Idiomatic politics

15 Aug 2019


The writer is a freelance contributor.
The writer is a freelance contributor.

THE use of idioms and phrases, sayings and quotations add lustre to any writing or conversation. The students of language and literature would particularly realise the importance of adorning their expressions with the “gems of thought” to achieve better impact and effectiveness.

But there is one catch in this ideal situation: the ability to remember so many idioms and sayings and to be able to recall the correct ones at the right time and the right place. It requires phenomenal, if not a photographic, memory to achieve this impossible task.

This, too, can be overcome if we can connect the quotation with a happening or an event that is taking place. In this respect, our countrymen are particularly fortunate with politics taking such ‘twists and turns’ that it is necessary for us to maintain a ‘breathless pace’ with the times to keep abreast. Therefore, to be a good student of literature one would have to turn to politics.

Thus, when, many years ago, president Ghulam Ishaq Khan dissolved the National Assembly and two provincial assemblies, our mind went back to other such instances in Pakistan and we recalled the saying ‘history repeats itself’. As we heard his discourse carefully, particularly the indictment against the ousted government, our mind went back to a similar speech we had heard a little over two years earlier from a military dictator and recalled Karl Marx’s words spoken more than a century ago: “Hegel says somewhere that all great events and personalities in world history reappear in one fashion or another. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce!”

Several idioms come to mind as politicking continues.

When the chief ministers of two provinces were allowed to recommend dissolution of their respective assemblies, we were reminded of not one but several idioms like ‘birds of a feather flock together’ and ‘showing one’s true colours’, besides, of course, the lines from the familiar nursery rhyme ‘all the king’s men’.

During the first 10 days after the ouster of the PPP government, in 1990, the state-owned electronic media let loose a vicious vilification campaign against Benazir Bhutto and did not bother to project her viewpoint, while all the politicians soundly rejected by the people in November 1988 were projected as heroes and saviours. Regarding a later meeting of PTV directors to justify PTV’s caretaker policy of complete impartiality during the forthcoming election campaign, we wondered whether ‘locking the stables when the horses were gone’, or ‘saving one’s skin’ (in the event of a PPP comeback) was the more appropriate idiom in the situation.

Since proceedings in the National Assembly are conducted, by and large, in Urdu, it would be prudent to include the frequently used idioms in the national language. For instance, the special assistant to the present prime minister never tires to state how fair and square (insaaf pasand) the present government is, by declaring on all channels, ‘Doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani kar diya’ (sifted the truth from the false) When a member of the opposition confesses to ill-doings of his own or those of his party, he is ridiculed with slogans from the other side of ‘nau sau choohay khaa kay billi Haj ko chali’ that can be translated as a transgressor demonstrating piety

Another popular though smelly idiom used by both sides is ‘apne garebaan me jhaanko’ (introspect).

Promises, promises, promises, like always by all and sundry — and yet, the sniper shootings continued, trains continued to be attacked and people were killed in explosions, cars continued to be stolen and daring daylight burglaries did not stop, as though nothing had happened at the political and administrative level at the top. Because none of our political leaders are aware of the saying, ‘an ounce of practice is better than a pound of theory’.

One of the important tasks of the politicians is to malign the previous regime, much like old students saying about their alma mater, ‘my college has gone to the dogs’.

Almost everyone ‘jumps on the bandwagon’ of the malicious campaign, including the notorious and the previously proved corrupt politicians. Little do they realise that ‘people who live in glass houses do not throw stones’. There is much mudslinging going on in the hope that some of it will stick. Most of it will not.

In the light of the sordid character assassination of any leader, we are reminded of what our own school teacher told us; that even the best of people can be declared criminals. What was the idiom she used? Oh yes, of course: ‘give the dog a bad name and hang him’.

If the idioms are all wrong, you are at liberty to alter the title of this piece and call the goings-on ‘idiotic politics’.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2019