Panting of the pachydermsOli’s personal reliance on science and modern medicine for his ailments does not stop him from peddling turmeric to the public.
The month of Bhado (late-August and early-September) in much of Madhes is the season of kado (slush), when few dare to step out into muddy streets. When it rains, it pours; but when it's dry, fierce rays of the sun burn the skin.
There isn't very much to do once the paddy transplantation is over in any case. There are few jackfruit or mangoes left unpicked in the orchards. Livestock has to be tethered and fed in the sheds to prevent them from straying into lush green paddies. Tractors take a break while their operators clean and grease the machine for the coming harvest season.
It is during these times of late-monsoon lethargy that tellers of tall tales do the rounds of villages, spinning yarns about their remarkable deeds of the past or airy-fairy plans for the future. In Maithili, such a fabulist is called batbanauna.
Fabulists are said to be endowed with an imagination that is unfettered by the laws of logic and probability. Language is a medium of performance for them rather than the means of communication. They use idioms and proverbs, rather than facts and figures, to support their arguments. Prime Minister KP Oli fibs with the confidence of an accomplished narrator.
Supremo Oli repeatedly insists that the rhino should remain a gaida in the English language. His folksy repertoire consists of proverbs such as 'if a cow has eaten, let it be; if a bahun has taken, so be it' that explicitly strengthen supposed sacredness and assumed superiority of the said categories.
For quite a while, the Supremo's characterisation of Covid-19 was similar to that of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's dismissal of the 'little flu'. He then went on to extol the virtues of Himalayan air that somehow made the immune system of relatively malnourished Nepalis stronger. While he himself relies on modern medicine and state of the art treatment for his ailments, the Supremo loves to recommend the power of home remedies such as ginger, turmeric and hot water to the public.
Recently, Oli excelled himself when he asked a television interviewer in all seriousness: ‘If turmeric can ward off evil eyes, why can't it do so to a mere virus?’. A lapsed Marxist-Leninist, he apparently has more faith in superstitious beliefs than in the prescriptions of science.
Elaborating his ‘Oliological’ arguments, the Supremo claimed that there was a scarcity of turmeric in the world market due to its popularity in preventing and treating Covid-19. India alone produces almost three-fourth of all the turmeric in the world and remains its biggest consumer.
South Asian communities everywhere use the condiment on an almost daily basis. Curcuma is said to possess some antimicrobial properties. That has given rise to the popularity of a brew called 'turmeric latte' among aficionados of health foods. Domestic and export demand for the herb in India is reported to be rising. But to relate it to antiviral properties requires some leap of faith. Rabble rousers, however, aren't too well known for truthfulness.
Demagogues are proficient in resorting to the repetition of fallacies that are then said to be self-evident. Hindutva firebrand Pragya Singh Thakur in India claimed that cow urine cured her breast cancer, which goes on to show that she had not been taking full benefit of the supposedly preventive qualities of the holy faeces.
Repetition is the reliable instrument in the armoury of demagogues. The Goebbelsian dictum of propaganda that repeated lies become the perceived truth is still true. Demagogues keep asserting the same falsehood again and again until listeners forget that the original claim was a complete fabrication.
Few people remember any more that the prime minister served the prison term for his complicity in manslaughter rather than fighting for democracy. Democrats remained 'class enemies' for communists of all hues until the late-1980s when Ganesh Man Singh brought them into parliamentary politics.
Like most demagogues, the Supremo loves to invent phoney numbers, enjoys circulating unsubstantiated stories, loathes intellectuals and falls back on nationalist rhetoric whenever he faces a challenge. Unlike patriotism, which is the love for one's country and critical attachment to its institutions, nationalism requires an out-group inside and an enemy outside to espouse hatred.
The out-group for the Supremo Oli are the Madhesis and India is the external foe. He rushed two ordinances in order to split Madhes-based parties, which had to be hastily repealed when preempted with a merger between his main targets. Madhesis, however, have little fight left in them to challenge the ethnonational prejudices of the hegemonic community. Most of them appear to be resigned to their fate as inferior citizens for now.
It's Oli's hostility towards India and Indians that is likely to damage the national interests of Nepal for a considerable time. Sooner or later, he would have to make way for a successor. Saddled with the legacy of demagogic diplomacy, such a person would have to deal with an indifferent United States, a patronising Europe, a demanding China, and most of all, a belligerent and authoritarian regime in India.
Up until the late-1990s, strategists in New Delhi happily humoured the permanent establishment of Nepal. Their assumption was that beyond a point, Nepalis would never go against the interests of their fellow-Hindus. Such a belief crashed with the hijacking of IC-814 from Kathmandu. Any faith that has remained in the capacity of Nepal's law enforcement agencies in protecting its interests evaporated after the 2001 Narayanhiti Massacre.
Somewhat tellingly, LK Advani and Jaswant Singh, politicos that had to handle the fallout of failures of security agencies in Kathmandu, stand sidelined from the contemporary Indian mainstream. Singh continues to suffer from the trauma of his political externalisation.
Not only that, the Bharatiya Janata Party has also been getting increasingly regressive. With his obduracy during the 1979 fiasco, Atal Bihari Vajpayee made the founder of the political front of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Shyama Prasad Mookerjee appear somewhat liberal. By spearheading the campaign for the demolition of Babri Masjid, LK Advani proved that he was a step ahead of Vajpayee in furthering the agenda of Hindutva politics.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown that his Hindutva is stronger than that of both Vajpayee and Advani. Issues of widening public participation, guaranteeing fundamental freedoms, ensuring social justice, delivering the fruits of economic development to the doorsteps of the marginalised and celebrating the multiplicity of identities in the most diverse country of the world is no longer even the part of public discourse in the largest democracy in human history.
Premier Modi has successfully shifted the focus away from Mahatma Gandhi's compassionate humanism to Savarkar's combative Hindutva; August 5 might as well be the new Indian Independence Day. If that sounds frightening, dealing with New Delhi under Amit Shah or Yogi Adityanath in the future would be even more challenging.
Like other forms of actions, spoken words have consequences. With his intemperate and malicious expressions, Supremo Oli has pushed Nepal-India relations into a quagmire. For the first time, even people-to-people relationships are under severe strain. The country will have to pay a heavy price for Oli’s power lust of 2015 as two sets of propaganda, patronage and the persecution of confronting strongmen, come face to face.