Rhetoric and gobbledygook

  • Doublespeak is an art that has to be perfected by politicians
- Deepak Thapa

Nov 15, 2018-

I was in the company of a prominent editor some years back when he received a briefing call from one of his reporters. A major political figure had just foisted himself back to a position of authority, and, according to the journalist reporting on the politician’s comeback press conference, the latter had stated outright that he had no intention of ousting the government. The wry comment from the editor was: this means that is exactly what he will try to do.

Given the nature of their profession,doublespeak is an art that has to be perfected by politicians, and there is no shortage of examples among our own politicians either. Lately, however, we have been treated to the spectacle of ruling party politicians engaging in another kind of doublespeak. Over the past couple of months or so, we have heard former prime ministers in the Nepal Communist Party calling on the government to pick up speed, the implication being that it is not going anywhere. Instead of saying outright that they would be able to do a better job, the ex-PMs are careful not to rock the party boat, yet, want to make their displeasure known to the public.

With the end of the monsoon and also the holiday season, we are also being told that the country will now forge ahead. As if all that was preventing the government from making its presence felt was the annual rains and the subsequent propitiation of the gods. Perhaps our leaders actually believe that the government’s performance was going to be judged solely by the number of excavators and trucks it is able to deploy.The construction metaphor used by Prachanda is worth quoting since he appears to have taken the role of the government’s chief apologist: ‘Till recently there was rain and mud and muck. It was difficult to build roads. Blacktopping was not possible…The government had to move in the first gear. It is not possible to use the third or fourth gears in the mud.’

 

Not any different

When the US President Donald Trump crowed before the UN General Assembly recently about what he and his administration had achieved, he was greeted with derisive laughter. The reaction caught Trump completely off guard since he was used to speaking before a fawning audience that lapped up all his hyperboles, truthful or otherwise. Our own prime minister is another one capable of drawing out guffaws. In fact, during his last tenure as the prime minister, it had come to a point, when he had begun prefacing his public remarks with something that went: People laugh at everything I say...

Having built his career spouting rustic witticisms, Oli certainly has a way with words. But, he also knew that it was not the humour people were reacting to when he was the prime minister but to the very outlandish claims he had begun to make. This time, although much tamer, we continue to be treated to more of the same, in pursuit of the one-point agenda of sambriddhi, prosperity. The latest on record from his government is as follows: graduate from a least developed country LDC to developing country 2022; reaching middle-income status by 2030; and becoming a developed country by 2043. That is, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with countries like South Korea and Norway in 25 years.

Like most Nepalis, I, too, am rooting for this government to succeed, and set Nepal firmly on the path of progress. But, when you get announcements like these, one willy-nilly snorts with disbelief. Grand announcements are just that, nothing more. Remember the height of the electricity shortages a decade ago. The government declared a ‘National Electricity Crisis’that would see the generation of 10,000 MW within the next 10 years. The next government decided to go one better and announced plans to produce 25,000 MW in 20 years. Both came to naught.

Our track record on bold promises is not all that great. In 1985, presumably believing it was possible and perhaps caught up in the euphoria of the silver jubilee of the establishment of the Panchayat system, King Birendra committed his government to going beyond fulfilling the basic needs of the people and provide conditions of living equal to Asian standards by the year 2000. Birendra was booted out of power 10 years before the end of the millennium, and so cannot be blamed for falling short on his promise. But, no one in their right mind can credibly claim that the country was anywhere on the path to that goal in the five years Birendra was at the country’s helm after his grand pronouncement. In fact, probably realising the folly of those words, in no time, ‘Asian standard’ had disappeared from his government’s repertoire of slogans, and all we heard for years was the more pedestrian fulfilment of basic needs.

Soon after taking up the shambles that was the national economy, Devendra Raj Panday, finance minister in the interim government of 1990, remarked that the Panchayat system had ‘not only deprived people of fundamental rights, but the period also saw various distortions, disparities, and anomalies in the national economy, thus placing Nepal among the world’s poorest nations’.

Having experienced 10 years of violent insurgency and almost the same length of political transition, things do not look very different now. We do have our fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution; in fact, three times over as at least that sentiment was common to all three constitutions since 1990. But, the exercise of these rights have come with a huge caveat since our inept government seems quite incapable of ensuring the most basic of these-the right to life—as we are reminded almost daily by macabre reports of violence, particularly against women. As for the economy, can anyone disagree that it continues to be characterised by the ‘distortions, disparities and anomalies’ that so animated Panday three decades ago? Unless these are corrected, it will not matter how many kilometers are added to the road network or how many dams are built, the promise of prosperity will remain in the realm of dreams.

 

Walk the talk

A couple of months ago, an embattled Oli had invited a group of editors to his residence to what appears to have been a frank exchange of views. The result was a litany of grievances from the prime minister about what had gone wrong and why. Tellingly, it never had anything to do his own failings. Thus, in the Nirmala Pant case it was too much trust in the police; on the various restrictions imposed by the new civil code, he was too busy otherwise to be involved in the debates leading up to its adoption; on the prohibitory orders against demonstrations at Maitighar Mandala, he learnt about it for the first time from the press; and he also managed to lob the tried and tested ‘grave conspiracy against Nepal’ thesis.

As perhaps the most powerful prime minister Nepal has had since the end of the Rana regime, it was quite pathetic for Oli to take that line. Oli ended his discourse to the journalist in his inimitable manner: I should not say anything more. As it is, I am accused of being the only one to speak and not listening to others.

There is indeed something winsome about the man to be able to take a crack at himself. If only his actions could match his own expectations.

Published: 15-11-2018 07:49

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