The British parliament is the mother of all parliaments. Over the last nearly three hundred years of its present incarnation, it has evolved a set of expressions which are considered parliamentary. There are over a hundred — one cannot be precise but the figure of 107 is given by some — things you cannot say. So, while you can insinuate that ‘the Honourable Member from …’ has been ‘economical with the truth’ you cannot say he is ‘a bloody liar’. In the same way the parliaments o f India and Pakistan has had to expunge many words from their proceedings. Both have evolved and are daily in the process of redefining what is parliamentary and what is not. But for the last few years the system is in some kind of overload. The speeches of politicians, people in the talk shows, newspapers and the writers on the social media has become so vitriolic, insulting and indecent that one is facing a kind of crisis of linguistic behaviour which we have never faced before. Of course, Pakistanis have used strong language in parliament and in public for a earlier too. While the clerics specialised in this using the words ‘kafir’ (infidel), mal ‘un (one who is cursed), and fasiq (great sinner) for their opponents, others were less prone to trading insults in public. Mr Bhutto, however, did introduce strong language but even he did not cross the red lines of personal decency except of very rare occasions. The Sharifs, and more than them their supporters, did use indecorous language for Benazir Bhutto but this was corrected later. However, a new phase of such language began when time Imran Khan, icon of many and now prime minister, started using invectives for his political opponents. He had not been attacked in such a manner first so his back was not against the wall as it were. He took the initiative though, of course, there foul-mouthed people in the Sharif camp also. These were the kind of people who had used their talents against Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari and now their successors opened their guns on the PTI. The PTI, however, proved to be formidable and the epithets of thief (chor) and robber (daku) came to be the trademark of the PTI leadership and even the rank and file especially on the social media.The Sharifs are now in trouble and even incarcerated and it is debatable to what extent such negative images turned the fence sitters away from their party. If it did it is a form of pre-poll rigging but this is not the place to start that argument. Now that the PTI is in the saddle it should improve Pakistan by good governance and the use of this kind of inflammatory and insulting language simply gives it a bad name without contributing to good governance. I am specifically responding to the recent fracas in the Senate of Pakistan over the use of provocative terms for the opposition by Mr Fawad Chaudhary, the Honourable Minister for Communications. It resulted in the almost unheard step of the Speaker having to place him under a bar pending his apology. One wonders whether anyone is realising what can be the fallout of this kind of vocabulary and the lack of courtesy displayed by not only this minister but others in power.First, this language does not only tar the opponent; it also tars the whole political class as a collectivity. Politicians are so obsessed with the here-and-now that they ignore the long term effects of their actions. This reminds me of a character called Roper in the play ‘Man for all Seasons’. Sir Thomas More is vehemently asked by his son-in-law-to-be Roper to arrest a man who is going to ruin him by joining Cardinal Wolsey to denounce him. More says: ‘under which law?’. Roper says he would break all laws in England to apprehend such the devil. More admonishes him observing: ‘and when the devil turns about on you Roper, there being no law any more, what will you do?’. That is just what happens when politicians do wrong things, taking help from NAB, the judiciary, intelligence agencies and the military in order to paint the political class all black. We got a taste of it when in the Faizabad sit in of the TLP the opposition, mainly the PTI, supported the angry clerics and made fun of a sitting interior minister being disobeyed. The opposition never protested about the military patting on the back those who had defied the state though this may happened to any civilian ruler tomorrow. If all an ordinary person hears is that his leaders are thieves and robbers he is likely to imagine that the fault is in the system of democracy itself. He may be in support of PTI right now but this will not last forever. Basically he will start mistrusting politicians and this does not augur well for the process of governance by anyone now or later. Now that the PTI is in the saddle it should improve Pakistan by good governance and the use of this kind of inflammatory and insulting language simply gives it a bad name without contributing to good governanceDemocracy came late in the Subcontinent. Our people still talk in terms leaders not in terms of parties. This habit of looking of leaders, larger-than-life messiahs is not conducive to the development of institutions. It gives so much power to leaders and supports personal charisma so much that nobody can even try empowering institutions. I shudder every time I hear of charisma being substituted for institutions. It happened in Europe during the 1930s when Hitler and Mussolini came up. It was deliberately inculcated in the Communist states where the great leader cult was evident in huge bill boards and a status of infallibility was given to Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Kim al Sung and his son, Pol Pot etc. It happened in Iran where the Ayatollah Khomeini rose above criticism. And it happened in our own Karachi where Altaf Hussain was the dreaded and all-wise leader who could not be defied for years on end. In Bangladesh, an otherwise brave leader genuinely loved and respected by his people, Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman, assumed mythical status when he got power. His rule became a tyranny and he was removed through a cruel coup.None of these things is yet in evidence in Pakistan. But I am responding to the way harsh language is used to silence and disgrace opponents and bring all politicians in the bad books of the public. I am responding to the way anti-government TV anchors are fired ostensibly for other reasons. I am responding to the news that certain articulate and critical academics are not allowed to attend certain functions. Some are even fired from their universities. This is what bothers me. As it is most movies, both in Pakistan and India, are biased against politicians. They invariably paint them as cheats, liars and exploiters. This is also a danger for the concept of democracy. While nobody could suggest any restriction on the kind of movies the film industry wants to produce, it might be a good idea if someone does point out the good deeds of politicians and political parties. For instance, the public does not know about the pro-women legislation in the parliament, and that the 18th amendment, which gave money and powers to the provinces was passed by the PPP dominated parliament. All the achievements of the parliament are not reducible to some stories about Mr Zardari or the Sharifs or whoever it might be. There are success stories and these are not known to the public.We are living in troubled time (I know you have always been hearing this but it is truer now than before). If we do not take care that we build the trust of the public in civilian democracy we may end up not having any kind of democracy at all. Thus, the use of parliamentary language while taking legal measures which are just and appear to be just, is the need of the day. Badmouthing, personal insults, slurs and the ubiquitous charge of cheating and stealing and robbery will not destroy the opponents. It will destroy all politicians. It will destroy democracy itself. It will trigger a deluge which will sweep away our fragile plant of human rights, representative government, civilian supremacy even as concepts.The author is an occasional, freelance columnistPublished in Daily Times, November 26th 2018.