January 19, 2021

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‘Re-formed’ semantics of politics

That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we ought to keep on being silent. — Ludwig...

That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we ought to keep on being silent. — Ludwig Wittgenstein

If Alice’s Humpty Dumpty experienced emerged from driving the searching-glass and were being witness to the Indian farmers’ agitation which has virtually brought the region to a standstill and produced waves of stormy protest as considerably afield as the Uk, the US, Australia, and Canada, he’d be in a position to establish the solitary verbal spark that would seem to have ignited the conflagration.

The farmers are up in arms – or fairly, up in ploughshares – from the BJP-led government’s a few proposed adjustments in India’s agri guidelines which day again to the colonial era.

The primary sticking position is the authorities certain Least Aid Price (MSP) for foods grains which gives a safety net for farmers.

The government’s proposal to complement the condition-run mandis with a two-tier technique by which farmers can decide for any customer of their option or continue providing their generate in the mandis has raised apprehension among agriculturists, regardless of assurances to the contrary, that this could be a first stage in executing away with the MSP. The confrontation is one amongst free current market option and a dirigiste financial point out-sponsored composition. And the one word which kindled the flashfire of turbulent dissent is ‘reforms’, a rubric less than which the legislation has been clubbed.

The dictionary definition of ‘reform’ is to adjust a little something, a regulation or a procedure, to make it greater for the normal superior.

Nonetheless, in India’s just one-move-ahead-a person-move-sideways narrative from a command financial state to liberalisation, ‘reform’ has turn into a bone of competition – or a bane of conflict – amongst position quoists, or condition quoists, and advocates of change.

Workouts such as the unannounced right away demonetisation and the precipitate introduction of the GST, both equally billed as watershed reforms by the federal government, and vigorously assailed by critics, have invested the term with irreconcilably reverse meanings.

To opponents, reforms are a weasel term for social and economic Darwinism in which the powerful prosper at the cost of the weak, whilst its proponent’s tom-tom it as a shibboleth, a password which will free us from the shackles of the prohibitory protocols of the past. The ‘reformation’, or ‘re-formation’ of ‘reforms’ is just a single occasion of the manipulation, or misappropriation, of semantics in the political lexicon, not just in India but almost everywhere.

The common case in point of these types of lingual somersaulting is Orwell’s Newspeak, derived from Doublethink, in which ideological oxymorons hijack the language of community discourse. In the Orwellian dystopia of Oceania in which the novel 1984 is established, citizens keep mass rallies in which they chant the paradoxical mantras of ‘War is Peace! Freedom is slavery! Ignorance is Strength!’

India’s present domain of community proclamations resounds with echoes of Orwellian Newspeak. The 1960s ‘Flower Power’ unifying anthem of ‘Make like, not war’ directed at the US military intervention in Vietnam, finds a mocking travesty in the deeply divisive catechism of ‘love jihad’, an omnibus amalgam that equates war with enjoy and would make them one particular.

Similarly, dissidence, the heartbeat of any democracy worth the title, turns into a synonym for anti-nationalism, subversion, and sedition, a desire to overthrow the condition.

The state by itself, bedrocked on the permanency of interlocking nevertheless impartial Constitutional institutions, is etymologically transfigured to signify the elected – and by definition transient of tenure – the authorities of the day, which by this verbal legerdemain assumes an overriding authority far exceeding its remit. Ideological rifts are widened instead of staying bridged when the language of negotiation loses frequent meaning. Interaction, with the hope it holds of eventual consensus, falls sufferer to confrontation in a literal war of words and phrases in which the combatants use a widespread language composed of a conflicting vocabulary, be it ‘reform’ which can be taken to necessarily mean ‘progress’ or ‘persecution’, or ‘secular’ invariably hyphenated with ‘pseudo’, and ‘migrant’ with ‘illegal’.

The final result is a semantic solipsism only too familiar to Orwell. Or to Humpty Dumpty.

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