Thursday, May 31, 2007
Proof by contradiction
Mathematicians often use “proof by contradiction” in order to solve difficult problems that deny straightforward answers. When it is impossible (or too difficult) to directly prove the veracity of a statement, mathematicians tactfully show its opposite to be untrue, thus proving the statement itself to be true. We are witnessing in Nepal today, a similar proof.
There were many who decried the alliance between the SPA and the Maoists as “unholy”. There were many who questioned the Maoists’ commitment to “mainstream politics”. But there were more who believed otherwise, and they happened to be the ones with the loudest voice and strongest influence.
This group that controlled the media and so-called “civil society” organizations, along with the political parties, of course, led us into believing that the Maoists were dying to join peaceful, competitive politics while an arrogant and ambitious king was only using them as an excuse to consolidate his own power.
If the parties were given a chance to have their way, we were told, they would deliver us a “peaceful solution” to the Maoist insurgency as opposed to the king’s “military solution”. The anti-royal regime fervor had been pumped to such feverish pitch that sensible people couldn’t even demand the bases for such lofty claims from these “peaceful-solution-walahs”.
More than a year has now passed since these “peaceful-solutionists” goaded their fellow countrymen to risk their lives and put the SPA back in the driver’s seat. Time has come around to examine their claims again.
Do we have peace now? Is any solution in sight? What have been the achievements of this party-press-civil society-led route to peace (not to mention a “new Nepal”)?
Events in the past one year are clearly contradicting their predictions that a “safe-landing” to the Maoists would assure us peace and a better Nepal. By contradiction then, as mathematicians might put it, the opposite (i.e., that the SPA-M alliance was indeed “unholy”, and that the Maoists couldn’t be trusted to enter the “mainstream”), are now being proved true.
Let us examine more closely the fallout of the “peaceful-solution” route:
An immediate casualty of this misguided effort was the 1990 constitution, a document once hailed as among “the best” in the world. Why anger against a king (who allegedly misused the constitution) had to translate into wholesale bashing and trashing of the constitution itself is a million-dollar question, without an answer.
One could hardly come across a better example of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. Nonetheless, the swift annulment of the 1990 constitution exposed the dearth of ideas (to solve the insurgency) in the SPA ranks. An agenda that was brought to the fore solely on the point of guns was thoughtlessly accepted as the “only solution”.
The fact that to this day, an overwhelming majority of the Nepalese people still don’t know what a constituent assembly is, clearly indicates that this “solution” was mere political expediency, not popular demand. Secondly, given that the 1990 constitution was a document that the SPA had themselves helped create, its unceremonious end exposed our “leaders” faith and conviction in their own words and deeds, and the strength (or rather lack) of their convictions.
As per the Maoists’ wishes, the UN was brought in to help resolve Nepal’s insurgency. While this was in the interests of a “terrorist group” aiming to attain the status of a “rebel force”, it would have been in the interests of all Nepalese too if the UN had been given some teeth.
But when after months of waiting we finally learnt of the 10:1 ratio of combatants to arms, we began questioning the efficacy of the much-hyped “arms management” process. And now as we watch a hapless Ian Martin wailing about the stalled arms verification process (and a growling Baburam threatening to throw the UN out), we know definitively that the rebels have outfoxed the "re-instateds." While the Maoists' managed to use the UN gimmick to attain international stature, the SPA has failed to use the same to provide a sense of security to the Nepalese people.
Finally, when the CPA was signed in November, the act of legitimizing the Maoists’ 10-year brutal war— a war originally waged against parliamentary democracy— was completed. In the preamble of this document, the Maoist insurgency is placed as a continuum in the Nepali people’s struggle for freedom since “around 1950”. Hence, a war that was waged against parliamentary democracy, against the 1990 constitution, was allowed to be re-interpreted as a war solely against monarchy and feudalism.
By then, of course, the SPA had removed the terrorist tags from the heads of their Maoist compatriots, freed their leaders who had been painstakingly captured by the security forces, and opened up the whole nation for them to carry out their (until then, forbidden) politics. The opposite — enabling the rest of the parties to carry out activities in hitherto forbidden space — on the other hand, has not been fulfilled to this day.
Through the “peaceful-solutionists” the Maoists managed to bag their most elusive and invaluable goal: legitimacy, recognition as an open political party. But what invaluable goal did the SPA wrench off in return?
And yet the unconditional give-aways to the Maoists didn’t stop there. Thence forward, they were brought into parliament, an interim constitution formed as per their wishes, and they were even given ministerial berths to run the country. Those people who’d murdered innocent Nepalis, including cadres of the SPA themselves (and who had not garnered any votes of the Nepalese people) were given the privilege of delineating our destinies purely on the strength of their guns. The use of violence for political gain was not only legitimized, but rewarded with a resounding thump.
The result is open for all to see. Every little group—student or trade union, ethnic forum, indigenous group, teachers’, dealers’, drivers’, displaceds’ anybody’s association, is using the same means to achieve their goals.
The state lies effete as every interest group uses abhorable, anti-social means to achieve their narrow interests. Faith in industry, discipline, hardwork, fair-play, truth and justice has been smashed to smithereens and ability to exploit the situation to one’s advantage by any means (including violent ones) have been proven as the qualities that succeed. Through all the ups-and-downs of our 240-year history, Nepalese have probably never been more demoralized than we are today. To be sure, we are closer to state-failure today than at any point in our history.
But make no mistake, the confusion, turmoil, uncertainty, anarchy and anomie that exist today are, in reality, a Maoist’s dream. There is room to assert that the Maoists deliberately seek to use this situation to discredit and destroy the parliamentary system in Nepal—their original goal. Through the “peaceful-solution” route the Maoists have achieved what they couldn’t with ten years of armed struggle from the jungles.
Then and now
Without doubt the Maoists have made good of the break offered to them by the “peaceful-solution” beatniks. Compared to where they were in early 2006, they have moved up in leaps and bounds.
By early 2006, the PLA had been reduced to a hit-and-run outfit that could only snap at the heels of a strengthening and maturing national army. The Maoists’ money-bags were fast drying up since they’d been swept clean out of the cities, the centers of extortion. A sense of impending defeat, and disillusion with Maoist ideology were leading their guerillas to surrender in hordes.
The impossibility of military takeover and inevitability of the shattering of the PLA changed hardcore believers of armed struggle into pragmatists who latched on to the SPA, their original enemies, for survival. Spurned by the king, and egged on by the “peaceful-solution” idealists the SPA took the bait.
The current situation is a stark reversal of fortunes. The Maoist cantonments are over-stuffed with fake recruits, while their guerillas have reincarnated as the YCL. The common Nepali’s tax-money is paying for the sustenance and salary of these fake guerillas while extortions have resumed afresh in the cities.
Fake soldiers in cantonments have become a bigger bargaining chip than guerillas in the jungles could ever be, and what’s more, we, the people, are paying for it! Property seized during the conflict have not been returned to rightful owners, instead Maoists are busy amassing more property – royal, public or private.
While arms management was the loudest, clearest call of the Nepalese people before, during and after the Jana Andolan, it is the one demand being pushed off all the time, while Maoists continually obtain whatever they ask for.
What did “the people” gain?
The current state of affairs naturally begs the question as to what the Nepalese people have gained by bringing the Maoists into the “mainstream”? The absence of war, as we all know, is not peace. The party-leaders are comfortably ensconced in their ministerial berths with associated privileges while the people are left high-and-dry to face the city-dwelling guerrillas.
We have no services, no security, and no future to look forward to. The fates of 26 million Nepalese have been held hostage to the whims of a senile old man operating out of his bedroom in Baluwatar. Every little decision requires the attention of His Healthiness Prime Minister Girija himself in his Baluwatar Durbar.
As far as centralization of power goes, even Rana prime ministers couldn’t have done better, and yet we are told we have "loktantra!" The "lok" fends for itself while the leaders divvy up the spoils of the state, is all that "loktantra" has meant for us.
The existence of parliament is a farce. The parliamentarians haven’t been able to go back to their constituencies. Anytime any party organizes an event in the districts they’re chased away by the legitimized guerillas. So to say that “the people” are being “represented” is but a cruel joke.
