Three prominent political figures are facing flak for making politically incorrect observations.

The Finance Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, has described as “uncivilised” the Kerala Chief Minister, Mr V. S. Achuthanandan, calling the Congress General Secretary, Mr Rahul Gandhi, as “Amul baby”, in response to Mr Gandhi's comment on the old war-horse's advanced age by remarking that, if his combine was elected, by the time its term ended, the Chief Minister would be 93 years of age. Mr Gandhi clean forgot that if the DMK-Congress Alliance was elected in Tamil Nadu, its Chief Minister too, assuming that it would be Mr M. Karunanidhi, would be chronologically as advanced (the euphemism currently in vogue for ‘old'!) at the end of its term.

A bombshell

The former Karnataka Chief Minister, Mr H. D. Kumaraswamy, with great daring, dragged in the Father of the Nation himself into the crusade against corruption kicked off by Anna Hazare.

He reportedly told media persons that the entire political system has become corrupt now and that it was difficult to run any political party without being corrupt. He added that his own party had received donations and it was a sort of corruption as those who made the donations would naturally demand favours.

And, then, he threw this bombshell: “If Mahatma Gandhi were to be alive now, he would have either quit public life or become corrupt”. And the whole political class sanctimoniously fell on him like several tons of bricks.

The third figure is none other than the Human Resources and Telecommunications Minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, who is reported to have rhetorically asked the gathering at a public meeting: “I ask this question, if a poor child does not have any means for education, then how will Lokpal Bill help? If a poor man needs help for medical services, then he will call up a politician. How will Lokpal Bill help?”

To be sure, immediately Anna Hazare and his associates were after him like a pack of hounds wanting him to be thrown out of the joint drafting committee.

No one with any modicum of a sense of humour and of the ridiculous, especially in mature democracies such as America and Britain, would have taken exception to any of these remarks. On the contrary, they would have been greeted with amused chuckles and smirks.

Unfortunately, politicians in India are pompous something or other, totally devoid of the capacity to laugh at themselves and the comical situations of political life popping up around them. They take themselves and each other seriously and cannot simply stomach their leg being pulled.

Classic putdowns

Contrast this with the US President, Mr Barack Obama, voluntarily submitting himself to jeers and jibes at his expense at the late night comedy show of Jay Leno. Actually, night after night, anchors such as Jay Leno, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Jimmy Kimmel, in TV shows watched by millions across the US, are unsparing in the scathingly witty barbs they hurl at the high and mighty who also hugely enjoy them.

The US Presidents and all their Cabinet members unfailingly join the White House Correspondents Association's annual dinners where everyone makes fun of everyone else, regardless of rank or position.

Even the British, with their stiff upper lip, are known to let their political hair down. As someone said, withering observations have enlivened the democratic process there through the centuries. Here, savour some classic put-downs: Benjamin Disraeli, asked to differentiate between calamity and misfortune, “If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a misfortune. If anybody pulled him out, that…would be a calamity.” “There but for the grace of God goes God,” (Churchill on Stafford Cripps) “A modest man with much to be modest about…a sheep in sheep's clothing” (Churchill on Clement Attlee) “Winston has addressed the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches.” (Lord Birkenhead on Churchill).

I think the time has come to put India's politicians through a few weeks' crash course on political repartees as a lubricant of democracy.