New Delhi: Growing up in a Punjabi family, one often used to be told, “Ek chup, sau sukh”. For want of a perfect translation, here’s what I think comes nearest in terms of conveying the meaning of the phrase in English: Silence is Golden.
Truth be told, one didn’t completely understand the importance, and the underlying truth, in the words till I started covering politics. Having witnessed, often to their own and their party’s peril, several feats of politicians landing in trouble for making statements that are open to be twisted and misconstrued by their political opponents, one wonders, why can’t the politicians understand the importance of silence.
For every politician, one feels, there must be a mandatory class on when to speak what, and when not to speak anything.
All India Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, the newest brand ambassador of the foot-in-the-mouth syndrome that often affects politicians trying to please a section of the people, could be the first student of this class.
After all, she willingly walked into a trap, one that the BJP won’t allow her or her party to get out of so easily, set by a news anchor during an event organised by a channel when she asserted that she had every right as “an individual to imagine Goddess Kaali as a meat-eating and alcohol-accepting goddess”.
Most smart politicians would have deflected any question in this regard by steering the conversation away from the controversy over a filmmaker depicting the Goddess Kali as a cigarette smoking person strolling on the streets of Toronto. But, Moitra, keen to live up to the standards set by the liberals of the country, decided to do her bit for the cause.
She may be right in whatever she said. But, politically-correct she certainly wasn’t. So much so that even her party’s leadership had to issue a statement disassociating itself with her assertions.
As expected, she refused to back down and/or keep quiet. She dug herself deeper into the ditch of controversy by trying to drag the BJP into it. The BJP, which seemed to be awaiting a dare from her, didn’t take long to take her and the TMC on.
But, Moitra wasn’t alone. She soon received support from another member of the can’t-stay-quiet-to-long-even-if-it-means-dragging-myself-into-a-needless-controversy club and fellow Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor. The erudite Congress leader, whose command over the Queen’s language is second to none – at least in Parliament, tweeted his support for Moitra. And then came the inevitable attack by the trolls, many of who dragged his party, the Congress, into the controversy, forcing the party to distance itself.
Tharoor and Moitra aren’t the only ones who need a lesson in why it is important for politicians not to voice their opinion on every divisive issue, one that could be put to effective use by their opponents to create a wedge between them and the voters of the majority community. There are many others like them.
In these trying times, when journalists and fact-checkers are being arrested over specious charges, one that should actually be laughed out of courtrooms, the smart political play for the opposition leaders would be to not fall for the trap of Hindutva or nationalism debate. Doing so allows an easy pass to the Narendra Modi government, helps it deflect attention from the real issues that need to be addressed.
The next time Moitra and others like her decide to speak up just to please their followers on twitter, they would be helping their own cause by remembering that today, when entire prime time debate was focused on Moitra’s statement, the big issue could have been the fact that per cylinder cost of demostic LPG (14.2 kg) crossed the Rs 1050-mark in Delhi or the fact that the unemployment rate in India rose to 7.8 per cent in June while rural unemployment rate climbed to 8.03 per cent.