Around three years ago I was on my regular climbing expedition to Nepal with a few friends, sat down on a rock above Lobuche en route to Everest Base Camp and penned the following poem:
Corruption and pollution, Maoist revolution,
Student agitation, tears apart the nation.
Economic suicide, businesses begin to slide,
Politicians cannot see, they don’t live in poverty.
Irresponsibility, uneducated anarchy,
Students are manipulated,
Law and order decimated.
Who will be the hero, indicate the way to go,
Duty above selfishness,
Lead us from this holy mess.
It caught the mood of what we were all feeling, some of us regular visitors to this wonderful country, one of us married to a Nepali for 35 years, all of us amazed by the anarchy that seemed to be growing with no direction or leadership being shown by anyone. Worst of all, no “father of the nation” seemed to be emerging who would lead the country into something even resembling a unified state.
Three years later and I don’t see much difference, politicians “fiddle while Rome burns,” debating the constitution ad nauseum to the detriment of many other things around them. Fuel shortages, electricity outage, the Terai problem, all symptoms of a wider malaise … no leadership.
In recent weeks, as I followed the news daily on the internet and from my wife who had visited her home for the wedding season, I have begun to think of comparisons in the last century of countries who faced national problems, in some cases even the risk of destruction. The first example is of Great Britain in 1939, with the rest of Europe overrun by the German army their politicians had tried the policy of appeasement, then a half-hearted attempt to support the invaded French. The army defeated, supplies cut off, the country on the verge of invasion and from the depths of despair arose a leader, someone who gave confidence, who gave direction and spoke of hope. Winston Churchill rallied and organised the nation into a defiant and snarling bulldog who would not lie down.
As a second example not long after this, closer to home in Nepal, India was fighting against British oppressive rule and led by Mahatma Gandhi. Here was a man who “fought against” oppressive taxation and divisive discrimination. He led nationwide campaigns for the alleviation of poverty, for the liberation of women, for brotherhood amongst differing religions and ethnicities, for an end to caste discrimination, and for the economic self-sufficiency of the nation, but above all for the independence of India from foreign domination. His strategy was non-violent protest.
My final example, if one more were necessary, comes from the apartheid torn country of South Africa. Here was a country where the vast majority of people were an oppressed underclass, in most cases violently so. The black people of South Africa had no rights whatsoever, politically, economically, sociologically or within the justice system. Then in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and led the nation through a strategy of reconciliation and negotiation to a culture based on a multi-racial society. The fact that there was not widespread bloodshed is testament to his statesman-like leadership.
Now, it is not my purpose here to write a lengthy essay about these three political leaders, far from it though I would encourage everyone to look more at the qualities they possessed and the strategies they followed. Simply put, in each case they were the right man for the right problem at the right time. Each of them understood the mood and needs of the nation. Each of them gave direction and organisation to the change that was needed. Each of them inspired confidence in the people through their words and personal example. Each of them led their countries from darkness into light.
So how is Nepal to be led from darkness into light? My three examples would suggest I believe that there is a need for, and a lack of leadership in the country. Who is really the leader of Nepal today? Who stands for the nation? Who should the people most look up to?
The example leaders I have given were all incorruptible, untarnished and gave the people a clear vision of a better future. Can you say the same for GP Koirala or Comrade Prachanda? Are they giving the people a vision of a better future? Are they giving clear direction? Are they working on the right things? Do they have an untarnished past? From my position, I think not, and this is the real tragedy for the nation in the long term and the ordinary people in the short term. Someone MUST emerge to galvanise Nepal towards tomorrow or the future is bleak indeed.
The Nepal Freedom Centre is a virtual organisation for everyone concerned for democracy in Nepal.