Of politics and politicians: folklore and jargon

No harm enjoying the show while it lasts!

Political sloganeering and catchphrases are the currency of election campaigns. The most famous one in recent times has been US President Barack Obama’s ‘Yes we can!’ Each country has its local clichés, based, amongst other things, on the ideological or developmental context of the times. Late Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave national resonance to ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan.’

Technology and innovation have given added impetus to the phenomenon, with Internet and social media propelling information to anyone possessing a smart device which is available and easily portable, whether phone or tablet – which means practically everyone. Thus what starts as a rumble is soon amplified into a wave, and waves have a natural tendency to roll out, often coalescing in the process to become bigger waves. In contemporary slang this has been likened to a viral infection which spreads very rapidly, hence ‘going viral’.

Just like the present troublemaker Ebola virus which is threatening to take on the world. With social media as a platform, it’s a multiplicity of waves that reach millions of shores. As they are transmitted on the electronic highway via the smart devices, what with the storage and retrieval capacity of the latter, the events can not only be shared across the world but be visualized at one’s leisure. This multiplier effect is therefore also repetitive, and thus has as long a lifetime as users want it to.

It is thus too that the clip ‘Vire Mam,’ which was launched early in the present campaign by the Opposition Alliance Lepep, quickly caught the imagination of the population. It’s a characteristic of information that as it gets diffused and shared at large, it often acquires a life of its own. There is added poignancy and piquancy when, inevitably, the recipients add bits of masala as they exchange views about the original. Gossip is in our DNA, irrespective of gender, and the more of it the more exciting it is!

‘Vire Mam’ has now become almost established as an exchange greeting! Commonly heard is ‘ki nouvelle, vire meme la!’ and then the reply ‘bien sire ki pou faire!’ Guffaws of laughter follow with some light banter about the expression and the contents. If some with alternative views happen to be about and join in the conversation, it rises in decibel level and gains a mock seriousness before settling down in a lighter mode with more laughter.

The parting shot can be ‘Eh, vire meme la hein!’ and more laughter. Which is why it cannot be assumed that the wave will necessarily become the expected tsunami that its initiators are hoping it will transform into. Put more prosaically, it is only when the results are declared on the 11 December that we will know how far any slogan resonated with the masses.

An interesting fact is the retention and staying power of the original: ‘Vire Mam 2’ and ‘Devire Mam’ have not acquired as much popularity and autonomy; ‘Vire Mam’ remains the favourite, almost like a calf love that is not forgotten! I suppose Michael Porter might call this the comparative advantage of being first out, which the communications-wallahs have knowingly or unwittingly stumbled upon. And why not, one may ask, all is fair in war and love – and local politics is both, according to my observer friend who is quite sharp and astute in these matters, given the number of times political beds have been alternately shared! And, he continues, who says that there won’t be more episodes of such sharing, you just wait and see. Most of us would have no reason to doubt what has become quasi-folkloric in our island.

One of the interesting tendencies I have noted is for politicians to use medical terminology to make their point. Thus, Americans have alluded to ‘surgical strike’ and things going ‘clinical’. While this usage may confer an apparent aura on the person resorting to it, I must say that the meaning intended does not quite reflect what it actually implies in the medical field. There, ‘surgical’ has a connotation of being therapeutic, that is directed towards treatment, healing and relieving suffering. One can easily see that such considerations are rather far from war objectives, certainly in the immediate term. Whether a sense of ‘creative destruction’ is implied or follows is hard to make out in the mayhem that is the aftermath of any war. But one would hope so, for all our sakes.

Similarly with the term ‘clinical’. When we say clinical we mean having a sense of detachment for the subject, here the patient, which prevents the doctor’s judgement from being warped. That is why medical ethics counsels doctors to avoid treating their near and dear ones, for fear that their closeness may cloud their vision and lead to the decisions taken not being objective, and therefore potentially harmful. At the same time, it implies having empathy for the patient. In war, clearly this does not apply.

Basically, therefore, one can see that the medical jargon is used in a restricted sense, and poorly understood. A distortion of meaning, what, at which politicians are past masters!

Locally, we have liberal references to adversaries needing ‘panadol’ and others being in ‘intensive care’ or ‘ICU’. In past campaigns, we had heard about ‘changement sous anesthésie’ which was equated to ‘changement en douceur’. Alas, as we all know, the change when it comes is always noisy and dramatic, hardly ‘en douceur’! But there you are, that’s also our folklore, just as ‘mouche verte’ has also truly acquired a novel meaning in our political lexicon. Who else but a seasoned politician could possibly describe a situation as – I prefer to put it in English! – the shit changes but the flies remain the same.

How colourful, and rich, politics and political folklore! But never to be taken for the truth, in the common man’s perception and experience a notion totally unfamiliar to politicians. Nevertheless, no harm enjoying the show while it lasts!

* Published in print edition on 28 November 2014

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