I have an image that went “viral” recently on the Internet among Nepali. The image not only created widespread criticism and debate on social media but also widely covered in mainstream media. In the photo, we can see Chairpersons of Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal, Sadbhawana Party and Tarai Madhes Sadbhawana Party- Upendra Yadav, Rajendra Mahato and Mahendra Raya Yadav meeting with Lalu Prasad Yadav, an Indian leader and President of Rastriya Janata Dal. Yadav talked with Nepal’s agitating leaders of Madhesh based parties in Bihar of India, on Monday, February 1, 2016.
It is not the first time Nepal’s politicians meet Indian leaders “seeking political support”. However, this is the first time any meeting created such a louder controversy in media sphere in Nepal. The immediate question that came into my mind is “can this image be the aspect of visual culture?” Let us first discuss what kind of criticism and response this image created in Nepal. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa wrote in his Twitter : “No proud (Swabhimani) Nepali can be happy by seeing this image.” Similarly, Journalist Kanak Mani Dixit wrote in his Facebook: “Lalu Yadav should not treat Nepal’s national Madheshi leaders as if they were feudatories from a Bihar backwater. Analysis on the photograph can be done on the basis of – outdoor parking lot setting for the meeting, wickerwork chair for Lalu, plastic chairs for Nepali leaders, straight line positioning of chairs rather than semi-circle, laid-back postures of Lalu, leaning-forward hands folded postures of Nepali leaders, distance of supplicant ‘raiti’ from the Patna ‘zamindar’, he further writes. In a news report published in The Telegraph Nepal, senior leader of United Marxist Leninist Jhal Nath Khanal claims that Madheshi leaders’s visit “a shameful act.” Similarly, in the Himalaya Television news report Pashupati Shamsher Rana, senior leader of Rastriya Prajatantra Party, termed meeting “the wrong step.”
In a news report published in The Kathmandu Post, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar criticized the meeting: “Our revolutionary leaders were seen prostrating in front of Lalu. It looked like a meeting between serfs and master. Isn’t it shameful?” Bishwo Mani Pokhrel, in an article published in In Nagarik Daily, argues, “Picture speaks for itself, Lalu’s posture is authoritative and our renowned leaders are eager to listen his instructions and accept.” Moreover, he argues that, “the concern is not about different chairs (one made by stick and other plastic) they are siting; chair only represents a seat. The concern, primarily, is about culture and behavior. Leaders must understand that Lalu’s behavior regarding Nepal’s politics coincides the behavior of Narendra Modi or any other Indian leader. They are obsessed with hegemonic psychology and behave accordingly with any Nepali.” The Republica editorial states: “The images of Morcha leaders, their arms dutifully folded, and lining up for audience with Bihari leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav do not go down well among the proud Madheshis.”
If we cautiously read above responses, they can be categorized in four groups. First, Kamal Thapa’s comment “proud Nepali” and Republica’s comment “proud Madhesi”, are the result of current debates of “nationalism”. Second, Dixit’s remark “feudatories” and Pokhrel’s narrative of hegemonic psychology are more or less based on the the role played by India on Nepal;s internal affair. Third, Khana’s remark “shameful act”, Rana’s comment “the wrong step” and Gachhadar’s comment “shameful” are the question of diplomatic norms” are based on the norms of diplomatic protocol. The image is clear: Nepali leaders meeting with an Indian leader. However, the image of that very meeting created widespread comment and criticism on Internet. How we make such perception based on a photo? This question is crucial in visual culture. Thus, this image can be the aspect of visual culture. Moreover, the study of this image can be of value in contemporary political scenario because of two reason. First, there is an agitation in Tarai Madhesh after the promulgation of the Constitution of Nepal. Second, there is a debate of so-called nationalism in Nepal propagated by the state mechanism with the help of mainstream media.
The image provided creative impulses to cartoonists. For example, Rajesh KC created a humorous cartoon that resembles Lalu Prasad Yadav as potato and Nepali leaders as radish (See at top). What makes a cartoonist to draw cartoon implying potato and radish as the visual metaphor for leaders? What might be its significance? If vision is a mixed mode of perception, how does the audience of above photo visualize the act of meeting? How journalists, social media users and cartoonists saw the image as offensive? If vision is the question of the power to see, how does power play in this image? If visuality is, rendering the process of history visible to power, how does this process renders in this very image?
Since visual culture involves “the things that we see, the mental model we all have of how to see, and what we can do as a result”, the study of these images can be the aspect of visual culture. The image and cartoon both resembles our contemporary society, politics, people’s mindset and psychology. Thus, this image can be of interest in visual culture.
Dixit, Kanak Mani. Facebook. 1 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. <https://www.facebook.com/kanak.m.dixit/posts/941024752641085>.
“Nepal: Khanal Accuses Madhesi Leaders for Meeting Laloo.” TelegraphNepal.com. 3 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. < telegraphnepal.com/headline/2016-02-03/nepal:-khanal-accuses-madhesi-leaders-for-meeting-laloo>/
पोखरेल, विश्व मणि. “बिहार नधाऊ, काठमाडौं आऊ.” Nagarik News. 4 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. <http://nagariknews.com/opinion/story/53758.html >.
बराल, अरुण. “लालुको पटाङ्गिनी: मधेस आन्दोलनको सेटब्याक ?” Online Khabar. 3 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. <http://www.onlinekhabar.com/2016/02/383089/>.
“Meeting Between Madhesi Front Leaders and Lalu Yadav Is a Wrong Step: Pashupati Shamsher Rana.” Himalaya Television. 3 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. <http://himalayatv.com/news/2016/02/03/meeting-between-madhesi-front-leaders-and-lalu-yadav-is-a-wrong-step-pashupati-shamsher-rana/:en>.
Mirzoeff, Nicholas. An Introduction to Visual Culture. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.
“Revolution by Proxy.” Republica. 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. <http://myrepublica.com/editorial/story/36279/revolution-by-proxy.html>.
“Rival Madhesi Alliance Critical of Morcha-Lalu Meeting.” The Kathmandu Post. 2 Feb. 2016. Web. 8 Feb. 2016. <http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2016-02-03/rival-madhesi-alliance-critical-of-morcha-lalu-meeting.html>.
Thapa, Kamal. Twitter. 1 Feb. 2016. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.