Print Edition - 2018-04-15  |  Free the Words

Stormy last year

  • Despite the historical elections and the new constitution beginning to function, the transition into the new year has not been encouraging
  • Words & echoes

Apr 15, 2018-

Nepali calendrical consciousness is shaped by both aesthetic and practical factors. Without going into the rigmarole of the multiple calendars of Nepal, I want to take the Vikram calendar that has ushered in 2075, in order to review a few transformations experienced from last year. I am not going to index the events, which is not my purpose here. My themes are subtle and unobtrusive. I have noticed a few shifts in the times last year. They are both physical and psychological in nature. At the physical level people’s sufferings are tangible and realistic. Physical hardships suffered by people last year were the results of mismanagements in Nepali economy, physical structures, transportations, academic mismanagements, and rehabilitation of the people, settlements of physical problems suffered by people in the natural calamities like the earthquake, floods and landslides. They become visible in the ripped up roads, dusty city skies, broken bridges, unrepaired houses demolished by the earthquake, dry city water-taps, neglected school and college buildings and many more eyesores that alarm viewers each day. The physical images of the above kind were shown by the visual media, narrated and analysed by the broadsheet papers. The fact is that last year passed “not with a whimper, but with a bang”, to use a famous line from poet TS Eliot’s poem. Reports of a gigantic amount of dubious practices and expenditure irregularities in government offices and warnings of violence and security concerns voiced by the prime minister while addressing the security units are alarming revelations of what has been going on in this country.

Some hope, some uncertainity

But the other visible yet invisible aspect of the last year was more complex and intriguing. The most important shift was noticed in the psycho-social or psycho-political modes of our lives. Political alliances, elections and the formation of the majority government are the clear result of that. But that process though it looks straight ostensibly has created some subtle psycho-political challenges. Attempts made by the leftist parties of Nepal to create a broad alliance wrought out some wonders, some mysteries, some hope and some uncertainties. I have found this historical alliance important not only in what has become visible in different stages of the merger of the parties, but also in what is said in innuendos, metaphors and symbolic use of language. I recall Hayden White’s view from his great reading in history and language in his book Metahistory (1973). He says the main philosophers of history were also the philosophers of language, for which reason they could grasp the poetic and linguistic significance of ‘historical field’. We can understand Nepali political or historical shifts by carefully looking into the kind of metaphors and images they use. Prachanda’s bridge imagery, for example, was more eloquent than many common-or-garden political language usages. Explaining the position of his party, he said last year that the Maoists cannot go back to their earlier space because the bridge was broken after they crossed it. A very eloquent linguistic metaphor. The leftist leaders were discussing about the emblematic or the semiotic power of images like sun, hammer and sickle and the nomenclature of the party. It looked as though the communists took linguistic turns last year, making quests for appropriate metaphors to explain their shifting positions. The Nepali Congress leaders in a series of meetings last year hotly debated about the reason of election defeat. They were flying linguistic drones targeting each other in their cramped review meetings. It was a linguistic battle of metaphors.

The right image

What was noticed in Nepali politics last year was the absence of the dominating political personas. In other words, no dominating imago of any political leaders did emerge last year. To me this was a positive development in Nepali politics. In politics of countries near and far the imago effect is dominant. Some political leaders are glibly but carefully creating cults around them. That the same is not happening in Nepali politics shows that Nepali political parties are moving in the right direction towards creating a political climate of democracy, sharing and treating each other on equal basis. KP Oli is critiqued occasionally for trying to create the imago effect around him, whereas the image of the Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba has come under the barrage of criticism within his party. Political leaders within the Madhes parties are equally reviewing the images of their leaders. On the whole, the Nepali political parties are moving in the direction of redefining power and not grabbing but sharing power through consensus and series of meetings and deliberations. I consider that as the right process. 

But a few questions remain here. How are they going to put the developments and things that have gone awry under control and bring it all to the right track? It is too early to say now. But the bygone year organised historical elections from the local, state and national levels. There is no gainsaying the fact that the constitution has started functioning. But the New Year began by opening floods of strangely unsettling language and metaphors. As an educationist my worries are about the dwindling standard of education and the anarchical mode of school and university education management. The unsettling matter is that education is viewed only as half-serious management but not as culture of mind. Where to admit children and how to regulate the educational system, who to allow teaching and what to teach are such questions that need immediate answer. But the worrying matter is that there is no answer to these questions.

Last year that was rife with corruption suffered from a lack of direction. But the trends that we see now, as judged from the developments and the language used by politicians and the bureaucracy that appears to be tending to be dysfunctional as the days go by in federal Nepal are not very encouraging. Who should take up the cudgels to sort out the mess? There is no doubt that the government should take up the responsibility to sort it out, but equally important are the roles of the opposition parties, mainly Nepali Congress—however disoriented it may have become by the poll results, the civil society and the media. 


Published: 15-04-2018 06:46

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