In fact, the parliament only exists to rubber-stamp decisions taken by the top leaders of the eight-party oligarchy behind closed doors. If the army is to be accused of being a royal lapdog, then the parliament is no more than a poodle to the EPA’s corrupt and crooked leaders.
Most recently, of course, the tactics of the street has infiltrated into the parliament as well. As the parliament remains disrupted for months, Maoists must quietly be building up the case to eventually dissolve it as inept and pointless, a charge that cannot in honesty be denied.
They’re in no hurry to do this yet though, as they still need to use their poodle to legitimize their yet-to-come illegitimacies. But once the parliament has outlasted its use, we can depend on the Maoists to deepen the turmoil so as to convince the people that a parliamentary system will never deliver peace, stability or prosperity.
Make no mistake, the current chaos and anarchy is in the interests of no one save the Maoists. State failure was their original objective. Despite being in government now they only wish to use their position, by their own admission, to pursue their original goals. Hence, we’re further away from our goals (peace, stability, prosperity) and even democracy than we’ve ever been before.
The balancing ballast
It’s about time we faced it. The “peace process” is going nowhere. Even if the CA elections are held, even if they are held fairly, and even if the Maoists get their desired result i.e. a republic, do we seriously believe that we will have peace? The Maoists’ struggle—once limited to the jungles, and slowly receding—will continue all over the nation, and we’ll continue to suffer with it.
At a time when the rest of South Asia and neighboring China is booming, Nepalese will watch as brainwashed youngsters from the jungles mangle this country. We will watch as party cadres challenge each other in street-fights while “revolutionary” leaders drive away foreign investors and donors alike, as is already happening. By the time the Maoists (and let’s not forget the SPA) learn their lessons we will have been left far, far behind by the rest of the world including our neighbors.
Increasingly it is turning out that the king and army, for all their other flaws, were right all along about the true intent and nature of the Maoists. It is clear as day by now that the CA elections demand was just a trick. No party really wants it, and the Maoists have even admitted it.
In their own words, the Maoits don’t really care about the CA elections as long as they get a republic! The People’s War was never really about people’s sovereignty, just about parties’ power. The king and army had enough sense to see this. And they were also cautious that the CA elections could open more problems than it might resolve.
Suspecting the commitments of the Maoists, and divining the complexity of CA elections they had offered the alternative of holding parliamentary elections first, which if held, would have delivered a legitimate government by now. This would have instilled faith in the legitimate method of getting to government: through the votes of the people, as opposed to revolution from the jungles or streets. This method would have reinforced the concept of people’s sovereignty, not the might of little interest groups. The process of transforming the state could have proceeded much more smoothly through this route.
But the parties, goaded by the “peaceful-solution” beatniks, of course, fell into the Maoists’ trap. Turns out even Lenin had a name for such helpers: “useful idiots”. Nepal’s “idiots”, however, have proved not only Lenin right, but Gyanendra too. You can beat that man, Gyane, as much as you like, but it doesn’t change the fact that he was after all right about the Maoists.
In fact, he was right about the parties too. The parties don’t have it in them to resolve the Maoist crisis. They’ve given up way too much to the Maoists and got back way too little in return. After pleading to the people that they wouldn’t repeat their “mistakes” we’re back to the ugliest form of 1990s politics, the raison d’étre for the Maoist insurgency.
More than a year after Gyanendra gave up power yielding to the “SPA’s roadmap to peace”, we can finally be sure that such a roadmap never existed, it has not been chalked out in the one-year since, and it never will be. The only roadmap that exists, if any, is that of the Maoists. This nation is an 8-captain ship on its stormy voyage to utopia (read nowhere).
The fact that we haven’t sunk yet, and probably will not soon, ironically, is owing to the one institution whose demise is gaining ground by the day. The person of king Gyanendra may have screwed up, but the institution of monarchy is holding this nation together. Every time the wrangling captains are ready to sink the ship, the disciplining factor of so-called regressive takeover plays the balancing ballast delivering the ship through the tidal wave. The monarchy, as an institution, has been the check-and-balancing factor of Nepalese politics through these tempestuous times.
It is the monarchy that finally brought the bickering seven parties together in 2005, and it is still the monarchy that is keeping the SPA-M together now. Say what you want of it, there is no denying the invisible but instrumental role the monarchy—unintentionally perhaps—has been playing so far. It has served to bring discipline, responsibility, a sense of a higher goal, and yes, unity to our tirelessly belligerent, bickering politicos.
Until such a time that our parties and people truly understand the order of priority in national politics: “Nation, party, me; not the other way around” there will continue to be a role for the monarchy in this country.
The performance of the polity in post-Jana Andolan Nepal has been discouraging. More and more it is evident that the SPA-M was an alliance of convenience with no discernible agenda (on the SPA’s side) to deliver lasting peace to the people of this country (forget about development). The Maoists have capitalized on the break offered them. But their behavior provides no evidence of their commitment to pluralistic and liberal democratic principles, and even raises suspicions about their adherence to the parliamentary system.
This begs the question as to what were the bases for selling the mainstreaming-the-Maoists-through-safe-landing agenda? Was this view furthered on the basis of solid information, on the basis of fear, under foreign influence, or just plain prejudice, bias, ignorance, and greed for power?
A veritable question-mark hangs on the intent, responsibility, and credibility of the sections of Nepalese media, civil society, and intelligentsia who espoused the “peaceful-solution” route, as it is the Nepalese people who are bearing the brunt of this half-cooked, ill-examined, but vehemently espoused solution for peace. The quagmire this has brought us into could take many years to resolve while our neighbors steadily outpace us.
The utter lack of vision and repeated failures of the SPA make the monarchy seem as the more mature political actor, whose viewpoints should have been considered with more seriousness and respect. Though its image is tarnished and its future uncertain, there is no denying that it has been playing an instrumental balancing role in the tempestuous Nepalese politics.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Although “random” commentary regarding the Gurkhas may have appeared out of context (on this website) a month ago (refer to: “Gurkhas as Mercenaries? You Bet!”), it is hoped that the Young Communist League’s statement on Gurkha recruitment places the issue right back “in perspective.”
As with the Melamchi fiasco (refer to: “The Bitter Truth About Melamchi”), the issue of Gurkha recruitment was all too predictable to (re)emerge as a Maoist platform. The reasons underlying the predictability factor are straight forward: It’s not like the Maoist doctrine is a secret and it’s not like the Maoists have changed their end-goals.
This truth may be hard to swallow for Nepal’s leftist-inclined, intellectually deluded elite. But for the sake of this argument, pretend the source of this certainty isn’t this writing (or numerous ones before this); consider that the foundation is “Nepal’s Maoists: Purists or Pragmatists?”.
This report was authored by the ICG's (International Crisis Group’s) subject matter expert on Nepal, Rhoderick Chalmers (and almost certainly, corroborated by ICG’s former expert John Norris, who coincidentally, now works for Ian Martin and UNMIN).
The first line of the Executive Summary of this report reads as follows: “Nepal’s Maoists have changed their strategy and tactics but not yet their goals.”
As a standalone statement, this revelation is completely within reason. As a statement that calls into question the fundamental argument for the 12 Point Agreement – that the Maoists had changed and wanted to become a part of the democratic system – the ICG’s 180 degree, changed stance, has enormous implications.
Maoist sympathizers and the extreme Nepali left intentionally avoid debate on topics where the monarchy cannot be used as a convenient scapegoat. Not surprisingly, when Maoist positions (products of their unaltered end-goals) surface on contemporary issues (e.g. Melamchi and the recruitment of Gurkhas), they are appalling, even laughable.
The YCL’s policy of halting Gurkha recruitment reeks of self-centrism, ethnic bias, a general disconnect with global economic reality, and misguided nationalism.
How Stopping Gurkha Recruitment Benefits the Maoists
Recruitment into armed services in Nepal is a tiered process. More or less, the crème-de la-crème are recruited by the British, then the Indians, then Nepal’s own Army, followed by the Armed Police Force, the Nepal Police and the ultimate tier of physically (and mentally capable recruits), end up with the Maoists.
With the changed political environment in mind, the Maoists are now positioned to compete for the tier, previously occupied by Army recruiters. Take for example, the sharp rise in newly recruited Maoist combatants during the timeframe after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the conclusion of UNMIN’s Phase-I verification process.
