Jokelore in Nepali politicsPoliticians have been using satire as an effective tool to gain power, but in doing so they risk not being taken seriously in the long run
The term “Jokelore” is not much used in our folklore discourses in Nepal. But in a paper prepared for presentation on 12 May 2018, the first day of the two-day Sixth International Folklore Congress organised by the Nepali Folklore society in Kathmandu, I used the term to show the role of jokes in Nepali politics. The overall study of the jocular behaviour of the politicians and the consequences, or the effect, of that in the life of the nation and the career of the statesmen themselves constitutes the subject of the essay.
Jokelore as a term is used for political satire. Scholars from around the world use the term jokelore as a weapon of resistance against the authority, and a means to ridicule the behaviour of the political actors and rulers. Jokelore, they have argued, has evolved when societies underwent transformation after big revolutions, like the political change of the East European countries in the late eighties and early nineties of the twentieth century. One other problem that jokelore in politics raises is the question of demonization of politics and politicians. Such demonization can become an indicator of people’s loss of faith in political institutions and the democratic process itself. Ironically, we see such developments taking place in Nepal these days more than ever. Politicians through their love for money, corruption and power have been the targets of jokelore, and demonization at worst, in contemporary Nepal. The folk process now can use means of media and communication like the mobile phones, e-mails and so on. The transmission of jokelore through sharing in social media can exacerbate that process.
Effective political tool?
One important question often asked by researchers and folklorists who write about humour is what happens to this genre under dictatorial regimes? The other question that goes with this is: what happens to a country that sees the fall of a repressive government? Answers vary. In Nepal, the jokelore of the time of the erstwhile Rana oligarchy and those of the Panchayat dictatorship are mainly related to the behaviours of the characters who were known as ascending to power. But jokelore show subtle relationship between humour and the person involved. A ritual practice of making political jokes and satires freely on the day of gaijatra or cow festival in the metropolitan areas of Nepal abounds with examples of jokelore in the texts in papers like bhandbhailo, satirical plays, songs and poetry published or staged on that particular day only.
Jokelore then belongs to the regime of political satire created through humour. It is in itself a sub-genre within folklore that focuses on jokes that are humorous, hilarious, and satirical, which highlight the identity of the subject, but can also demonise the character of the subject. But jokelore, in my opinion, is more deeply rooted to the humorous realm of experience when it comes to politics or the person who holds power to the point of becoming a hero of a certain nature. People by way of mythologizing the persona maintain a sense of meta-interpretation of the character’s behaviour by giving folkloristic dimension to his/her histrionics and so-called adventures. The person concerned can be either a subject of humorous satire or a folk hero whose actions are taken as entertaining episodes.
My other hypothesis is that in jokelore the character loves to show his her personality as a joker. The person loves to see people enjoying his or her jokes, and begins to think that making jokes is his or her power. But in course of time such behaviour begins to show consequences. Such ‘jokeloristic’ behaviour that the person, especially a politician, creates around himself or herself could reduce him or her to a position of a joker performing burlesque, and losing the earlier aura. But from the folkloristic perspective it speaks many things about the nature of humour and satire with jokeloristic significance. That becomes folklore in its own right.
Jokelore has played a very important role in Nepali politics and power discourse, something that has gone unnoticed either by the folklorists or the linguists. But the Nepali jokelore in politics has something else to offer, and that is meaningful. In Nepal, at every tea stall or workplace or bus or gathering, it is common to hear people talking about politicians in negative terms. It has almost become an accepted practice to do so. In such demonization process people cite the politicians’ humorous remarks, their lies and their political wits. That means people do not always create jokelores to caricature the politicians, they also use it as a method of citation. They cite from the politicians themselves and enjoy being jokers. Some outstanding politicians in this country who have made great influence in the beginning of their careers have allowed that to reduce them into farce. It may be applicable to some important statesmen of this land. The politicians have enjoyed being not taken seriously themselves without being aware of the fact that they had already created a jokeloristic aura about them. Important statesmen unknowingly have fallen prey to their own jokes. We can find such characters in Nepali politics if we look carefully. But not all politicians who have created and enjoyed creating jokelores around them like the great leaders KI Singh, Ganeshman Singh, KP Bhattarai, Nanimaiya Dahal, KP Oli, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Chitrabahadur KC and others, some of whose jokeloristic interviews have become popular on YouTube, have lost their niche and aura through it. But the degree of loss varies. We should look at that carefully. But a certain pattern of loving to create political jokelore and becoming its victim appears to be consistent.
Political or government leaders put skills and power to generate myths around them. In course of time, such myths related to the persona and the jokes created around him or her go down in folkloristic imagination as folktales or folk jokes and riddles. Political jokelore, which has a comparatively later origin in itself, is an uneasy combination of power and human character, not least of the political actors. But the humorous and human side of jokelore and its very creative character will continue to be the part of our folklore culture.