A poster boy, two daughters, and patriotism

Published On: December 7, 2018 10:33 AM NPT By: Gunjan Upadhyay

Our Prime Minister has been in the news recently for some rather peculiar reasons. It all started off with the ‘larger than life’, allegedly taxpayer funded bout of self-indulgence that was the posters, advertisements and billboard spaces rented for the rollout of the Social Security Scheme. Honestly, all of it might have been quite enough to make Kim Jong-Un jealous! If its intent, as many suspect, was to promote a ‘cult of personality’, then it’s safe to say that it backfired massively.  

As if that wasn’t enough fodder for his critics, he then went on to accept an award for ‘leadership and good governance’ from an INGO, Universal Peace Federation, which has been embroiled in issues relating to proselytization. It’s laughable to think that barely six months ago this very government was tinkering with the National Integrity Policy, and proposing provisions that sought to take a tough stance against ‘foreign’ activities in Nepal and proselytization in particular.  

I guess views and perspectives change faster than normal with this Oli government but, witnessing the latest string of faux pas, one wonders if our PM is either breathtakingly naïve, being advised rather badly, or just doesn’t care. Most of us will believe it is some sort of combination of the latter reasons. All of these unusual stunts (remember the five month report card of the government?) are presumably a desperate measure by the prime minister’s office to show that the current government is doing a good job despite evidence to the contrary. Far from inspiring confidence and adulation, Oli is fast becoming the poster boy – pun intended – for ineptitude and a symbol of our fading hopes in our leaders. 

While the government was working hard trying to get our PM’s visage onto every uncovered surface in the capital, the citizenry are actively trying to re-etch another image onto the national consciousness – Nirmala Panta. Lest we all and, more importantly, the government forget, there have been citizens active in sticking posters of Nirmala all over the capital and other parts of the country. 

The government, on the one hand, has been busy trying to paint our PM as some sort of communist messiah while, on the other hand, it has taken steps to suppress dissemination of news related to the Nirmala Panta case, with gag orders on state controlled media to stop reporting on this issue. I don’t know where exactly they have been living but, with all due respect to my friends and fellow media folks at state run institutions, that gag order is a bit redundant due to what can only be described politely as the limited appeal of state run media output. 

It’s not like private media organizations hold a lot of sway either because most opinions are molded on social media these days. The increased democratization of communication mediums means anyone with an opinion and a following can influence discourse on various events. Social media platforms act as a great barometer to gauge what is really holding the nation’s attention and over the last week or so our ‘posters’ and netizens on social media have been busy sharing images of our Miss World hopeful, Shrinkhala Khatiwada. As a result, our feeds have been a strange juxtaposition of posts and images of two of the country’s daughters – the beautiful Shrinkhala Khatiwada and innocent Nirmala Panta. 

Surely, I’m not the only one seeing the irony of voting for one of our daughters to win, gain international recognition, and be a symbol for an entire country as she goes about raising awareness on different issues and furthering various social causes while another is simply denied the justice she deserves. It feels strange that while our country still treats women as second class citizens, we’re voting for one of our own to be representative of not only us but other women round the globe.   

If Shrinkhala wins (or even if she does really well), what will happen, aside from the obvious euphoria and collective pride, is that we will generalize her success. We tend to use a special case like hers to measure women’s progress collectively as a nation like we did with the first female president, the first female speaker, or the first female Chief Justice. If successes like these are generalized by us and not seen in isolation (as individual struggles against the odds), then cases like Nirmala Panta’s should be used just as readily to deduce how little progress we have actually made when it comes to women’s rights and justice. 

I suppose all of us, including our Prime Minister, have our own differing notions of patriotism. It’s all about perspective and priorities and I can’t help feeling that we may just have got ours a little mixed up. Many of us have conflated voting for the Miss World pageant with patriotism and, although some may beg to differ, there is nothing wrong with that! But now that we have helped Shrinkhala onto the final thirty, it’s time for her to do her thing because there is nothing more we can do for her. But, perhaps, it’s still not too late to be able to deliver justice to the other daughter of this country.

The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at gunjan.u@gmail.com

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