Nepal: Facing Reality

The former BBC – wallah and current Nepali Times columnist, Daniel Lak has this to say about the present state of affairs in Nepal: ” The situation looks grim from Kathmandu, but at a distance one can see a rosy glow of hope, of dawn after a long night of discrimination and cynicism.” He continues : ” … time and space offer perspective… What’s going on around the country seems logical and even a good thing.”

The objective observer must decide whether this viewpoint itself is disillusioned or optimistic. His opinion of the “capital’s chattering classes” – “the same old collection of high caste men plotting to deny everyone their rights” – is particular illuminating : “Nepal has always suffered from the elite’s blinkered, close-up, stuck-up-in-the-moment vision. No distance, no history, no context, no hope.”

The political parties, civil society, enlightened people in general and also the international community have to face reality in the pseudo-Himalayan Republic of Nepal.

Nearly two weeks back, a courageous senior officer of the Nepalese Army, Brig.Gen. Dilip Shumsher exploded a political bombshell by airing his views on the present state of the nation at a public forum. There was, of course, a hue and cry regarding the appropriateness of a serving army officer doing so. The question was also raised about the so-called ‘politicization’ of the army.

Without any hedges at all, it can be said that an army officer is a ‘citizen in uniform’ and has every right to make a political statement, more so because his stated opinions were in general terms and he did not directly attack particular persons and political parties. Moreover, it was not only Gen. Rana’s political right, but his moral duty to point out the grave dangers in the present set-up. If only Hitler’s generals had not followed him blindly, the course of German history and world affairs would have been quite different! Ergo, in a situation where the country is facing dire consequences, this officer has fulfilled his obligation in an impeccable manner. As can be surmised, the Maoists want his blood.

The seven party alliance and the Maoists – appropriately named SPAM – want desperately to give the impression first, that the present state of affairs is proceeding by democratic means; and second that the Maoists themselves have entered the democratic, political mainstream.

They are absolutely wrong on both counts. SPAM is fully in disarray and has not been able to convince the Nepalese people in general and the Terai people in particular that good governance is on the way. PM Koirala himself has conceded that “challenges still remain and aspirations of the people are being crushed.” His failing health, his abject dereliction to take stock of events, and above all his inability to govern at all, should have long prompted him – if he had even one iota of love for his country and countrymen – to quickly name a successor from the Nepali Congress.

Knowledgeable people are disgusted with the interim government’s star-chamber methods – from closed-door meetings and decisions to ultimatums and disastrous snap decisions. Not for him the wisdom of a Marcus Tullius Cicero : ‘He who governs properly, must have once listened carefully; and who listens humbly, is truly worthy to himself command.’

The Maoists themselves are proving time and again that they have not parted from their evil ways – continuing extortion, kidnapping and violence against persons, industries and businesses across Nepal. This soared to great heights in the run-up to their rally on February 13. Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara had the gall to claim: “We are not extorting any more. We are collecting totally voluntarily from those who are willing to support our movement”! This is one nasty little scoundrel.

At this rate the elections to the Constituent Assembly will either be stymied, or reduced to a farce. When former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba and C.P. Mainali recently protested at the Election Commission about Maoist intimidation, they were promptly shut up by the Maoist No.2 hatchet man, Baburam Bhattarai, also present. The Maoists are clearly blackmailing the SPA constituents and calling the shots. Don’t be surprised if the myth of Jan Andolan II of April 2006 finally bursts: it was actually the Maoists, stupid! Thanks to SPAM, we have now embarked into the era of the ‘politics of schizophrenia’.

The Maoists are convinced that they are very close to grabbing political power by brow-beating the other political parties and putting the army out of the running. Their behaviour shows that they do not respect democratic norms. They claim for themselves the right to demonstrate, but deny the same to others.

Last Saturday, Maoist cadres violently beat up countless activists of the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) at a function in Besi Sahar, the district headquarters of Lamjung. Their programme was completely disrupted. They were also meted out the highest insult, Nepalese style: blackening of faces and being garlanded with shoes. They are acting like the Red Guards of Mao Zedong – intolerant of anything and everything not in conformity with the Maoist ideology, for example: ‘all books that do not reflect the thoughts of Mao, must be summarily burnt’!

It is absolutely shameful that home minister Sitaula remains silent over such repeated incidents all over the country. But after all, he is reputed to be a Maoist sympathizer, and the Maoists are vehemently opposing his ouster even if that stalls the negotiations with the Terai groups.

SPAM (Nepali Congress leading) has attempted to achieve a veneer of international recognition by staging the Asia-Pacific meeting of the Socialist International (SI). Unfortunately for them, this loose organization of socialist and social democratic parties has hardly a voice in international politics. Thus, the so-called ‘Kathmandu Declaration’ will not amount to much since it does not reflect the reality of the country’s situation. On the one hand, the Asia-Pacific Committee reaffirmed that the SI would continue (what has been its benefaction up to now?) to contribute in every way possible to strengthening democracy in Nepal, including support for the electoral process. On the other hand, in a self-defeating, self-contradicting and ludicrous manner, the SI stressed the need for strong unity among the eight political parties! As if SPAM is the sole repository of all democratic norms, the interim government a model of good governance, and the Maoists the shining examples for upholding democratic elections !

Speculation is also rife regarding the possible abdication of King Gyanendra. For the SPAM leaders the monarchy is a major irritant, specially because of the nexus between the monarchy and the (Royal) Nepalese Army. Both institutions are symbols of national unity and both staunchly support the country’s independence and territorial integrity, unlike many of our leaders, who have their own personal axes to grind and are puppets of foreign interests.

Thus, both the monarchy and the (R)NA are unlikely to ‘wither away’, specially since their wellspring of popular support runs very deep. Now, the approaching Shivaratri festival (the night of the Hindu god Shiva and supreme protector of the country) is giving the SPAM leaders a major headache. Thousands of fundamentalist Hindu activists from India may enter the country and agitate in favour of a “Hindu Kingdom’. Will this be the eye of the approaching storm ?

The writer 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