Slog sloganeers

Published June 13, 2024
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.
The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.

AS was expected, the BJP, or should one say, Narendra Modi, has won the general election in India. What has proven wrong are assertions like ‘abki baar, char sau paar’, which alluded to the BJP’s aspiration to win more than 400 seats in the 543-strong Lok Sabha. Even another interpretation that it meant the BJP would cross that mark with the respective victories of its allied parties proved incorrect. Shashi Tharoor’s response to the BJP slogan, ‘abki bar Tihar’, an allusion to the inf­amously tough prison in India, an equivalent of Mach jail on this side of the border, was more a case of wishful thinking than a rallying call and would remain so.

The BJP’s opponents in south India criticise it for being a Hindi-belt party only. The election results have defied this label somewhat, as the BJP has expanded the spread of its constituencies in the south, if not the total number of seats, from 2019. However, Indian national politics is generally conducted in Hindi/ Sanskrit idiom, ie, ‘Bharat jodo’ and ‘Nyay yatras’ of Rahul Gandhi and ‘Hindu rashtra’ to ‘Ram raj’ of the Sangh Parivar.

That our politics is stagnant is axiomatic, but the staleness of political slogans, particularly during the rough and tumble of electioneering, points to a lack of creativity and acumen. Mainstream political parties in Pakistan are not the only culprits; pressure groups and non-electoral entities are equally unimaginative when it comes to capturing and galvanising public aspirations.

Slogans that gained currency across the political divide soon became jaded with overuse and failure to build upon the narrative. These include a not-so-veiled reference to the military’s influence in every sphere of life, in which the uniform is cited to explain away every conceivable situation, except perhaps for ‘andey mein jo zardi hai…’ ‘Zardi’ means yolk. Thank goodness for this, as the proverbial egg is on all our faces.

The staleness of political slogans indicates a lack of creativity.

Slurs like ‘chor’, ‘ghadar’, ‘Dirty Harry’, ‘diesel’, ‘youtheay’,’ insinuating corruption, treason, conspiracy, smuggling, and affiliation with the youth-driven PTI, respectively, vitiate the atmosphere aplenty but do not reflect any aspiration or even a call to action by their proponents. ‘Software update’ and ‘half-fry’, ‘full-fry’ euphemisms for security agencies’ extrajudicial measures can only be shuddered at.

Unlike the Shubh Laxmi and Ladli Behna welfare schemes across the border, the title of our safety net flagship, Benazir Income Support Programme, does little more than commemorate her services to the country. Branding of similar social safety net schemes introduced subsequently also fails to inspire a sense of inclusion.

Like the 1990s, which saw a rise in party songs as an important part of branding, the building up of the PTI and dharna culture, especially from 2013 onwards, saw the rise of DJs, drone coverage, and all-night jamming sessions at political rallies. Shipping containers’ reputation as roadblocks was salvaged as they began to be used as a home away from home for the dharna leadership, vanity vans of sorts for the vain. Meanwhile, the multitudes had to face the elements under the sky, albeit accompanied by the carefully curated beats and songs of Esakhelwi who lent his creative genius to PTI campaigns but eventually got as disillusioned as the DJ who reportedly got short changed over the ‘concert fees’.

Sindh continues to live under the Elvis fan club delusion. The only innovation since ‘zinda hai Bhutto’ has been a proclivity to add ‘shaheed’ as a prefix or suffix to every party leader’s name. Such is the fervour in this regard that leaders with healthy vital signs are sometimes called martyrs.

Balochistan continues to aspire to ‘sahil, wasail par haq’ (right over land and maritime resources), KP yearns for ‘akhpal khawri, akhpal ikhtiar’ (our soil, our choice). Punjab has the dubious honour of inventing damp squibs like ‘vote ko izzat do’ and parochial wake-up calls like ‘jaag Punjabi jaag.’ While our countrymen in Gilgit-Baltistan struggle for constitutional rights, their current rallying call, ‘wheat subsidy,’ is uninspiring and lacking in ambition. The Seraiki belt is the most focused, and spot-on, with its singular cry for ‘waseb’ (sociopolitical living space). The slogan compre­hensively relays the region’s aspirations.

Now that the electoral frenzy in India has peaked, does one expect the political and communal temperature to go down? Will the strain in the BJP-RSS marriage result in less froth and fire aimed both at home and abroad, or should one brace for double trouble? It remains to be seen what becomes of the ‘lath lahrao Modi’ (wave the staff, Modi) brigade now that the spouses are considering a separation, if not an outright divorce.

The writer is a poet. His latest publication is a collection of satire essays titled Rindana.

shahzadsharjeel1@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2024

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