A Million Mutinies Now

By Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate

“A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

The terrorist serial bombing in Kathmandu and the worsening law and order situation in the country, have highlighted the dire straits in which we find ourselves. The first has rightly been termed as ‘Black Sunday’ marking perhaps a watershed in the relations of the Terai with the rest of the country – whether intended or accidental. Instead of concentrating on essentials, the eight-party government is lost in side issues. The state of the nation has become even more unstable, ungoverned and violent. The whole situation, of course, brings into sharp focus the abject condition of the political leadership. We should abandon all hope that this miserable lot of would-be statesmen, loud mouths and grandstanders are capable of stabilizing the country. We simply cannot afford their leadership (or lack thereof) any more.

The foreign ministry of a leading member of the European Union has mentioned in its latest travel advisory that ‘Black Sunday’ is not the end of the matter, and that further bomb attacks are to be expected. It also revealed that in the coming weeks and months various groups have announced that they will undertake countrywide demonstrations and protest actions. The experience in the past had shown that these would bring public life to a complete stop and that violent clashes would be a grave danger to life and property for all. Furthermore, the propensity for violent and criminal activity increased dramatically in the last year. All that from an independent and neutral foreign source. If the present state of affairs continues and other attacks follow, then other countries will also publish similar travel advisories, and we can say goodbye to any surge of tourism. Experience elsewhere has shown that good governance is more likely to boost tourism than any clever advertisement or public relations campaign.

Not only that, it is questionable whether there is any relevance to the constituent assembly elections. It has become apparent that the eight-party conglomerate seem to believe in electoral politics (at least as long as they think they can win or even manipulate the results), but not in the individual rights, laws and traditions that create a genuine liberal democracy. These CA-elections will also have no meaning, if the Maoists and the eight-party syndicate have their way and proclaim a republic ahead of the elections.

The ‘Gang of Eight Parties’ led by the Maoists have precipitated the issue of the monarchy as the main issue and problem of current politics. If the matter is so pressing, then we would suggest the holding of a referendum under international auspices. But rest assured they do not have the guts for such a course of action. In fact, their unelected government is no longer in control of the situation. What veteran and senior Indian editor, M.J. Akbar wrote about the present mood in his country (in Asian Age) could very well also apply to all South Asian countries. Nepal is in the throes of a violent fever. It can be seen and felt everywhere, from the high Himalayas, through the middle hills to the tropical plains of the Terai.

The turbulence is a permanent stream just under the surface. Various ethnic groups have their own axes to grind, are restless and angry and imbued with a sense of betrayal. In the countryside, the Maoists can no longer operate with impunity. There are many instances where villagers have reacted mercilessly for past wrong-doings (the latest incidence last week in the writers’ native Parbat). The Maoists have also retaliated violently (as in Kusma). The spiraling of violent action and reaction could very well get out of control and result in national eruption of political conflagration.

There is no unity in the SPAM government – they are too engrossed in their infighting to be expected to show any kind of positive initiative. The need of the hour would be an agenda of national reconciliation and reconstruction, but the ‘Gang of Eight’ – egged on by the Maoists – is hell-bent on confrontation and revolutionary upheaval. They especially believe that they can induct their dysfunctional, discredited and bankrupt ideology by violent state-restructuring and transformation without recourse to the ballot box, due process of law and orderly parliamentary procedure.

Their threat to launch a ‘decisive movement’ from this week if their 22 demand catalogue was not met, citing that the ‘movement’ was necessary to prepare free and fair elections can be translated to ‘preventing the polls in order to save them’. The ideological blindness in this statement is truly breathtaking.

The same can be said about the much repeated Maoist mantra that CA elections could not happen as long as there still was a monarch in Nepal. There simply is no objective causality between the existence of the monarchy (especially of the near defunct Nepalese one) and the ability to conduct CA elections. Repeating an incorrect statement over and over again does not increase its validity but compounds its idiocy.

The Maoist leaders remain the megalomaniacs that they had become during their protected and protracted self-exile in New Delhi – far away from the Nepalese ground realities. But how can we rid ourselves of this grave menace to our unique way of life, our independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity?

For all its serious lapses in the sphere of law and order, the entire government should have resigned. But not even the crypto-Maoist and home minister Sitaula is willing to accept responsibility. With all the talk of ‘total democracy’ or loktantra, democratic norms have been thrown to the winds. Instead of acting the man of decision in an acute time of crisis, PM Koirala has reduced his political activity to ceremonial duties, and even these have been usurped. He gloats over his role as the acting head of state. His attempt to ‘reign’ and fulfill the role of the Hindu monarch by seeking to cover the gaping void of religious duties is ludicrous in the extreme and a direct insult to all devout Nepalese Hindus and Buddhists.

