Raouf Rasool

Finding meaning in meaningless political speeches

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Recall that old story of a man who converts to Catholicism and decides to emulate as far as possible the life of a saint — St. Francis of Assisi. Filled with the zeal of a convert, he withdrew his life’s savings from the bank and took this money out in $5 notes (bills). Armed with his bundle of $5 notes, he went down to the poorest section of New York City, and every time a needy looking man or woman passed by him he would step up and say, “Please take this”.

According to a ‘New York Times’, report, this gentleman attempting to “live a Christian life” and emulate St. Francis Assisi could do so for only forty minutes before being arrested by a Christian police officer, driven to Christian hospital by a Christian ambulance doctor, and pronounced ‘non compos mentis’ by a Christian psychiatrist.  A person who was only trying to be a good and kind human-being, being described as “not of sound mind” and thrust inside a psychiatric hospital, serves a very important lesson in communication — that even kindness is beyond the experience of a kindness-professing-but-not-practicing population.

This is exactly what happens here when common people are bombarded with huge claims and boastful assertions by different political formations, who keep on seeking people’s support on the basis of what they think is their contribution and should be considered by the people. Since the claims that regularly dot the political speeches of political leaders as well as their promises of public good and welfare are beyond the experience of common masses, these speeches are no better than verbal garbage for most of the people here.

Like the New York’s Catholic convert, whenever these political leaders try and approach common masses in a moralistic way, it is outside their experience. People may no doubt attend public meetings and listen to or read their political speeches, at least to see what their morality-professing-but-not-practicing political leaders have said, but in reality they simply brush them aside, virtually telling themselves: “Ah, the man is nuts, he thinks he can fool us like this all the time…!”

Not a single day passes without the mainstream politicians virtually begging for people’s support, although they do so with such a visible arrogance that one gets a feeling that they have taken people way too for granted. While some have made so-called ‘Kashmiriyat’ subservient to their own political survival, others claim that people’s welfare and dignity and honour are closely linked to a particular group’s political survival. So looking at the political speeches which are growing shriller by the day, one gets a feeling of brazen public display of political gimmickry and debauchery.

Political speeches on a general basis without being fractured into specifics of public experience become rhetoric and carry very little meaning. This is exactly the problem when political leaders make boastful moral claims as the same are beyond the experience of the common masses. Besides, the popular experience also informs us that these speeches, promises, pledges and claims mean nothing much. These boastful claims of political leaders that they will fight for and secure people’s rights, as also as their (leaders’) morality is beyond the experience of the people. This needs to be understood by the state’s political establishment, who are the practical interface between the state and the people.

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