As delusional as this thought-process may be, from a electoral point of view, it is certainly in the Maoists’ best interest to maximize the strength and the quality of their cadre. It is also in their best interest to have on hand, a large, disaffected population, unemployed and at the Maoists’ disposal to exploit.
However, by prohibiting the recruitment of Gurkhas (into both the British and Indian armies), the Maoists are allowing their rhetoric to get ahead of their objectives. Given the relatively high standard of living that retired Gurkhas enjoy, no Nepali in their right state of mind is likely to appreciate the Maoists’ attempted eradication of some of the most lucrative employment prospects, in sight.
How Stopping Gurkha Recruitment is an Extension of Ethnic Envy
That Nepal’s political sphere is dominated by a certain ethnic minority, is fact. This social ill, referred to disaffectionaltely as the “bahun baad” phenomenon, pervades every dimension of life in the Nepali state. In particular, the “Bahun baad” politicization of state resources is most prevalent in Nepal’s hinterland – where access to education and progress have been monopolized by high caste Bahuns and to a lesser extent, by Chhetris
Of the many marginalized communities, there is one in particular that has been able to break the cycle of “Bahun baad” domination. Many members of the Janajati community have succeeded in circumventing the impact of “Bahun baad” domination by enlisting with the Gurkhas, and in the process, becoming economically, socially and mentally superior to their former oppressors.
The harder Pushpa Kamal Dahal tries to dissociate himself from his ethnic background (by insisting that he be addressed as “Prachanda”), the more evident it becomes how rooted in ethnic divisions, Maoists objectives truly are.
Leveraging the envy of the majority who were not (and will not be) afforded the opportunity to join the ranks of the elite Gurkha troops is a dangerous game for the Maoists to play. The policy of eliminating Gurkha recruitment (and the de-facto extension of “Bahun baad” domination) is a position that educated (non-leftist brainwashed) Nepalis, Indians and British are likely to take issue with.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal may have little regard for Nepali opposition to his party’s policy on Gurkha recruitment. He may have even less regard for British opinion. However, Indian opinion on the matter is something Mr. Dahal is ill-positioned to ignore and even less well positioned to discuss in public.
How Stopping Gurkha Recruitment Demonstrates a Disconnect with Global Economics
Not that this comes as a surprise (especially after the Maoist policy fiasco on Melamchi), but the Maoists’ general disconnect with the global economic forces of demand and supply, is tantalizing.
Perhaps the Maoists are unfamiliar with the concept of Private Military Firms (PMFs)? It is even conceivable that the Maoists are unaware of the large numbers of ex-Nepal Army and ex-Gurkha servicemen that occupy positions in PMFs all over the world.
For if they did, the Maoists would realize that despite their desire to limit Nepali participation in the British and Indian militaries, Nepalis are already (and will increasingly) participate in stateless, private militaries, all over the world.
Perhaps the Maoists should educate themselves on the intersection of demand and supply for skilled, military labor. Perhaps the Maoists should also educate themselves on the 20th century (actually even earlier) phenomenon of labor migration.
For enlightenment on these economic concepts is the only way that Nepal’s Maoists will understand what it actually means to have an open border with India and also, what it means for people to want to pursue high-paid employment opportunities.
Maybe the Maoist policy isn’t designed to stop with the elimination of Gurkha recruitment. Let’s hope they put a moratorium on foreign labor opportunities in general and for good measure, let’s pray they seal Nepal’s border with India. At least then, we’ll know the outcome of CA elections before they happen!!
Then again, given that the Maoist end-goals (the establishment of a communist republic), haven’t changed, maybe these additional policies aren’t far down the road?
Why Stopping Gurkha Recruitment is Misguided Nationalism
The elimination of Gurkha recruitment will result in one thing and one thing alone – lost opportunity for thousands of young Nepalis.
There is not a single argument, be it moral, be it ethical, be it based on national fervor, that justifies the elimination of opportunity when alternatives aren’t readily available. This is like asking people to “honorably” starve to death – especially when food is readily available across the border.
In the times we live in, a sense of national pride is a luxury that is afforded by people who are able to feed, clothe and shelter their families. The view that employment with foreign governments somehow undermines Nepali nationalism is complete hogwash. Especially when this very form of employment has uplifted the lives of countless Nepali families, over the years.
People are empowered with education, technology and sufficient know-how to see through misguided nationalism. The Maoists’ habit of continuing to exploit those in the Nepali population they’ve deprived in the name of empowerment, is about to catch up with the Maoists.
If the Maoists believe that the Nepali people are ready to trade misguided rightist politics for deluded leftist nonsense, they are very wrong. The Maoists’ continued use of violence, their complete and utter disassociation with the socio-political (and economic) realities of the 21st century’s global economy, and their reliance on the monarchy as the only agenda that unites their support base, is severely flawed.
The more the Maoists present their positions on issues of contemporary significance, the more evident it becomes that they are clueless. Increasingly apparent also, is that the only public success the Maoists have enjoyed, has come at the expense of the monarchy. Given the Maoists’ track record, one is forced to wonder: who needs the monarchy more - The Royalists or the Maoists?
The Bitter Truth About Melamchi – Maoist Ideology at Odds with the 21st Century Political Economy
Gurkhas as Mercenaries? You Bet!
The Idiot’s Guide to the Maoist Playbook
Surreal Politics - How Nepal’s Intellectual / Political Class, Continue to Look the Other Way…
Continued Manipulation of Nepal’s Political Mainstream
Perpetual Denial – The State of Nepal’s Intellectual Class
Thursday, May 24, 2007
It seems as though the political bickering is coming to an end, after the realization of the importance to preserve the eight party coalition government. However, the damage has already been done.
The blame game after the postponement of elections and continuous Maoist intimidation (including the attack of a police post in Banke and the burning of state owned NEA in Bardiya), has most certainly strained the relationship amongst coalition partners.
The Congress and the Maoists are poles apart; but, they cannot afford to remain rigid. Koirala has gambled his last card by inducting the Maoists into the government and, the Maoists know there are no other viable, legitimate alternatives to the present set up. The success and failure for both Koirala and Prachanda largely depends on their commitment to adhere to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in November 2006.
Nonetheless, a coldness has already sunk into the eight party alliance. It might be realistic at this stage to conclude that the unity is superficial and perhaps just a façade. While it is imperative to keep the eight party alliance intact within the government (to conduct the polls in the near future), it is conceivable that the differences amongst the electoral alliances will eventually lead to a division amongst the coalition partners of the present government.
Observing the political sequences over the last month, there are four incidents that are likely to give shape to Nepali politics over the next few months. These incidents include: the call for a left unity during Lenin Day, the axing of Constitutional Monarchy in the party stature by RJP (and then RPP), and the Madeshi alliance initiated by NSP. These three incidents will compel the Janjatis to open a fourth front. The crucial dividing factor is that theoretically, the end result of the constituent assembly elections may not be "politically" acceptable to all.
The call for unity among leftist forces in the country should not come as a surprise. This was predictable from day one, and it was only a matter of time before this left unity call was initiated and materialized. Much of the leftist alliance hinges on how the UML demonstrates its flexibility to unite with the Maoists and other fringe leftist parties. In retrospect, the leftist unity poses some tough questions to the UML and the Maoists.
Even though the UML is seen as one of the most vociferous proponents of republicanism in the country after February 1st, technically speaking, it had never removed republicanism from its party statute. In fact, the UML had strategically accepted constitutional monarchy as a base to consolidate the cause for republicanism in the future. It may be possible that the social construct of the party leadership and its rank and file, will ultimately obstruct the desired goal of leftist unity.
Although the left might unite over the issue of republicanism, it will be intriguing to observe whether or not Madhav Nepal will commit a political hara-kiri by forging a long term alliance with the Maoists. An alliance with the Maoists most definitely will mark the downfall of the UML and moderate leftist politics. Can the UML afford to deviate from moderate left? Equally important, will the Maoists ink a compromise transient from their ideology of radical communism?
The Axing of Constitutional Monarchy from the party statures of the RJP and RPP are also symbolic. Following the RJP's move, journalists and poltical pundits were quick to call for the early abdication of King Gyanendra. However, the Royalists failed to grasp the political situation when RJP President SB Thapa axed Constitutional Monarchy from the party's statute. With the axing of constitutional monarchy from the party statute, both RJP and RPP are in a position to align with the Congress for elections.
