Land of gossipThe psyche of producing gossip would remain the principal shaper of the election manifestos.
The well-known Nepali poet Bhupi Sherchan wrote a famous poem about Nepal being a country of gossip or hallai hallako desh during the Panchayat era. For students and others in society, the poem represented a poetic way of satirising the society where people indulged in producing gossips everywhere. Ironically, gossiping was a meaningful activity when the Panchayat system imposed restrictions on free expression of opinion.
The poem remarkably touches upon all the issues of Nepali life—from our behaviour to our unique character of producing gossips. I do not want to go into the performative power of rumour here. I would only like to stress that the halla or rumour that was pervasive in Nepali society is still showing its various forms as a character widely shared by the society. The poet seemed to believe that perhaps Nepali society was hard-wired with a gossip inclination. But gossiping was a method of coping with a system that restricted freedom of expression. The poet covers every aspect of life to say that we are creating gossip about everything—from our national character to the small traits of behaviour. He goes as far as saying that everything in this land breathes with the gossip culture. His conclusion is that yo hallai hallako des ho or "This is the land of gossips" that pervades every aspect of life.
As a student of performance studies, I would be interested to know about the performative side of gossip. My conviction is that people don't create gossip just for fun. They use gossip for various functional purposes. One of them is that they use gossip to create some kind of alternate truth. But gossiping is not always negative in its nature. It has a positive side too. It has its folkloristic roots—people use gossip as a folkloristic device for communication in Nepali society. For that reason, gossips in Nepali society are not malicious in nature. Gossip has taken a new form in today's Nepali society. That is something that poet Bhupi Sherchan had sensed earlier but was not fully confident about its political nature. Verification of the authenticity of the news is an important element in this process.
Let us briefly turn to modern politics in Nepal. One important characteristic of the political parties is a contestation for producing different stories about their agendas and their programmes for the upcoming election. One common problem with all of them is that they produce totally different and in some cases untenable arguments about the party programmes. It would be a jump from the poet's characterisation of halla to the propaganda machinery of the party. To talk about the authenticity of the programmes, one has to distinguish halla from reality. Election promises have mostly been empty. They are produced spontaneously and are buttressed by the propaganda machinery of the party, and are often fiery and questionable. The question we can ask is whether the propaganda churned out by the party machinery is mere gossip or halla as the poet describes in his long and effective poem. Or are they alternate truths as known in post-politics parlance? In other words, does the propaganda of the parties pass the test of halla as the poet presents in his poem? Can we apply the woe of poet Bhupi to our condition of half-truth? Can such culture pass the test of halla?
Election promises that are widely considered to be produced for ostentations perhaps pass the test of gossip in the poet's writing. Rumours become rife if the condition of the fulfilment of the promises by the political parties do not have a solid foundation. People create gossip both in politics and other conditions of life, some of which may be luxury or mere travesty. He says one important character of such gossip is that it takes its root from history, from the myth of Nepali bravery and the empty promises of fulfilment. So we have come to a point in this discussion where the political parties to draw from the main political argument mention their principal ideological subject. I don't know if the ideological content is part of the gossip because I have not studied it properly. Speaking from a theatrical point of view, we cannot ignore the performative dimension of the party gossips. We have the very strong evidence of the following.
Avatar of gossip
The communists or their parties adhere to Marxist principles in their manifestos. They use the familiar slogan of working for the oppressed and exploited. A reiteration of working for the exploited class is the main principle. The Nepali Congress too joins the discussion with its own mode of socialism. The most famous of them is their repetition of BP Koirala's vision of a poor farmer with a small tract of land and a milch cow. I have always liked this imaginaire, which is part of the socialist ideology in Nepal and India. The spirit of the European socialist was based on egalitarian principles that attracted BP Koirala. But the plethora of promises, which will inundate us in printed and online forms in the coming days of the election, could assume the avatar of gossip. This will be seen when you contrast reality with the socialist parties' manifestos. The political parties, whoever came to power, from the communists to the Nepali Congress, all remained untouched by the terrible plight of poor farmers. Gruesome stories of their exploitation by landlords remain invisible to the “socialist” governments of Nepal. The election manifestoes are lies, pure and simple. They are gossips or as the poet says halla that has a pervasive character. It spreads over all parts and sections of the party organisation during the election.Now the question is, does gossip as poet Bhupi pronounces in the poem, dominate the political psyche of the political parties from the erstwhile revolutionaries to the democratic socialists today? It is very appropriate to ask this question, especially at this time when they are formulating their socialist programme for the election that is supposedly addressing the problems of poor farmers. After reading the manifestos, everyone will try to sort out myth from reality. But it cannot be ruled out that some of these manifestos will rely on gossips, especially in matters like the location of religious places from the mythic past. We have yet to see how they are formulated in the manifestos. But judging from this trend, we could guess that the psyche of producing gossip would remain the principal shaper of the election manifestos. It would be hasty to draw conclusions here, but given the trends of forming policies and programmes for the elections of November 20, we can hope that the democratic spirit of the Nepali people, not the gossip granthi, will dominate the election programmes.