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Foot-in-mouth club: Modi, Bush and Kejriwal!

Last updated on: September 3, 2012 09:59 IST

Image: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi
Sunil Sethi

The obtuseness of political speech often lies in answering a question that was never asked or plainly misunderstanding the question. Blundering evasions can lead to mouths falling so wide open that you can shove Narendra Modi's two large feet into them.

The Gujarat chief minister's response on widespread malnutrition being the result of a predominantly vegetarian middle class that is "more beauty conscious than health conscious" is a classic of the foot-in-mouth genre. (About 52 per cent of children under five in his state are victims; 70 per cent of children between six and 59 months are anaemic; so are 55 per cent of Gujarati women.)

"If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they will have a fight. She will tell her mother, 'I will not drink milk. I will get fat.'" was -- as off-the-handle comments go -- ignorant and irresponsible.

Narendra Modi compounded the gaffe, "But these things are such that you see a sudden change in a child after the age of 13-14 years. They grow up so fast -- from zero to 13 you don't come to know how they got so big."

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'I am happy with price rise'

Image: George W Bush

This is bad news from a leader heading for state elections in December and with a former cabinet member currently heading to jail. Could there be a more emphatic thumbs down for someone aiming for a growth rate to top 10 per cent and nurturing dreams of becoming prime minister?

What is it that prompts political leaders to make such asinine remarks? Among the many outlandish quotes that made George W Bush the prize joke of the American presidency was, "Leadership to me means duty, honour, country. It means character, and it means listening from time to time."

There you have it. No one is expected to listen all the time, but politicians unravel to deliver their worst gaffes when they stop listening. Consider the record in recent weeks.

Here is Union minister Beni Prasad Verma giving a speech in Uttar Pradesh, "With the increasing price levels, the farmers are benefiting. Dal, atta, vegetables have all become expensive. I am happy with this price rise. The more the prices rise the better it is for farmers."

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'A bunch of jokers'

Image: Arvind Kejriwal

Mamata Banerjee stomps out of a TV show refusing to answer audience questions because "they are Maoist students."

On another recent occasion, after an injudicious attack on the judiciary, she comes up with a corny cover-up, "I had said the voice of justice should not weep in the wilderness."

Or Arvind Kejriwal, the shining light against corruption (who would like nothing more than winning an election) saying, "Rapists, murderers and looters sit in Parliament."

It's of a piece with Kamal Nath, who when he was highways minister dismissed the entire Planning Commission as "a bunch of jokers" when some of its members expressed the view that his promise of delivering 20 km of highways a day was unfeasible.

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When politicians tune out of reality

Image: Mulayam Singh Yadav

Outbursts vary from expressions of deep-seated prejudice, such as Mulayam Singh Yadav's views on computer-aided education and women's reservation in Parliament, to delusional mindsets.

An example of the latter case went to show some years ago when a fraudulent trickster, Ramar Pillai, claimed he could scientifically turn a secret herbal concoction into petrol. Among widespread condemnation from experts, his ardent backer turned out to be M Karunanidhi, then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, who seemed to suggest that dismissing such a magical discovery was an insult to Tamil pride!

The answer why leaders are prone to outrageous utterances lies in the notion of the idee fixe, a French term which implies a psychological disorder of fevered brains and obsessive, fixed thinking. The dictionary further describes it as "an incessant return to the same few themes, scenarios and questions; its meticulous examination and re-examination of banal minutiae for hidden meanings that simply aren't there; the cancerous way an idee fixe usurps other, more interesting thoughts -- is that it is confining, not rebellious, and not fascinating but maddeningly dull."

It happens most often when politicians tune out of reality.

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