Theoretically speaking, the strategic move initiated by Thapa, makes his party an ideological equal to the Congress. The survival of democratic parties will be determined by their inclination to forge political alliances, which oppose and challenge the left wing parties during elections. It is important that this democratic force, unanimously devises electoral alliances and stratagems which keep the Maoists as their focal point.
The survival of democratic discourse depends on the unity of democratic forces initiated by Koirala. Gopal Kranti, a Maoist leader in Dhankuta, voiced his party's opinion when he declared the ethnic movement in Nepal was "dollar funded". The notion of self-determination, based on ethnicity, as espoused by the Maoists, has become their biggest political nightmare. It must be noted that the Janjatis and Madeshis supported the idea of 'self determination' with the idea of promoting and preserving their religion, culture and an increased participation in the State.
However, communism as propagated by Karl Marx and Hegel, advances the philosophy of an 'end of history', which basically envisions a classless society, that directly contravenes with what the ethnic minorities actually want. The biggest threat to the ethnic minorities is not from centrist democratic forces. It is the communists that are aiming to destroy and cleanse the existing socio-cultural fabric of the country.
The Madeshi and the Janjatis are both initiating dialogue to form an electoral alliance, as they fear such repercussions. However, they seem to be equally disappointed with the centrist forces.
Nonetheless, the presence of Pradip Giri in Delhi as a facilitator and Upendra Yadav's revelation that his forum was ideologically closer to the centrist forces, must have comforted some of the nervous democrats in Kathmandu. The Janjati front is yet to emerge as an electoral option but it might be prudent to note, that with time, even their allegiance will be closer to the centrist forces.
A Democratic Alliance, Accountable to the People http://nepaliperspectives.blogspot.com/2007/05/democratic-alliance-accountable-to.html
After a Year of "Loktantra" - Is it finally time for a Democratic Alliance? http://nepaliperspectives.blogspot.com/2007/04/after-year-of-loktantra-is-it-finally.html
Bahunists and Bahunism - A mini-Dissertation on the Caretakers of Nepal's Feudal Tradition http://nepaliperspectives.blogspot.com/2007/03/bahunists-and-bahunism-mini.html
The King, the Populists, the Herders and the Sheep http://nepaliperspectives.blogspot.com/2007/02/king-populists-herders-and-sheep.html
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
This piece is related to "Got Plan B" - Daniela Ponce; Located at the following URL: http://www.nepalitimes.com/issue/349/GuestColumn/13533
As an activist, a student of politics, and an uncompromising advocate of liberal ideals, Nepalis all over the world (and especially the democratic diaspora), have much to thank Daniela Ponce for. Her impassioned appeal for Nepalis to step up and take charge of our own future is inspirational.
For the most part, Daniela's pontifications are sound. She is correct in her characterization of the UN's (in)capabilities, of the continuity of the "bahun-baad" tradition within the Nepali Congress, the continued lack of inclusive politics, etc.
Overall, Daniela's perspectives accurately reflect those of the more vocal sections of both the Nepali diaspora and Nepal's radical student leadership. Her fixation on the feudal monarchy for example, reads like an English translation of any Gagan Thapa speech - everything leads straight back to the king.
The weakness in this line of thought is two-fold: First, it reveals a selective bias that given Daniela's area of research (the role of student movements in Nepal), is not unexpected; Second, by unconsciously inflating its centrality, Daniela's position actually empowers that which she attempts to consciously demonize - the monarchy.
Daniela undoubtedly campaigned in good faith and with a clear conscience alongside the Nepali diaspora. All her efforts on human rights, on lobbying the US Congress, organizing forums, etc., were surely conducted with benevolent intent.
However, as a staunch critic of dominant Nepali parties' exclusionary tendencies, Daniela should realize the hypocrisy epitomized by the gap in her intentions versus their actual outcomes. Daniela's advocacy directly (and indirectly) contributed to the resurrection of the very power structures she writes in defiance of.
Does Daniela realize that her coordinated activities with (elements of) the Nepali diaspora resulted in the appointment of "uncles and aunts" (no pun intended) as MPs in Nepal's interim parliament? Does Daniela recognize that she likely demonstrated in front of the White House with the current Home Minister's nephews and Girija Koirala's nieces?
Armed with this knowledge, how righteous does Daniela feel, to be criticizing the current power structure and at the same time, to have been intimately involved in its (re)creation?
For additional reference, as in Latin America, we in Nepal do not dismiss forces that control the state's armed elements. What we do is, we understand that without a signed order from the Defence Minister, the Army is in no position to offer a 21 gun salute to anyone. Especially not the king.
Additionally, we understand that as the second highest ranking member of the Nepali Congress, Ram Chandra Poudel didn't take kindly to being pelted with slippers and empty water bottles (by the YCL). Similarly, Girija didn't appreciate being degraded by Matrika Yadav.
The events described above all occurred on or around Democracy Day. When considered in the larger context of political developments, these seemingly unconnected incidents make perfect sense. And because they make sense, the Nepali population probably deserves a little more credit than Daniela is willing to give. We understand exactly what position the Nepali Congress is in, what position the Maoists are in and what position the monarchy is in. This is precisely why (unlike those without a real agenda), we are quick to analyze and dismiss the centrality of the monarchy.
Also, we understand that the Defense Minister is adequately empowered by the interim constitution to fire the Chief of the Army Staff, if such a measure is warranted. We also appreciate that an inability to control the armed forces is a sign of strength of the security forces and an even greater sign of weakness of the administration. That is, the same administration that Daniela's advocacy was central to creating.
To address another of Daniela's concerns, the reason the current lot of useless leaders feel so empowered to speak on behalf of the people is because they know (as do the Nepali people), that the immediate alternative is even worse. Ironically, Daniela should also know that advocacy by her (and others like her), played an integral role in empowering the politicians that today, Daniela insists we should have no respect for.
Daniela's citation of Guatemala (as an example of what happens when crimes go unpunished), is excellent. Coincidently, that country's peace process is the UN's only "trophy" in the history of peace-keeping.
Daniels is correct. Impunity is rampant in Nepal for crimes ranging from forced school closures (using the threat of violence) to torture, to assassination and murder. The sheer lack of historical prosecution of known criminals (forget those implicated in the recent Rayamajhi Commission's Report) is preposterous.
But as a student of politics, Daniela must comprehend the enormity of her suggestion - the prosecution, indictment and sentencing of virtually every student leader, politician and government employee (either directly, for negligence, or for guilt by association). Such is the logical outcome of running down the list of crimes committed by Nepal's political leadership, against the Nepali people.
And of course, what about the peaces process? No one likes to ask these questions but, "should we risk prosecuting the Maoist leadership at the expense of peace?" "Would the suggestion of prosecution jeopardize Nepal's hard earned peace?" Is Daniela for peace or justice because "obviously," the two are mutually exclusive in the immediate-to-medium term.
Perhaps the secrecy behind the Rayamajhi commission's report wouldn't come as such a surprise if Daniela knew the names of potential Chief Justices, during the king's rule? Maybe then Daniela would realize how her advocacy contributed to the cycle of impunity she encourages Nepalis to resist.
Daniela should also contemplate how her advocacy against US aid weakened the monarchy temporarily, but empowered the political miscreants (Daniela scorns), indefinitely. Maybe then Daniela would realize that as much as her activism was geared towards creating a perfect and just society in Nepal, it contributed immensely towards creating the YCL.
As for Daniela's opinion of the Maoists, her own writing says it all. But the thought that removing the Maoists from the US terror list will somehow weaken the king's allies, misses the larger point: How will such an action force the Maoists to honour their promises or bring the Maoists to justice for their crimes against humanity?
Daniela advocated against US aid to the palace - "military and otherwise" - and ended up unknowingly advocating on behalf of the Maoists and politicians, she asks Nepalis to hold accountable.
Daniela hopes that her 4 years of Nepali experience permits her to inspire those who have lived and breathed in Nepal their entire lives. She asks for Nepalis to adopt a "Plan B" that makes human rights, a priority; a plan that "democratises, educates and mobilizes."
