How to insult people, Indian politician-style
If you were a reporter covering the Shiv Sena in 2006, the place to be was a nondescript restaurant located midway between party offices and those of Bal Thackeray’s nephew Raj, who rebelled and formed a new party after a fall-out with his uncle.
At this hole-in-the-wall eatery, party workers from both sides would let it all out — the vitriol would flow freely against Raj, the Thackerays and the Congress party. A lot of these barbs were never repeated outside those four walls, but some of that vitriol certainly seeped into the public speeches of their leaders.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is certainly taking over from the Thackerays when it comes to handing out insults — he’s been targeting almost every single opponent in his election campaign.
On Monday, he called Shashi Tharoor’s wife Sunanda a “50-crore girlfriend” referring to the IPL scandal, a comment that sparked a media furor and a spate of jokes on Twitter.
Tharoor responded the way any former diplomat would, telling Modi on Twitter that his wife was “priceless” and worth much more than his “imaginary 50 crore”.
But the remark is an example of what most politicians know is an old trick. Insult your opponent, call him/her something unpalatable, and it’ll get you attention, applause at an election rally, media coverage and, if you are lucky, some votes.
Sonia Gandhi has been a favoured target over the years, especially because she’s not from India. Former BJP leader Pramod Mahajan once compared her to Monica Lewinsky, and the leader of the right-wing VHP Pravin Togadia called her an “Italian bitch”.
Gandhi’s mother-in-law, and India’s first woman prime minister, Indira was often referred to as “goongi gudiya” (dumb doll) and Mulayam Singh Yadav once commented on opponent Mayawati’s hairstyle calling her “baal kati aurat” (a woman whose hair has been shorn).
Raj Thackeray once took a potshot at actress Jaya Bachchan, saying Guddi (which means doll and was also the name of Bachchan’s first film) has gotten older, but not wiser.
Bal Thackeray famously called fellow politician Sharad Pawar a “sack of flour”, referring to Pawar’s girth, prompting Pawar to retort that Thackeray shouldn’t provoke him because he could use worse language.
It is all very well to trade insults with an opponent, but Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar actually took a dig at the most senior leader of his own party, saying L. K. Advani was like a “rancid pickle” who should retire to make way for younger leaders.
If you remember a particularly funny or memorable insult, please share in the comments section. I’d love to add to this collection. Some of my favourites are impossible to translate because you have to understand the language to perceive the sarcasm behind it, but share them all with us here or on Twitter (mark it with @reutersindia). We’ll publish the best ones. And if you have the key to translating particularly scabrous comments, whether in Tamil, Gujarati, Hindi, Bengali, Naga or what-have-you, give it a try. We’ll publish a sequel soon.