Published:  01:10 AM, 17 July 2017

Politicians and the matter of language

The veteran politician Mahmudur Rahman Manna has retracted his remark that it was foolish of him to have joined the Awami League. He has now said the statement was meant to be humorous and that he has learnt a lot from the party in the past three decades. The fact that Mr. Manna has seen it necessary to offer a clarification of his original statement is well taken. But what one quite does not see is the humor part of his remark. When a political leader of his standing says he was unwise to join a party and then suggests it was meant as a joke, the listener or the reader of a newspaper is at a loss to understand the wit or the humor here.

That brings us to the issue of the language employed by politicians in Bangladesh in these times. There was an era --- and we speak of the 1960s and 1970s --- when politicians across the  spectrum were careful about their employment of language. Their words were circumspect and often were interspersed with humor that was well understood and taken in good spirit by people. In the last three decades or more, a subtle but unmistakable change seems to have come in, with our political classes increasingly getting drawn to polemical language, to a point where their angry exchanges sometimes lead us into questioning ourselves if that era of decency and wit is now finally behind us.  Mr. Manna is a decent man and a reputed politician. We would like to think it was all a joke, as he has informed us.

Speaking of language, there are people who go more effusive than at all necessary, especially in praise of someone or something which takes their fancy. Only the other day, a ruling party lawmaker praised the Rapid Action Battalion as a manifestation of the grace of Allah. That remark is bound to upset a lot of people. But what can one do? The lawmaker has made his point, but one is afraid the statement was more of something of an exaggeration. Such statements as the one made by the lawmaker in question only leave readers with the feeling that politics is on a downward slide these days. That ought not to have been the case. One recalls the day when a minister, now deceased, termed all journalists 'khobish' (the closest translation being 'scum' in English), a remark loudly protested by the media.

In recent days, Dhaka North Mayor Annisul Haq has had to apologize for some remarks he made in relation to the ailment chikunguniya. His apology was a needed one, though one yet cannot fathom why he made that statement in the first place. Language is a delicate issue, to be used sparingly and wisely by all, especially politicians. Pakistan's Z.A. Bhutto remarked at Karachi airport, a day after the Pakistan army launched its genocide in Bangladesh, 'Thank God, Pakistan has been saved.'  He had to eat his words.

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