What Daniela doesn't do very well, is realize that Nepal is already on "Plan B." And, just like everything else Daniela perceived to be the case, the "Plan B" that's unfolding isn't exactly the "Plan B" she thought she had advocated for.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Contrary to all outward appearances of ambivalence, the Nepali Congress appears to have cemented the centrality of the monarchy to its identity. Each new reiteration by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala of the inevitability of a republic has encouraged some of his closest associates in the party to articulate the crown’s continued relevance with greater clarity.
This affinity, to be sure, does not stem from an underlying affection. Shared class characteristics, as the Maoists like to point out, may be responsible to some degree. If anything, political pragmatism is the prime compulsion for the Nepali Congress.
The precise details of the April 24, 2006 compromise between the Seven-Party Alliance and King Gyanendra – if there was one in the first place – remain under wraps. For Prime Minister Koirala, seizing that middle ground between the monarchy and the Maoists became the first order of business. By playing off the palace and the Maoists against each other, Koirala succeeded in bringing the former rebels into government.
In formalizing the postponement of the constituent assembly elections after roping in the Maoists, Koirala exhibited, more than anything else, his vaunted party-building skills. Maoist chief Prachanda saw where things were headed. Sensing a trap, key associates began to feel they might be better off staying out power. In retrospect, the feverish bargaining over rank and portfolios right up to Koirala’s departure for the SAARC summit in New Delhi provided a convenient cover for all the protagonists.
Prachanda has been making obligatory allegations of betrayal to fortify his flank within. The Maoist chief understands how perilous the peace front of his “people’s war” can be. Despite all the other good things his Young Communist League is doing, the bad ones are hogging the headlines. For the country, it no longer matters how deep the internal split in the Maoists really runs. The nationalism and revolutionary planks in their platform have decayed the fastest.
In the legacy-building stage of his political career, Prime Minister Koirala may have grasped Nepal’s broader options. Vignettes from his previous stints in power must be swirling around him. Facing massive street protests against the Tanakpur accord in 1992-94, Koirala certainly did not relish those pleas by some normally sympathetic Indians for New Delhi to distance itself from the man. The escalation of the Maoist insurgency, the political instability preceding the Narayanhity Massacre and the wider convulsions it created must have encouraged deeper introspection.
After King Gyanendra took over full executive powers in October 2002, Koirala and the Nepali Congress, like much of the mainstream, were at the nadir of their popularity. While other leaders geared up for the looming collision with the palace, Koirala considered his own vulnerabilities. When the palace-appointed government purportedly agreed with Maoist negotiators to limit the army to a five kilometer radius of the barracks, Koirala became the first leader to criticize this infringement of state sovereignty.
That statement became part of a wider dynamic that ultimately shut the door on a palace-Maoist deal that would have bypassed the parties. The bonus Koirala sought – and may have succeeded in getting – lay in plugging that vulnerable hole Tanakpur exposed.
Last year, when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh welcomed him to New Delhi as a South Asian statesman, Koirala must have found it hard to suppress that chuckle inside. For someone who had a hard time scheduling meetings with then-premier Atal Behari Vajpayee during the early years of the anti-palace movement, this was quite a leap – and illusory.
Koirala was too close to his illustrious brother not to have experienced the exasperation B.P. Koirala felt in the late 1960s before abandoning efforts to renew relations with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. During the eight years B.P. was imprisoned at Sundarijal, time had not stood still.
B.P.’s subsequent years in exile must have occasioned ample review of his brief tenure as Nepal’s first elected premier. When Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared in parliament in November 1959 that any external aggression on Nepal and Bhutan would be treated as an aggression on India, B.P. felt compelled to respond.
Speaking in the Nepali legislature, Koirala said he took Nehru’s statement as an expression of friendship, but added that Nepal, being a fully sovereign and independent nation, decided its external and home policies without ever referring to any external authority.
Over a week later, Nehru affirmed he agreed entirely with Koirala’s interpretation, but not without disclosing the secret letters that had been exchanged with the 1950 Treaty. Of course, B.P. did not have the benefit of hindsight to see how his battle with the palace would only set the stage for a larger phenomenon that would marginalize the Nepali Congress for three decades. If B.P. considered exile in Sarnath a lot like Sundarijal, who could have understood this better than his youngest brother.
In his current tenure, Prime Minister Koirala has become a changed man. He is an ardent champion of China’s entry into the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation as a full member. The prime minister appeared unconstrained in seeking the new Chinese ambassador’s help on ensuring smooth petroleum supplies as the Indian Oil Corporation began tinkering with the taps.
In the cryptic maneuverings that pass for Nepali politics, these moves may be devoid of real substance. Yet coming from Koirala, the symbolism becomes starker. It was not too long ago, after all, that he flew straight into New Delhi from talks in China, left alone to battle the diplomatic fallout. Unlike B.P. Koirala, age has made this prime minister less susceptible to external “penalties” for flaunting his independence. This allows him greater leeway to build his legacy.
The logical question here is whether Koirala can impose his views on a party that largely considers itself the principal victim of the palace. Koirala is the Nepali Congress. Those who broke away under Sher Bahadur Deuba in mid-2002 had an opportunity to prove otherwise. The country recognizes how far anti-Koirala-ism has worked. For most of the younger Koiralas competing for the family mantle, the monarchy remains a pivot. Party members who disagree are most welcome to find another tent.
This brings us to another area where the Koiralas have proved particularly adroit. By allowing the communist factions monopolize the so-called “progressive/left” banner, the Nepali Congress can blur the distinction between the Unified Marxist Leninists and the Maoists, especially in those crucial western eyes.
When the Maoists relentlessly blame international power centers for conspiring to retain the monarchy, the Nepali Congress can afford to nod in affirmation and sit back. Prachanda and Co., by their own logic, have a long way to go toward establishing the scope and structures of republicanism as a viable alternative. Prime Minister Koirala, meanwhile, can continue uttering those obligatory republican sentiments.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Comrade Doberman’s views on the Melamchi project are logical. They follow a sequential thought pattern and highlight a reality that Hisila Yami and her fellow Maoists will learn about, the hard way.
However, Comrade Doberman’s thoughts are also somewhat naive, presumptions and incomplete. Building on the case presented by Comrade Doberman, this piece will introduce some of the not-so-obvious elements that are contributing to Hisila Yami’s position.
The subtle nuances of deal-making in Nepal
While the Maoist leadership has publicly declared its intent to not hold private property, this does not mean that they intend to remain cash strapped. Also, while the Maoist “Ministers” have vowed to root out corruption from the ranks of their respective ministries, this anti-corruption drive does not apply to raising donations in the name of the Maoist party.
The convergence of these subtle nuances (in the Maoists’ party line) sheds much needed light on Hisila’s goals and objectives. Despite her “party’s” revolutionary stance and its supposed devotion to transforming the way government does business in Nepal, in reality, what Hisila is doing to carrying on the tradition of corruption (in the name of the Maoist “party”).
In brief, Hisila Yami’s reluctance at extending the Melamchi project’s management contract (to Severn Trent), amounts to nothing more than a bid at making some “extra cash.” By throwing a wrench in on-going processes, Hisila has created opportunities to make money off her ministerial designation. Like every one of her predecessors before her, Hisila Yami is now positioned to get paid.
Public-Private Partnership (PPP)?
Yami’s explicit desire to “re-bid” the management contract is a clear indication to Severn Trent and its competitors, that this “Minister” is “open for business.” Business that is, from the lowest bidder which coincidentally, is always the most incompetent, most corrupt, and most willing to line the Minister’s pockets.
The PPP that Hisila insists is the objective of her new strategy, is actually, already in effect. There is virtually no infrastructure project (especially in developing countries), that is not a PPP venture of some variety.
In Melamchi’s case, “sovereign” participation in the project is represented by the millions of loan dollars the government has already spent; the public stake in the project is represented by the jobs that have been created and the opportunities that are yet to come (even under Severn Trent’s management contract). Had there been room for significant private investment from the beginning, the ADB would not even be in the picture.
The point being made is this: to the extent possible, the concept of a public-private-partnership is pre-built into Melamchi’s project structure, already. It is because of the sheer magnitude of the investment required, that project finance is being utilized (off-balance sheet transaction, non-recourse debt, etc.) to operationalize the project.
Aside from the corruption that every large scale project bid entails, there is no need to “re-create the wheel” where Melamchi is concerned – certainly not in the name of creating a PPP when it’s already in existence.
