A growing popular perception is that in politics today, courtesy is synonymous with weakness. If you don’t believe in civility, you are considered an aggressive and intelligent politician. This means that the old values of comity between politicians are not as important today as they once were.
West Bengal Assembly Opposition Leader Suvendu Adhikari said he was not invited to the state government’s Republic Day function held at Red Road on Wednesday in Kolkata. This, says Adhikari, goes against the basic idea of civility extended to the opposition.
However, Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar was present at the parade despite taking to Twitter almost daily to criticize the West Bengal government and even CM Mamata Banerjee.
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Interestingly, the TMC has argued that Governor Dhankhar’s regular tweets and outbursts against the elected government of West Bengal actually go against the principles of political comity. But he was still invited to the Republic Day parade as the constitutional head of state.
BJP and Congress criticize TMC
The opposition, on the other hand, is up in arms against the state government over the Republic Day event.
Congressman Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury held a press conference on Thursday and told reporters he had not even been invited to the R-Day parade on Red Road. Chowdhury is the opposition leader in the Lok Sabha.
Many members of the West Bengal government said there had been a massive reduction in the number of guests due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, even several Ministers of State were missing from the guest list.
Responding to Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s remarks, the TMC leaders said MPs from West Bengal are not invited to the state government event on January 26 as they usually prefer to attend the parade in New Delhi.
Republic Day 2022 Parade on Kolkata Red Road Wednesday | PTI
In fact, Chowdhury mentioned that he received an invitation to attend the R-Day parade in the nation’s capital.
Trinamool Congress MPs, meanwhile, say they never received an invitation to the January 26 parade in New Delhi. The question now arises – which of these actions violates basic civility?
But it is an interesting twist in West Bengal politics, with the BJP and Congress accusing the state government of failing to show basic courtesy.
Before Mamata Banerjee was CM
There was also a time when courtesy played a very important role in the politics of West Bengal.
Before coming to power in 2011, Mamata Banerjee was accused by the CPM of breaching civility by attacking then-Chief Minister Jyoti Basu. She then surprised many by visiting Basu on his birthday, touching his feet and giving him a shawl and flowers.
This sudden decision, however, caused a major outcry within the left front, with the CPM accusing Mamata Banerjee of playing politics under the guise of courtesy.
File photo of Jyoti Basu | India Today Archives
It is important to note that Mamata Banerjee and Jyoti Basu shared a good relationship until his death in 2010. By then, Mamata Banerjee had entered into a political struggle with his successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.
Soon after, Mamata became the chief minister. As chief minister, she visited Bhattacharya’s house when he was sick. But his offer to show basic courtesy was not well received by CPM.
Therefore, it would not be unfair to say that the space between comity and politics lies in a gray area.
Thin line between civility and politics
One incident that best highlights this gray area is an exchange between then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and P Sundarayya, the first parliamentary party leader of the Communist Party in India.
During a debate in Parliament, Sundarayya allegedly used abusive words against Nehru. It was about a report on Lady Mountbatten’s planned visit to India. Sundarayya, referring to the report, said there was no reason for Lady Mountbatten to visit India after independence apart from Nehru.
The Communist leader’s remarks greatly upset Nehru and even caused an uproar in Parliament due to rumors about the nature of the relationship between the then Prime Minister and Lady Mountbatten.
The very next day, Nehru invited Sundarayya for a cup of tea at his residence in New Delhi. It was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, then vice-president and president of the Rajya Sabha, who extended the invitation.
In his autobiography, Sundarayya writes that he faced a dilemma when Nehru invited him for tea. He asked his wife if he should take the offer and she told him he needed to visit the prime minister and not confuse courtesy with politics.
The incident is also mentioned in the autobiography of P Sundarayya’s wife.
While this is just one such incident that highlights the fine line between civility and politics, there are several more like it.
A recent example of how this line can become blurred is the controversy over former West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya refusing the Padma Bhushan. Many Communist Party members believe that the prize was awarded by the central government not out of courtesy but rather as a political decision. This might be one of the reasons why Bhattacharya turned down the award.
But what these incidents show is that when it comes to civility and politics, the “Laxman Rekha” is not as clear cut as it seems. However, it is hard to argue with the principle that civility should not be compromised on the altar of politics.