Politics of language and the language of politics in Telangana

Though politicians hurling vulgar and choicest epithets at one another is not new, it has reached unprecedented depths in Telangana.

ByN Venugopal

Published Mar 01, 2024 | 5:56 PMUpdatedMar 01, 2024 | 6:55 PM

Representational image. (iStock)

“That useless fellow says we would not have won even three seats if my name was announced in advance. I challenge him. If you are a man, win at least one seat,” says one.

“Were you not a man when you lost? If you are a man, come, resign your seat; I will resign mine. We both will fight at another place. If you have guts, come, let’s see,” retorts another.

Do not mistake that you overheard this comment and counter comment in a street fight between two ruffians.

One was delivered by none other than the elected Chief Minister of a state, and the other was from a leader of the Opposition. Such is the level to which the language of Telangana’s political culture has stooped.

Though politicians hurling vulgar and choicest epithets at one another is not new, it has reached unprecedented depths in Telangana.

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Verbal skirmish

The present phase of the crude exchange began with a comment by KT Rama Rao, the all-powerful Executive President of the BRS and son of former chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao.

Speaking at a usual review meeting of the party at Mahabubnagar, he said, “Congress would not have won even 30 seats if they had announced Revanth Reddy as Chief Minister beforehand. They just won by fluke. They also did not expect to win. Their party men confess that they did not expect more than five or six in Mahabubnagar, but they did not know how they won 12.”

Since it was an internal party meeting, at best, the comment might have been to boost the cadres. But given the proliferation of media and social media, the comment made on Monday was all over the place within hours.

Chief Minister A Revanth Reddy had an opportune moment to respond to the comment at a Jana Jatara public meeting in Chevella on Wednesday. Known for his biting tongue, he came down heavily on KTR’s comment.

“That useless fellow says if Revanth Reddy’s name were announced beforehand, we would not have secured three seats. Now, from this dais, I am challenging KTR, who indulged in hogwash. If you have the capacity and guts, if you are a man, win at least one seat in the next Parliament elections.” (Aa sannaasodu antundu – ennikalaku mundu Revant peru chepite moodu seetlu raakapotunde ani. Ee vedika meedinunchi aa sollu vaagudu KTR ku challenge visurutunna. Raaboye parliament ennikallo, neeku chaatanaite, dammunte, mogodivaite okka seat gelichi choopinchu.)

Challenges and counter-challenges are common in politics, but using utterly misogynistic comments on the manhood of the opponent created a stir.

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Pretended anger

Not to be outwitted, KTR took the gauntlet, of course not proving his party’s mettle at the polls since it is at least two months away, but giving a repartee in the same language. He also evoked the manliness of the opponent. He asked him to resign from his chief ministership and Kodangal Assembly seat and contest in Malkajgiri Parliament seat (which incidentally is the sitting seat of Revanth Reddy). He offered himself as a candidate, resigning his assembly seat of Sircilla.

Bringing in masculinity and trying to outsmart the other in the tit-for-tat duel, both the leaders were only attempting a political sensation, and all that pretended anger was only for public consumption. In reality, almost all these leaders using superlative abuses and fantastic accusations at one another have always been pals and never tried to prove what they said. Even when they had power, they never tried to prove their accusations in a court of law.

Thus, whether proved or not, the abuses and accusations remain in public memory and lead to complete discrediting of the political class. A loose tongue does not belong only to the person having it but extends to the entire political culture. In the process, the politicians destroy the mutual respect that ought to be there and demolish decorum in public life.

The decline of the political language and etiquette has been swift in the last decade or so. K Chandrashekar Rao must get the credit for the usage of derogatory words like sannaasi, chavata, daddamma, bevakoof, telivitakkuva, panikimaalina (derogatory words meaning useless, waste, foolish, and idiotic) against not only his rival politicians but also journalists.

He used to dress down any journalist who dared to question him at his monologues, euphemistically called press conferences. In his public speeches, audiences would enjoy and relish such statements, and he would use more of them. At one point in time, he and his supporters even tried to justify their abusive language in the name of “Telangana culture”!

Since joining Congress, Revanth Reddy has proved to be a match for KCR in using derogatory language. Equally, the other person’s age, experience, credibility, or social standing was immaterial for both.

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Grammar of culture

Between the three forms of address — honorific plural you, singular you and derogatory you – they always prefer the last two, irrespective of the person they are referring to.

The BRS cadres, mainly social media handlers, cannot digest their leader being given back in the same coin. In the last three months they have been out of power, in their campaigns against Congress (calling it seamstress just like BJP) and its Chief Minister, they have been using the old slur, Note-for-vote, against Revanth Reddy and calling him Retentha Reddy (What is your price Reddy?). They also insult him for his height (he is supposed to be short), referring to him as GM — Gumpu Mestri (labour contractor) — instead of CM.

An abuse or epithet is not only a reflection of anger but also exposes the user’s mind. Any abuse, in whatever form, reveals the prejudices of class, caste, gender, race, regional and linguistic differences, even when the user is not conscious of it.

Gender prejudice and hatred are pretty visible in questioning or challenging the manliness of a person for victory or defeat in elections. An ancient prejudice against gender and a modern political establishment like parliamentary elections going hand in hand – what a peaceful coexistence!

(The writer is Editor, Veekshanam, Telugu monthly journal of political economy and society. Views are personal.)