Naive or calculated?
It is Comrade Doberman’s argument that when Yami preaches about the need for more public involvement, she really doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It is also his thinking that the Maoist ideology does not apply to capitalistic economic theory. Both are perfectly logical points but it is equally logical that in Melamchi’s case, the Maoists aren’t as stupid as they appear to be.
To the contrary, Hisila Yami fully understands the sunk costs involved in aborting Melamchi at this stage. Regardless of whether the ADB pulls out of the deal or not, Hisila is aware that she will get paid. And that’s her bottom line.
Partly because of the culture of corruption that pervades every branch of civil service in Nepal (and partly because the Maoists are hungry for funds), it is inconceivable that Hisila Yami will not make money off her current post. Of all the opportunities she has, Melamchi has the potential for an enormous payout – why on earth would Yami forgo an opportunity (to closely follow in the footsteps of her mainstream colleagues) and engage in raising “party donations,” legally?
Looking for proof of this “theory?”
If it’s in anyone’s interest to invalidate the theory presented above, the following actions should be taken immediately:
Local Representatives: Seek out Severn Trent’s local representative in Nepal and figure out what his/her political allegiances are. Had he/she been in cahoots with the Maoists from the start, the Melamchi project would have proceeded, unhindered. It is most likely that the individuals concerned, will be knocking on Hisila’s door with more frequency over the coming days. Observe and take notes.
Competing Parties: Equally important is to seek out people who represent Severn Trent’s competitors in Nepal. Expect Hisila Yami (through her own representative) to be in close contact with the front-runner company, threatening to replace Severn Trent. This information should be available with the ADB; most likely, the information is captured in the project information document, available on the ADB’s website.
British Embassy and DFID: Severn Trent is a British company. Placed in a competitive situation there is little doubt that the company will exhaust all options before giving up on a $140 million contract. In addition to direct contact with Yami through the British Economic Affairs Officer in Kathamndu, expect pressure to be exerted through DFID also. (There’s no such thing as aid without strings). Keep close tabs on pipeline projects that DFID has and any sudden changes in the funding for these projects over the coming months.
Identify Hisila’s Agent: The key to this entire drama of course, lies in identifying the individual (or group) associated to Hisila Yami. This group (or individual) will be tasked with accepting payments in return for Yami’s endorsement of Melamchi. Concentrate on identifying these individuals (and sharp spikes in their bank accounts), and this writer’s theory is easily verified.
The fact of the matter is that Hisila Yami is extremely well positioned to make money off of the Melamchi project. With every contractor in the country vying for a piece of the Melamchi pie, Yami is doing what any other Nepali politician (in the absence of rules, regulations, law and order) would do – she’s going to get paid!!
Whether it be the Royalists, or the Nepali Congress, or the UML, or even the Maoists, there is a common minimum dialect they all speak. It’s called the “dialect of dollars.” And in a country where phenomena such as social accountability, political transparency, due process, and law & order (and every other norm that underpins functional democracy), is in short supply, it comes as no surprise that even the most purist and self-righteous, are immediately corrupted by the halls of power.
The controversy that Hisila Yami has generated around the Melamchi project is very timely. On the one hand, Yami’s refusal to hand over Melamchi’s management contract to Severn Trent is a stern demonstration of more anti-competitive, collectivist measures to come. On the other, it is also a disappointing display of how outmoded and out of synch Maoist ideology is, with the norms and conditions of the 21st century political economy.
Hisila’s strategy and its flaws
Hisila Yami’s refusal to abide by the terms and conditions of a contract that had been signed and passed by the previous Cabinet fits in perfectly with the larger Maoist economic (and political) framework. Her view that the management contract for the distribution of drinking water should not be placed in “foreign” hands resonates strongly with populist, Maoist rhetoric.
By calling into question the financial disclosure and accounting challenges that Severn Trent (http://www.severntrent.com/mediacentre/) faced in its home country, Hisila Yami has made a strategic move to undermine the company’s credibility in the eyes of the Nepali population. Her strategy is a “double play” aimed at evoking strong nationalist sentiments at home and at garnering the support of anti-capitalist (anti-privatization) groups across the globe.
Without doubt, Hisila’s approach will eventually expose the Maoists’ anachronistic mindset and will also undermine larger Maoist objectives. The reasons behind why this set of eventualities will materialize, are outlined below.
1. Bad Economics
The negative economic ramifications of suspending the Melamchi project at this stage are limitless. Every day the management contract is held in limbo adds to the initial sunk cost of the project that already runs over $100 million, extends the repayment time horizon and, impacts the hurdle rate of the overall business case.
In order to realize the total impact Hisila's deceision has, a true appreciation of the amounts and terms of the loans (taken by the government of Nepal to date) for the Melamchi project is necessary. While some portion of the overall funds may have been provided in the form of grants, it is inconceivable that the interest bearing portion of the accumulated debt will stagnate while Hisila Yami insists on putting the project on hold.
The interest on these loans (plus the principal amounts) are monies for which ultimately, Nepali citizens (and tax payers) are liable. Unlike funds that the Maoists have become accustomed to extorting from the Nepali public, those utilized for the Melamchi project include repayment terms and schedules that cannot be re-negotiated by the threat of armed rebellion (or massive street protests).
In simple terms, every day wasted by Hisila Yami adds to the overall burden of debt that future generations of Nepalis are liable to. Either Yami needs to explain why our country should become poorer (while she acts out her Maoist fantasy) or she needs to show us numbers that tell otherwise.
2. Erosion of credibility
Hisila’s policy of challenging a deal signed by the Government of Nepal calls into question the overall credibility of all concerned parties. This policy severely undermines the political continuity that is essential to long-term development; it weakens the voice of Nepal’s international (mainly donor) supporters; and ultimately, it diminishes the authority of the interim government and jeopardizes Nepal’s peace process.
The short-to-medium term consequences of Hisila’s actions undoubtedly undermines Nepal’s creditworthiness in the international arena – both amongst the donor community as well as private sector actors. The immediate result in financial terms will be a sharp increase in Nepal’s political risk premium which in turn, has the potential to nullify many private sector initiatives in the pipeline (by raising the cost of capital beyond acceptable thresholds).
The long-term ramifications are of course, logical. Diminished overall development, reduced investment and a shrunken income base for the government to tax. There is no apparent reason why the $140 million (that the Asian Development Bank has committed to the Melamchi project), will stay on hold long enough for Hisila to live out her communist fantasy.
Unfortunately for Nepal, the rest of the world (including the donor community) operates neither on collectivist market theory, nor on populist whims. Idle capital chases investments with high yield potential; not projects that are subject to the political fancies drawn from Marxist delusions.
3. Inadequate understating of regulatory processes and capital markets
Hisila Yami’s insistence that the Severe Fraud Office’s investigation (of Severn Trent) be the basis upon which the awarded management contract be revisited, is rubbish. This mode of thought goes to show how out of touch Yami is with regulatory institutions, financial markets and the private sector in general.
That Severn Trent was investigated is fact. That they were found guilty of fraud is also fact. But this is the very beauty of a capitalist market economy. There are rules and regulations, actions and consequences. When regulations are broken, the entity in question is investigated, reprimanded, damages are paid and life goes on.
In addition to legal liabilities, poorly managed companies are punished by market forces (most often by an erosion in the entity’s market value). Investors also suffer losses in the value of their equity holdings which prompts the Board of Directors to step in and take remedial action (on the management). In this manner, poor decision making is constantly judged, remediated, and shortcomings, gradually rectified.
If Hisila Yami’s primary concern is that Severn Trent is being investigated or that the company may cease to exist as a “going-entity” in the near future, perhaps she should take some time to review what the markets think. The full details of Severn Trent’s stock performance (along with financial disclosures as required by regulatory bodies) are publicly available at the following site: http://www.severntrent.com/investors/shareprice/sharepricecharting.php.
Additionally, if the ADB is willing to put up $140 million (with Severn Trent running the management contract), is Hisila also challenging the ADB’s due diligence? Yami may be in a position to question the political merits of the Melamchi project but she is certainly in no position to pass judgment along any other meaningful parameter. Her wish to stall Melamchi is a direct assault on the credibility that accompanies donor-agency endorsement.
