By Maila Baje
Amid the dreariness of daily political narrative, it is refreshing once in a while to proceed along parallelisms no matter how outlandish they might sound.
How does a country’s journey from point A to B end up at a lower-case e in light italics? And can we be sure we have arrived?
A unified communist party fusing the two best indoctrinated and organized comrades drives a government enjoying a massive legislative mandate. Instead of administering ‘new Nepal’, it is muddling from crisis to crisis. Of the three pillars of our redesigned state, secularism was first to shake. The only reason it still stands is the split between the monarchical and republican advocates of Hindu statehood.
There are other intriguing aspects to the precipitous rise in anti-secularism sentiments. Was the impetuous and enigmatic declaration on the abolition of Hindu statehood the culmination of a decades-long conspiracy to break one of the last barriers to the worldwide dissemination of the Good News? Was it aimed at removing what was construed as the most formidable plank of monarchy to cut it down to size? Or was it just another way of perpetuating destabilization? If anything, Hinduism has had an unprecedented and unexpected revival in secular Nepal.
Still, our astonishment at the plight of secularism pales in comparison to that vis-à-vis the dark clouds hovering above federalism. Not even a year into its existence, that pillar is slowly but surely being questioned on structural grounds. The controversy over the additional tax burden is symptomatic of a wider re-evaluation likely to ensue sooner rather than later.
Republicanism has proven more resilient. It has become fashionable to attribute its success to the unpopularity of the ex-monarch which is only surpassed by that of the ex-heir apparent. Less conspicuous in our collective consideration is the continuing childhood of the candidate for ‘baby king’. The more critical factor, though, may be the relative success of the presidency.
Compared to the occupants of other institutions of state, Ram Baran Yadav and now, Bidya Bhandari, have discharged their duties with remarkable decorum and dignity. Granted, they have been able to dodge serious controversy because of the ceremonialism of their office. Yet it is the individual that has made the institution count.
Even if the presidency were to maintain its record of probity and rectitude, would it be able to compensate for the ricketiness of new Nepal’s other two pillars? That remains in the realm of the future.
There is value for all stakeholders – external and internal – in revisiting and reevaluating how it all began and what went on midway to grasp where things are now.
Chandra Prakash Gajurel, who once headed the Maoists’ international relations department, put things very succinctly the other day in an interview with BBC Radio’s Nepali Service. Gajurel is now languishing in the sidelines as a member of Mohan Baidya’s more radical but rump group.
In the interview, Gajurel conceded that the Maoists ended up furthering India’s interests in Nepal. However, he was not prepared to concede that the Maoists had served as fifth columns. When the ragtag band of Nepali radicals rose up against the monarchy and the parliamentary system, India had little use for them. Having kept the Maoists in reserve, in Gajurel’s telling, the Indians brought them out when they needed to chastise the monarch.
Despite the palace’s coziness with China and Pakistan, New Delhi wasn’t ready to dispense with Nepal’s royalty. When events took their course, India didn’t feel terribly sorry. Nothing ground-breaking here. Where Gajurel gets interesting is when he describes how the Maoist leadership went on to join hands with the parliamentary forces. Gajurel has some credibility in calling this a betrayal of the revolution because both he and Baidya were in detention in India while the events leading up to the 12 Point Agreement unfolded in New Delhi.
On the other hand, if Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai ultimately chose to side with the parties against the palace and split the difference, it was the triumph of pragmatism over principle. A one-party people’s republic of Nepal was always inconceivable, even in the event of a full and formal Chinese takeover.
Pragmatism in input implies the inevitability of practicality in the outcome. If Dahal and Bhattarai created history in the annals of revolution by effecting a betrayal from the top, as Gajurel avers, he himself has grasped the opportunity latent in letting ‘what should be’ prevail over ‘what is’.
China, India and the West – in that precise order – have benefited from new Nepal, after having committed so heavily to suppress the Maoist rebellion on the back of the monarchy. Each of the three external stakeholders is still probably engaged in long-term cost-benefit analysis. If their collective objective is to keep Nepal in suspended animation as the significant acts of the Great Global Drama continue to unfold elsewhere, then they have succeeded.
The cycle thus continues as the new empowerment creates new alienation. Maybe that’s why, in the interview, Gajurel sounded quite sanguine about his aims and ultimate accomplishments. Nepalis ignored Dahal and Bhattarai once only to marvel at their machinations. Would we dare ignore Gajurel or Netra Bikram Chand? Maybe. Not doing so might be the more pragmatic way, though.
A revolution devoured by its parents?
By Maila Baje