Political Dynasties, Democratic Values & National Sovereignty

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

The elevation of Sujata Koirala, the PM’s daughter to cabinet rank and that too in the PM’s office, is a clear indication that she has been positioned (whether by herself or by other vested interests is not explicit at the moment) to succeed her octogenarian father, who has serious health problems. At the same time, she is also to follow in the footsteps of illustrious political dynasties in neighbouring countries. However, it is a moot question whether she has the educational background, political experience, savvy and stature and above all the aura of charisma of an Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, or Chandrika Kumaratunga.

In Pakistan, Fatima Bhutto, the daughter of Benazir’s brother Murtaza, described as “dangerous” the idea that the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) should be led by a member of the family. She attacked her cousin Bilawal’s appointment as PPP chairman and accused those around him of trying to perpetuate dynastic politics.

It is difficult to see how the installation of Sujata in a key position will benefit the country at large. She does not have the necessary background and organizational talent to initiate good governance. The authoritarian regime of the Six (formerly Seven before the amalgamation of the two Congress factions) and the Maoists-SPAM or Gang of Seven-has left little democratic values or even a democratic culture. It will be very difficult for any government to pick up the pieces.

Sujata’s own position in the Congress party is controversial. She did not rise from the ranks and has practically no power base, having lived the most part of her adult life in then West Germany. Then again, Girija Koirala himself is no towering personality like the greats in other South Asian countries-Jawaharlal Nehru, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Bandaranaike and Mujibur Rehman.

Unlike his illustrious brother Bisheswar Prasad (fondly called “B.P.” by friends, colleagues and admirers alike), Girija never achieved the status of an icon and was and remained a third-rate provincial politician and wheeler-dealer (in spite of the lavish praises heaped upon him by India’s Manmohan Singh and ex-US president Jimmy Carter). His sleazy image, contempt for the rule of law and democratic norms, and above all ignorance, or even downright disregard for the national interest can only rub off on daughter Sujata, herself no stranger to back room deals.

Thus, her tenure at the PM’s office will be no bed of roses, nor her political future all mapped out and a certainty. In the absence of her father, who still holds sway, even her spot in the party hierarchy is not assured. And her place in a future government can only lie in the stars. None of the other political leaders will accept or tolerate her occupying the top slot. In the absence of political acumen and administrative know-how, no amount of ambition can propel her to the top.

And if she somehow by hook or crook does get there, she will not survive long at the summit. Her current position in the party as spokeswoman for foreign affairs is overrated and ridiculous and just underlines the fact that she is the wrong person, in the wrong place at the wrong time. During her recent visit to the Delhi Durbar, she may have received the blessings of the Indian leaders to her elevation to cabinet rank, but this in itself shows that she does not appreciate the mood of independent thinking and nationalist Nepalese, who are wary of Indian interference in our internal affairs.

Probably also with Indian benediction (and her father’s tacit support), Sujata has now (belatedly) taken the line that the preservation of the monarchy (but rejecting a reinstatement of King Gyanendra) is essential for the future of the country. One might say that it is the thought that counts, however one cannot help raise eyebrows on the timing of this statement and who it is coming from. With such ‘friends’ of the monarchy, does it need enemies?

The abject failure of the Indian game plan in Nepal is the source for this new initiative. There has likely been an Indian hand in the flare up in the Terai, where-just as with SPAM- the Indians have lost control of the situation. Now the Indians (with the Americans behind them) are desperately attempting damage control. The Maoists, the former lackeys of the Indian hegemonists, have fallen out with their former masters and controllers, and are taking (at least a faction) an independent and nationalist line and may very well be willing to run into the arms of the Chinese. This would be a most interesting development as it would not only pave the way to political stability, but also anchor Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

China is not very happy with India’s role in South Asia where it invariably bullies its smaller neighbours. It itself adheres strictly to the hallowed principles of Pancha Shil (including mutual respect and non-interference). India’s support of the Dalai Lama and the Free Tibet Movement also undermines the ‘One China’ policy. It is for this reason that it has kept unresolved the simmering border dispute with India. China also looks askance at India’s attempt to gang up with the United States in order to ‘contain’ it on its southern flank and undermine its territorial integrity by supporting the Tibetan freedom movement. This is the current ‘Big Game’ in Asia. We will require the right leaders that we are not reduced to the level of mere pawns in this game, but become active players. For this, as Fatima Bhutto has said, there should be an opportunity for new faces to come up and new voices to be heard. The door should be kept open for people offering their services.

In the meantime, SPAM has made the holding of the elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA) in time, i.e. April 10 their main joint platform. On Monday, at a mass demonstration (marred by a bomb blast at the end) in Tundikhel, Kathmandu they have publicly promised that they are determined to go ahead on this score or be damned by the people. On their own admission they have solemnly declared that otherwise they would be traitors to the people’s movement (Jan Andolan II). Quoting a Nepalese maxim, Communist boss (CPN-UML) Madhav Nepal (aka Makune) said that this time around, they had no intention of striking their own feet with a sharp axe. We may have heard it all before, but it seems that it has dawned on these leaders that-while they can fool some people some time, they cannot fool all the people all the time. It is crystal clear that the clock has started ticking and that a sword of Damocles hangs over the heads of the SPAM leaders.

Serious question marks remain there still. In the face of violent activities, threats and intimidation by the Maoist cadres (recently castigated by minister for peace and reconstruction, Ram Chandra Poudel), it remains to be seen whether the elections will be free and fair. It has also not yet been resolved if, and how many international monitors will participate.

The SPAM leaders that have hijacked the people’s fundamental rights on the question of monarchy/republic are quite capable of rigging the CA-elections. In that case we would not only be back to square one, but a most volatile situation, as in Kenya or Georgia would emerge. The time frame has also been calculated very tight. The required budget has not yet been allocated. The situation in the Terai is still not yet conducive for the CA-elections. The government is incapable of deciding whether the army should be mobilized to maintain law and order (not only in the Terai, but the whole of the country) and provide the necessary security during the elections. The major controversy currently raging regarding the integration of the Maoist combatants in the national army may also spin out of control. As a ‘brilliant’ way out of this dilemma, SPAM and the government maintain a wall of silence over these issues.

One has the definite impression that the SPAM leaders and the government are not functioning of their own volition, but are zombies acting under the instructions of the Indian ambassador (or viceroy) and the local boss of India’s external intelligence agency (RAW/Research and Intelligence Wing), and/or are robots remote-controlled by the Delhi government. These self-serving, so-called leaders have wholeheartedly sacrificed Nepalese sovereignty and national interests at the alter of Indian hegemony. We can, therefore, only take their utterances with a pinch of salt.

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