Yami needs to quickly learn and educate the rest of her Maoist colleagues on how international capital markets (along with regulatory instruments) work. If this education does not take place immediately, Nepal's Maoist experiment is going to have socio-economic repercussions in excess of the what the insurgency has already cost the country.
The current policy objectives laid out by the Ministry of Physical Planning and Works (under Hisila Yami) are dangerous to the overall health of Nepal’s private sector. Her leanings toward populist dogma over economic reason is a shameful display of political maneuvering that has no place in the “new Nepal.”
Hisila Yami’s position is an unnecessary distraction that is at odds with the social well-being of thousands of Nepalis whose quality of life is subject to the success of the Melamchi project. Her platform reeks of a failed ideology that can only hamper private-sector led development and growth in Nepal.
Hisila and her Maoist colleagues must immediately wake up and understand that even “people’s participation” has limits. Without the economic and technical means to build and manage badly needed infrastructure, no amount of political rhetoric will yield tangible gains. Yami needs to urgently get with the program, get with the century and either abide by the terms and conditions upon which the Melamchi project is based, or she needs to get out of the way.
Yami’s approach to the Melamchi project is a clear demonstration of the disjunct between 21st century reality and Maoist ideology. She has boxed herself into a corner from which she can neither provide credible alternatives, nor retract her position without losing public face.
Welcome to Loktantra, Hisila Yami!
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Whether it be the dawn of "loktantra," "ganatantra," or "prajatantra," the Nepali peoples' struggle with feudalism and fatalism continues. There is no better example of how these unfounded notions of helplessness and subservience are preyed on, than misleading commentary that confuses policies with individuals, and vested positions with national agendas.
With "assistance" from individuals like Mr. Ritu Raj Subedi ("US Hard Stance On the Maoists") and Mr. J. Sri. Raman (Moriarty's Departure and Nepal's Democracy - Newsfront 14-20 May, 2007), the Nepali people are intentionally misled. We are directed to believe that our destiny is determined by the Americans and Indians and every other foreign power that be. However, such is not, and absolutely need not be the case.
How Commentators Prey on Feudal/Fatal Attitudes by Elevating Individuals
Logically, a movement away from a feudal/fatal mindset should be expressed through the Nepali peoples' right to self-determination, sovereignty and national pride. Instead, the arguments forwarded by people like Subedi and Raman, encapsulate the exact opposite sentiments: Their propositions amplify feudal/fatal attitudes by assigning undue importance to selective foreign positions (over Nepali priorities), and suggest that it is these elements (and not the Nepali people), that control Nepal's destiny. (Bull shit!)
As evidence of this lingering feudal/fatal mindset, consider the circumstances that surrounded the designation of UNMIN's head of mission.
Truth be told, Mr. Ian Martin is not the only person on the face of this planet with the ability to steer Nepal through its delicate peace process. If history is any indication, Martin's legacy in East Timor should be sufficient to alert any Nepali citizen of the limitations of UNMIN and more specifically, the limitations that arise from elevating an individual to the status of divinity. (Whatever!)
When civil society personalities (using privately owned media) advocated for Ian Martin's return to Nepal (after Martin was asked to go clean up the mess he left behind in East Timor), the request had resounding effects far beyond what was verbalized. That request reinforced pillars of the feudal and fatalistic attitudes that still perpetuate the unfounded belief that Ian Martin (and Ian Martin alone), holds the key to Nepal's peace process. (Wrong!)
Stated differently, the fatal mindset of "whatever Ian Martin says/does is the absolute way out for us" and the feudal attitude of "we need a white-skinned foreigner to ensure that our peace process stays on track," severely impairs Nepalis' collective judgment.
Consider this: While Ian Martin takes every opportunity to laud the Nepali people for choosing the path of peace (and for overcoming immense adversities in our quest for democracy), it is Mr. Martin's mission that is getting funded $93 million. Only a fraction of this huge sum is injected into the Nepali economy!!
Has anyone cared to consider how much sense UNMIN's funding makes when placed in the context of $93 million that could potentially place 2 square meals on the laps of starving Nepalis for an entire year? How about $93 million worth of debt reduction for all those donor agency loans for which another generation of Nepalis are due to remain in debt?
Extending the Individual-based Argument to Discredit Unwarranted Criticism
The same logic presented above (as faulty as it may be) applies when political commentators maliciously blur individuals with national policies and present self-deluded positions to intentionally confuse the Nepali public.
For example, when Ritu Raj Subedi publishes a piece that argues the fallacies of US policy on Nepal (based on an even more fallacious argument of historical democratic experience), there are two messages that his writing sends out: The first message is that US Ambassador James F. Moriarty is "bad" for Nepal. The second message is that Nepal's future is somehow linked to the whims and fancies of an individual (James Moriarty).
If Ritu Raj Subedi (and those who share his intellect) was beyond the grasp of the feudal/fatal mentality, what he would be arguing for, would be the revision of American foreign policy on the basis of the desire of the sovereign majority of the nation-state of Nepal.
Such an approach would carry much more weight. But, Mr. Subedi does not appear to appreciate this angle because he, like the prevalent feudal/fatal attitudes his arguments feed on, is archaic, delusionally-democratic, and will eventually be disdained by all who are able to see through Mr. Subedi's vested position and interests.
To drive the point home, consider one of Mr. Subedi's arguments as an example: Sure, the Nepali Congress took up arms to combat the Rana regime and the UML started off as a radical leftist outfit as well. But Mr. Subedi's proposal that the Maoists should be pardoned because of these historical experiences, is a position that defines the very root of Nepalis' fatalistic attitude!! (K garne? Yestai ho! - Hoina! Afno bhabisya lai afnai haat ma line!).
Why should we suffer today because our forefathers suffered similar circumstances? Are we obligated to condone the Maoists' application of violence because the Nepali Congress is in power today? Has anyone bothered to ask the Nepali Congress leaders (of that generation) whether they feel their armed struggle then, justifies the Maoists' armed struggle now?
Questions like these break the chains of fatalism. Arguments like Mr. Subedi's, make those chains stronger!!
Contextualizing Feudal/Fatal Arguments - Terrorism, Forgiveness and Vested Interests
More often than not we find writers like Subedi and Raman, trying desperately to link the American policy on Nepal to the wider "war on terror" - a policy that both writers know, is a faltering platform. And the reason these writers attempt to establish this link is because they understand the growing unpopularity of the American war in Iraq and they hope to mentally associate US policy on Nepal with the war in Iraq. (Sorry, but we're not that stupid!!)
If any argument linking Nepal to Iraq has to be made, consider this one: The 16 Nepali workers who were murdered in Iraq weren't shot by American troops. They were murdered in cold blood by Iraqi insurgents.
Further, the Nepalis who were killed in Iraq didn't end up there on American sponsored visas and if one must look for a direction to point fingers, then there is nowhere to point but in the Maoists' direction.
Why? Because if the Maoists hadn't started an armed insurrection and robbed an entire generation of their right to education, their right to employment and their right to a better life, those 16 Nepalis would probably never have been driven to the state of desperation that landed them in Iraq. Need more be said?
What writers like Raman and Subedi know (but do not discuss) is that there is no relevance between the circumstances under which the American invasion of Iraq occurred, and the circumstances that led the American government to brand Nepal's Maoists, as terrorists.
There is however, a direct relationship between the circumstances that led the current Indian government to jettison its "twin-pillar" policy and those that forced the Maoists to change their insurgent tactics. (For obvious reasons, the latter relationship is not a topic that is discussed by either writer).
The fact is, forgiveness may know no bounds for the Nepali people (at least this is what Ian Martin and Nepal's delusional intellect would like to believe), but the Americans seem not to forget those in their service the Maoists murdered on charges of being "informants." (Thank goodness someone still remembers!).
The intellectual classes, sipping bottles of Black Label and commenting from the luxury of their homes, would do well to acknowledge that those in the service of the American government aren't the only ones who continue to see Nepal's Maoists' through terrorist lenses. There are thousands of Nepalis who don't feel the same sense of forgiveness or forgetfulness that others attempt to express on their behalf. (Ever wonder how truly dangerous it is to be a Maoist without a weapon in Nepal's countryside?).