All the years previously being a practicing atheist, he brazenly replaced the legitimate King at the ‘Showing of the Sacred Vest’ at the auspicious Machendranath festival of Patan, and then visited and performed ‘puja’ at the sanctified Krishna Temple on the occasion of Janmastami (Lord Krishna’s birthday)-both sacrilegious acts. He may now very well venture to receive the sacred sign (tika) from the Royal Kumari or Living Godess (in place of the King) during the Indra Jatra festival at the end of September.

As a head of a secular state, his religious duties seem to be truly awesome. But similarly to practiced loktantra bearing little resemblance to what is generally known as democracy, the PM seems to have developed his own concept of secularity. ‘Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad’ (Euripides).

Using salami tactics and hoodwinking an unsuspecting public, this repressive regime has been continuously dismantling the institution of monarchy. Dipak Gyawali, a former minister of water resources has conceded in a BBC-interview that an independent opinion poll conducted by his NGO has established a solid majority for the monarchy. At the same time, home minister Sitaula using Maoist jargon has waxed eloquent that ‘the People’s War on Monarchy’ is very close to victory! He means, of course, that the proclamation of ‘a federal republic’ by the unelected, provisional government colluding with the appointed, interim ‘parliament’ (which has no constitutional prerogative to do so) is imminent.

The heart attack suffered by Crown Prince Paras was an eye-opener. Neither the PM nor any of his ministers made a courtesy call – a major falling in Nepalese social mores.

The former speaker of the elected parliament, Taranath Ranabhat had the good form to be present. This speaks volumes for him. The Nepali Congress has deleted its support of constitutional monarchy from its party statute and will fight the elections on a republican platform. There is now nothing to distinguish it from the Communists and Maoists – they are birds of the same feather. Veteran Nepali Congress leader and founding member Krishna Prasad Bhattarai (also visited the ailing Crown Prince) has expressed deep displeasure over his party’s republican agenda. In very strong words he stated that a “prolonged rift between the King and democratic forces would weaken Nepalese nationalism, independence and democracy.”

Free and fair elections – if and when they take place – will definitely take their toll. Army chief Rukmangat Katwal has already offered help in the worst-case scenarios. But under pressure from the Communists and Maoists, Koirala is most unlikely to accept. No sane Nepali will accept Girija Koirala as an integrating figure. Only the institution monarchy still remains the guarantor and guardian of the nation’s independent existence. As the masterly Harvard professor (and tutor of King Birendra), Francis G. Hutchins has written: “the politics of Nepalese independence had become inexorably linked to the politics of dynastic rule”; … “Nepal’s archaic monarchy possessed visibility and credibility world wide”; … “the Shah dynasty had by hard work succeeded in identifying itself with national independence” (“Democratizing Monarch”, Vajra Publications, 2007). Our present crop of ‘leaders’ with no proper education, capacity or vision having no sense of history cannot hope to bridge the lacunae left by a non-functioning monarchy.

Strangely enough, the PM’s daughter, Sujata Koirala has been pleading for the retention of constitutional monarchy in the person of Prince Hridendra, King Gyanendra’s grandson. This suggestion has great merits indeed, since it would effectively clip the wings of unthinking anti-monarchists, anti-national elements, would-be revolutionaries, antediluvian communists and Maoists, and of course, fanciful presidential hopefuls. This would also placate the deep-seated uneasiness of devout Hindus believing in the great god Shiva’s centuries old ‘Gorkha Curse’ wherein the dynasty founded by the Great King and Unifier, Prithvi Narayan Shah was to be doomed in the tenth generation (King Birendra and King Gyanendra). Counting Dipendra (who reigned for only three days), Prince Hridendra would be in the twelfth generation. His elevation would surely side-step the prophetic cosmic whimsy, finally put to rest the “cataclysmic events” of June One, 2001 und do poetic justice to the “profound manifestation of divine playfulness” (Hutchins).

The writers can be reached at: [email protected]

Shashi P.B.B. Malla writes incisive political opinion about the politics and politicians of Nepal. He sometimes writes with fellow contributor, Chandra Bahadur Parbate.

Educated in Darjeeling, India, with a certificate from Cambridge University, he went to College and university in Calcutta: I. Sc./St. Xavier’s, B.A. (Hons.)/ Presidency, M.A. (International Relations)/Jadavpur, India. He was Assistant Editor: The Rising Nepal, Kathmandu.

He is or was the Country Representative, DAV Summit Club, Munich (Germany’s leading adventure tour operators in mountaineering and trekking)

He is a Senior Lecturer, Conflict, Peace and Development Studies, Tribhuwan University, Kathmandu