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Modi Mocking Sonia Gandhi’s Italian Accent In Parliament Is Disgusting And Shameful

Modi has demeaned the dignity of his prime minister chair.

A lot has already been written in the media about Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s brilliant and highly effective speech in the Lok Sabha debate on the no-confidence motion against the Modi Government. With the hug and the wink, he snatched the media space from Narendra Modi. Rahul Gandhi’s powerful performance in the Lok Sabha is not surprising because not only is he smart, suave, educated and witty but he is also focused and passionate over his ideas and beliefs. It was only a matter of time for him to get over his hesitation and to excel at public speaking. However, the real surprise of the Lok Sabha debate was Modi’s lengthy and lacklustre reply at the end of the debate. Though the no-confidence motion was brought by BJP’s former ally Telegu Desam Party, Modi only focused on countering Rahul Gandhi and belittling the contribution of Gandhi-Nehru family to India’s democracy and development.

Modi is known for giving rousing public speeches. He is a demagogue who loves large rallies of his faithful. He is afraid of answering tough questions and runs away from debates and discussions. As the country’s Prime Minister, he has spent more days abroad than he has spent attending the country’s Parliament. He has been a Prime Minister for more than four years but has not addressed a single press conference yet. Modi’s discomfort in answering difficult questions was visible during his reply to the no-confidence motion. In his lengthy speech, drawing mostly from written notes, not only did he fail to address the concerns that are causing BJP’s allies to grow restive and break ranks, but he also was unable to answer Rahul Gandhi’s pointed questions on his government’s failure to bring back black money from abroad and the Rafale Deal. He does not have much to show on his 2014 election promise of ‘Achhe Din’ either.  It is not surprising that Modi was a spectacular failure compared to Rahul Gandhi’s performance in the Parliament, both in substance and optics.

More than four years have passed. Modi has failed to deliver as the Prime Minister and has also failed to evolve to behave and act like a Prime Minister, even in the Parliament. This became clear when he took an unprovoked jibe at Sonia Gandhi for her 1999 remarks on having the majority support in the support. The manner in which Modi said ‘272’ and even repeated it in an Italian sounding accent, does not behove the Prime Minister of a large and diverse democracy. Lampooning anyone for their birth and background, more so a senior and respected opposition leader, is unacceptable. This mimicry by Prime Minister Modi was not merely politically incorrect and indecent, it was also racist and chauvinistic.

For decades, Sonia Gandhi has been at the receiving end of the sexist and racist abuses from BJP leaders, particularly by Prime Minister Modi. When he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2004, Modi had called Sonia Gandhi a ‘Jersey Cow’. In his public speeches, he repeatedly refers to her as ‘Madam’, taking a dig at her Italian origin. After Modi became the undisputed leader of the BJP in 2014, several leaders of his party were over-active in hurling racists and misogynist abuses at Sonia Gandhi. In the Modi era, personal attacks against Sonia Gandhi by BJP leaders have become a norm rather than the exception. But as the Prime Minister of the country, Narendra Modi by parodying an Italian accent to take a cheap potshot at a senior female opposition leader, as the whole country watches him speak on the Lok Sabha floor, is a new low.

Modi, being Modi, has very little respect for political correctness and parliamentary traditions. He conveniently forgets while speaking in public that he is not just any other leader, he is the Prime Minister of the country. He has a critical role in shaping public discourse and maintaining its standards. Unfortunately, he has given his supporters complete freedom to use half-truths and fake news to spread hatred and bigotry among religious and ethnic groups and to lampoon opposition leaders vulgarly, leading this dangerous trend himself. Like Rahul Gandhi said in his speech, Modi seems to be very afraid of losing his power. A few days earlier, he had used fake news to falsely accuse Rahul Gandhi of describing the Congress Party as ‘a Muslim Party’. Now, by mimicking an Italian accent in the Parliament to insult Sonia Gandhi, Modi has shown that he wants to keep his Prime Minister chair at any cost, even if that cost is a complete destruction of the chair’s dignity and gravitas.

Every country has a government, but only democracies have opposition. The role of an effective opposition is key to the success of any democracy, old or new. However, Modi’s authoritarian streaks and ‘strong man’ politics see very little usefulness in the active role of opposition parties and their leaders. He does whatever he can to destroy them, instead of working with them as needed by democratic institutions. Thus, by mocking his primary political opponents Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi personally, Modi is deteriorating the standard of public discourse in India and is also further damaging the foundation of the country’s struggling democracy.

The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.

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