The “misspeaking” malady

Rubina Saigol June 15, 2010

Politicians normally use speech more to conceal than reveal, more to mask than to elucidate. Once caught in the trap of their own insubordinate tongues, they can even invent new words to cover up the faux pas. During the presidential campaign of 2008 Hillary Clinton famously said that she “misspoke” when she gave a dramatic account of her arrival in Bosnia under sniper fire several years ago. What used to be called a fib or an outright lie was softened by making it sound like a slip of the disobedient tongue.

Pakistan’s politicians, across the wide political spectrum, excel not only at doublespeak but also at “misspeak”, “hyper-speak” and “foot-in-the-mouth speak”. Over the last several months the public has been regaled with all kinds of colourful, though occasionally violent and vulgar, forms of repartee. Punjab is especially prone to such displays of verbal diarrhoea although Sindh is not too far behind.

The Punjab governor and law minister are the two court jesters (bhaands in the local jargon) who seem to have received their formal degrees from the commercial theatre of Lahore where jughatbazi (hurling imaginative insults against an adversary) is considered an art form. The law minister informed the incredulous Punjabis that the governor’s status after the passage of the 18th amendment is no more than toilet paper. Subsequently, while referring to the governor’s obsession with the sasti roti (cheaper bread) scheme, Rana Sanaullah described in detail what ails him and provided suitable remedies in the form of eating two sasti rotis and then drinking his favourite drink. He promised a cure within a few weeks.

The governor is not to be left behind. He likes to insult the intelligence not only of his political rivals but the whole country. He proudly announced that the NRO was a medal and that he was disappointed that his name was not in the hallowed list of the 8,000 plus beneficiaries. Of course, one understands that the governor would like to be as rich as some of the privileged on the list. However, he forgot a small detail in that the NRO was a violation of Article 25 of fundamental rights granted in the constitution on which he took oath as governor. Additionally, Punjab’s colonial ruler loves to state that President Zardari would remain president until 2018 despite being elected until 2013. Some witches’ brew seems to have taken away the chartered accountant’s ability to do basic counting.

Some of the exchanges by our political party leaders fall in the category of light banter but some “foot in the mouth speak” sends shivers down the overburdened spine. It was not long ago that one heard very violent language emanating from the Punjab – “we will break their legs” or “we will gouge out their eyes” –from Raja Riaz and others. At the same time one heard shrill noises about “breaking up Pakistan” from Sindh. Political leaders, across the divides, were promising to make Pakistan’s worst nightmares come true. Of course, the foot finally did make its way into mouths, as one by one there were apologies and retractions.

Such public displays of immature, schoolyard gang language leaves one more than a little uncomfortable. Irrespective of the crude and vulgar behaviour of many in society, expectation from leaders is that they are beacons who will guide the way. When leaders engage in such political burlesque and political discourse falls to abysmal levels people are unwilling to trust and follow them. For example, there is enormous sexual licentiousness in the US but it is not tolerated in presidents for they represent the collective ideal. The same is true of our people. The references to sexuality, girl friends and allegedly illicit practices of rival politicians is in bad taste, as are violent remarks for they encourage and condone violence in a country already plagued by loads of it.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 16th, 2010.


Rabia | 11 years ago | Reply well said.
Syed Nadir El-Edroos | 11 years ago | Reply Amazing as always!
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