30 June - 6 July 2017 #865

Purposely provocative

For leaders in Nepal, India or the US, fanning hate seems to be a universal strategy
Damakant Jayshi

ATLANTA -- Words matter. And when they come from those in responsible positions of leadership, they can have consequences. Leaders of some of Nepal’s political parties often make provocative comments. Some of these utterances have come back to haunt them.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s performance during a BBC Sajha Sawal discussion on Sunday is an example. Visibly irritated by aggressive questioning from the floor, Deuba lost his cool and lashed out in his less-than-articulate diction with threats like “Who are you to ask me that?”, “Don’t cross the line”, or “Why should I tell you?” The video went viral, at considerable cost to the prime minister’s support at election time.

Former prime minister K P Oli of the UML is infamous for pithy remarks in Nepali that reflect his very strong views. While some of the phrases attributed to him are doubtful, or have been taken out of context, he has assiduously positioned himself as a tough-talking nationalist who can protect Nepal’s geopolitical interest.

He blamed India for his forced resignation as prime minister, and has often insinuated that Madhesi party leaders are pro-India. His words have angered Madhesi party leaders, as well as people in the Tarai who feel insulted. Oli’s strategy is to brand himself and his party as the sole guarantor of an undivided Nepal.

Two years ago, Madhesi, Nepali Congress, and a Maoist fringe party leaders made inflammatory remarks, which, according to a parliamentary body, was responsible for violence in Tikapur in Kailali district in August 2015. They have instead blamed the then coalition partners in the government, the NC and the UML, for the violence. There is no introspection from any of the major or minor political parties as to how their public pronouncements lead directly to the deaths of over 50 people, most of them in the Tarai in 2015.

However, the provocative oratory of Nepali leaders pale into insignificance compared to what is happening across the border in BJP-ruled India today.

The ruling party has been whipping up public anger mainly against Muslims that has translated into an epidemic of vigilante violence on the streets. Examples are BJP MP Ananth Kumar Hegde’s disparaging remarks on Islam, or Giriraj Singh, a leader of BJP’s Bihar unit, saying those opposed to Modi should leave India, leaders from the ruling party and like-minded ones from Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) have spoken ill of Muslims in India.

It is hard to say whether it is Modi’s India that is emulating Trump’s America, or vice versa.

Donald Trump has been known to make unfiltered, intentionally offensive remarks and even some of his Republican supporters are aghast. Their steadfast support for the “political outsider” who didn’t bother to be political correct is starting to waver.

There are numerous instances when Trump’s ‘America First’ slogan has led to violence. In Kansas, a White gunman shot at least three people, including two Indians, at a bar earlier this year. From the opposite side, another man so fed up with Trump shot some Republican Congressmen during a baseball practice game in Washington DC last month. Not a day goes by without reports of racism-related violence or threats in Trump’s America.

The violence is being exported. In the UK last year, Labour Party MP Jo Cox and a ‘Stay’ supporter in the Brexit referendum was shot and stabbed to death by a man who shouted ‘Britain First’.

There is a purpose to Trump’s reckless tweeting: keep his base of ardent supporters in a permanent state of agitation and insecurity against imaginary enemies. That Trump lies so outrageously and openly and has been termed America’s most-deceitful president comes as no surprise.

All these leaders have understood that there is a significant chunk of population in their country which will vote for their nationalist pitch, no matter how outrageous the remark. In fact, the more outrageous, the better . It doesn’t work everywhere, as we have seen in France, Netherlands and Austria recently, but hate is contagious. It can fray the social fabric, create divisions in society, or even fan racist violence, but that doesn’t bother people for whom it is about power at any cost, by any means.

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