‘Hollow rhetorical pyrotechnics’

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When Barack Obama first ran for office in 1995, he argued that politicians should not see voters “as mere recipients or beneficiaries”. He urged the politicians and other leaders, “to take the next step and to see voters, residents or citizens as producers of change.” Obviously in saying so, Obama was underlining the importance of ‘people’s power’ for bringing about the ‘change’ which is actually at the heart of different political choices that people make vis-à-vis their leadership, and their policies and programmes.

For being able to use people’s power for social and political change, Obama advocated that a politician must see his or her job as that of an organizer – as part teacher and part advocate – “one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them.” A political leader has to be able to combine streaks of idealism with a realistic appreciation of the “politically possible”. The political strategies have to be goal-oriented and defined more by coalitions and compromise than by the flashy but often “hollow rhetorical pyrotechnics” which his adversary at that point and later colleague Hillary Clinton once called “the luxury of symbolic suicide”.

Now let’s turn around to our breed of political and other leaders. The obvious next step is to ask some uncomfortable questions which, even when it’s known that nobody in the leadership roles here has the political capital and gut to answer, must be asked nevertheless. Irrespective of the ideological and other lineages, how many of our leaders fit into the definitions and descriptions given out above. Some may argue that even Obama or Clinton themselves were not the likes they have described; but that is besides the point. What is important is the description. Preachers say ‘do as we say not as we do’ – message and the messenger are two different things.

So the question is: how many political leaders within our time and space are able to garnish their idealism with streaks of reality? How many actually talk of issues and concerns without passing moral judgments on them and on the actions of others? How many punctuate social and political aims and ideals with commas, semi-colons and periods of possibility?

Fact of the matter is that politics in our part of the world, Jammu and Kashmir in particular, is yet to grow beyond attention-seeking rhetorical flourish. Indeed so strong is the culture of allegorical jingoism here that even the Friday preachers in our mosques make hollow but loud noises and think they have impressed the God and their audiences both. One doesn’t necessarily have to be loud or shrill in order to make a point; it can be done with much ease and greater efficiency by being calm and composed. Inverse proportionality between the sound decibels and substance of message needs to be understood by those who are, as well as those who aspire to be in the leadership roles. Once this happens, it’s for sure that there will be fewer brawls not only in the roads and streets but also within the Legislatures. So instead of wasting people’s money and state’s resources on unnecessary din and commotions day in and day out, it will be prudent if “people’s representatives” – whether elected ones or the ones who claim to be the representatives of the “public sentiment” — actually devote some time to talk sensibly about their issues and problems.

Similarly, instead of indulging in hollow slogans, for those sitting outside the Legislature in another camp, it will be worthwhile to educate people about different available choices and how they could reasonably express them. Talking about the lacunae in the existing systems and aspiring for the change is not enough – those who do, must also be able to articulate and then practically show how to change or replace the rotten systems with better ones without attracting avoidable physical and material harms to the people. Should it happen, the life will certainly be better for the ordinary have-nots who otherwise have, thus far, not seen anything beyond and besides the “hollow rhetorical pyrotechnics”.

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