but calling someone, and that too a Prime Minister, an ill omen is unacceptable. 

What about decorum and decency? What about upbringing? Does it behove one to call a Prime Minister and someone who is twice their age a bad omen? 

 What happened to the much touted mohabbat ki dukan,  merchandise of love that Rahul Gandhi had spoken about during his Bharat jodo yatra

One can accuse Prime Minister Modi of playing to the gallery but does that give others a license to abuse him personally? 

It is no one’s case to even remotely suggest that a political slugfest is not in order. Neither is it to suggest that one cannot hit out at a political opponent. Sure one can but there have to be some lines drawn however rowdy the game may be. 

That the not so young Gandhi crossed the line is a given as was the fact that the Prime Minister was targeted simply because he chose to go and watch the World Cup final, and later boost the sagging morale of the Indian team that had lost the Cup.