Terrorism as an agenda side, most insulting to the Nepali intellect, is Mr. Raman's feudal suggestion that democracy in Nepal is somehow tied to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government or that Nepal's democracy remains at the mercy of the current American Ambassador Moriarty (or future Ambassador Powell). Mr. Raman should at least acknowledge that the will of the Nepali people is subject neither to his country's government, nor to the fancies of American (or any other country's) policy.
As the Sub-Editor of the government's mouthpiece (with a terrorist-turned-minister as the Minister of Information and Communication), one is able to empathize with Mr. Subedi's personal predicament. If he doesn't start spewing anti-American venom immediately, who knows how long his job (but not just his job) will last?
Similarly, as a self-proclaimed peace activist, Mr. Raman's position also makes sense - peace at all costs, under all circumstances while justice, law and order, take a back seat. When placed in perspective, both positions make perfect (non) sense.
Whether they leverage terrorism, supposed foreign interests, or excuses for why Nepal's Maoists should cease to be viewed as terrorists, all of these arguments reek of defeatism, fatalistic attitudes, and a biased feudal mindset, that prioritizes selective foreign interests (and individuals) while minimizing Nepali interests (and capable Nepali personalities).
Conclusion - Exposing Weaknesses in Feudalism/Fatalism Based Arguments
When it comes to Nepal's democratic transition, it is the Nepali people who lie at the forefront of this transformation - not Moriarty, not Powell, not Manmohan and not Martin. And while writers like Raman and Subedi forward their best attempts at protecting the limited interests of the groups they currently represent, they will continue to fail in their selective anti-American, pro-Indian, pro-Maoist, and (biased) pro-Nepali "crusades."
And why will positions such as those posited by Raman and Subedi eventually fail? The answer is simple. Because these arguments prey on the feudal and fatalistic attitudes that are slowly, but surely, being eroded by Nepal's new generation. Without feudalism and fatalism to leverage, any proposition that elevates individuals (and neglects the masses), will receive zero attention.
Every rational and thinking individual understands that it is the Bush ADMINISTRATION and not President George W. Bush, that retains responsibility for the policy on Iraq. It is UNMIN as a mission to Nepal and not Ian Martin, that ultimately bears responsibility for carrying out its mandate. It is the coalition government of India (and not Sitaram Yechuri), that has chosen to publicly exercise its influence over Nepal's Maoists.
Unfortunately for thinkers like Raman and Subedi, it is American policy (derived from one of the most liberal democratic traditions that exist today), and not simply James Moriarty, that drives the American position on Nepal. Even more unfortunate (for subscribers of Raman and Subedi's arguments), is that it is based on the will of a large number of Nepalis, that American policy can be what it is, vis-a-vis Nepal.
A fixation on individuals tends to ignore the very medium that creates, supports, and facilitates what is often misrepresented as individual views. Ironically, nothing exposes vested minority interests like people who fall into their own conspiracies even as they (not so) cleverly try and pigeon hole the masses into believing delusional versions of white lies.
Bahunists and Bahunism - A mini-Dissertation on the Caretakers of Nepal's Feudal Tradition
The UN and Maoist Arms Controversy: Overkill or Negligence?
Surreal Politics - How Nepal’s Intellectual / Political Class, Continue to Look the Other Way…
Myth #1: Dispelling the Myths of Nepal’s Peace Processhttp://nepaliperspectives.blogspot.com/2006/10/myth-1-dispelling-myths-of-nepals.html
Myth #2: “Moriarty’s insistence on Maoist disarmament is interventionist policy.”
Myth #3: “The Americans are contributing to an eventual meltdown in the peace process, which will ultimately precipitate another political crisis in Nepal
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
There is much talk in the Nepali media about the atrocities committed by the YCL (Young Communist League) – the recently formed youth wing of the CPN-Maoists. To the informed observer however, this band of misfits is nothing more than a bunch of “young, confused and lost” adolescents, robbed of their right to a proper childhood by a group of power-hungry Bahunists (and their anachronistic ideology).
To be sure, the YCL is the most abhorred, feared and loathed, pseudo-political element roaming the streets of Nepal today. They are feared because the group consists of an entire generation of Maoist combatants who never made it into cantonments. They are abhorred because their methods are violent, their actions swift and calculated.
Last but not least, these “young, confused and lost” men and women are loathed because they epitomize the truest character of the Maoist masses – those who are devoid of any formal education, are completely absorbed by impractical ideology and those who have no applicable knowledge other than the false notion that “power comes from the barrel of a gun.”
Although raised as an alternate to the hardcore Maoist fighting force, it is common knowledge that the YCL, the ANNFSU-R and the Maoist militia are all one in the same. The newly hired recruits that crowd UN monitored cantonment sites only represent two sets of Maoists – those who range between the ages of 25 and 40 (and were wounded in battle), and those between the ages of 14 and 25 who were recruited into cantonments with the lure of stable employment.
The “young, confused and lost” then, are accounted for by the hardened fighters who for the past decade have been carrying out the grunt work that has enabled Pushpa Dahal, Baburam Bhattarai, CP Gajurel, Mohan Baidya (and their cohorts), to enjoy civilization (and positions of power), at the YCL’s expense.
The media’s portrayal of the fearless YCL is in some sense, grossly exaggerated. At the most fundamental level of analysis, the “young, confused and lost” are products of violence, forced indoctrination, and a brand of education that is sufficient to make these individuals dangerous, but insufficient to raise their awareness to the point where they become independent, informed, decision makers.
These “young, confused and lost” individuals have been wreaking havoc on the Nepali population-at-large for over a decade. Large portions of this lot were armed during the insurgency and they are still armed today. They were feared as Maoist fighters for over a decade and they are feared today as the notorious YCL. In essence, internally, little has changed in the way of life for the YCL/Maoist fighters/Maoist militia.
However, two factors (external to the YCL’s modus operandi) have changed. First, in the current context, the “young, confused and lost” are attacking “democratic” agents of the Nepali Congress, the UML and other mainstream parties. Second, they are experimenting with techniques they successfully used in the villages of Nepal, in urban settings. Both of these approaches are guaranteed to backfire on the YCL and ultimately, on the Maoist leadership.
For starters, maligning Royalist elements (or even non-Maoist cadre) in the hinterlands of Nepal was “acceptable” – especially when any journalist who dared to publish Maoist atrocities could be murdered with impunity.
But now, with the mainstream media that survives on alms from Nepal’s “democratic” parties writing away (under the auspicious protection offered by UNMIN, the ICJ and like-minded groups), the Maoists are no longer immune to long overdue criticism.
Terrorizing the vast majority of Nepalis in remote parts of Nepal may have been a cakewalk for the YCL. But trying the same nonsense on the relatively educated, urbane, and sophisticated elements of the Nepali population is certain to generate an eventual backlash that neither the “young, confused and lost” nor their leadership have previously confronted. As the saying goes, “being in opposition is a luxury” that is realized best by those who are incumbents – thank goodness the Maoists are finally in the interim government!!
Eventually, the YCL ("young, confused and lost") will become the biggest liability to none other than the Maoist leadership itself. After all, who in their right state of mind would provoke the Nepali Congress youth by throwing slippers at the Minister of Peace and Reconstruction? What kind of sane politician would condone a group of men, beating up a group of NSU women (with such malicious intent that the actual strikes were intentionally aimed at the womens’ reproductive organs)? What kind of political element can knowingly pick synchronized battles with the Royalists, the Bahunists, and with Nepal’s business community, all within clear view of the international community?
At the end of the day, the “young, confused and lost” represent precisely what the Maoists (minus the mysticism) are all about – a bunch of stray dogs, pissing on a bamboo pole, that hoists the Maoist flag, on supposedly “captured,” Royal property in Salla Ghari, Bhaktapur. This is what it all boils down to.
And who is at fault for nurturing and unleashing the uncontrolled damage to the Maoists’ image? Who else but the Maoist leadership itself! The same ideologically brainwashed, politically outdated, group of losers who preyed on the social tensions that today, have spiraled clearly out of the Maoists’ control.
To be succinct, who else is there to blame but a group of 40-50 year old Maoist leaders who themselves were at one point, “young, confused and lost?” And what choice do the Nepali masses (backed by the international community) have, but to welcome this lot of “young, confused and lost” individuals, into the 21st century, by teaching them a lesson in democratic politics that hopefully, they will never forget!!
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
While supposedly brokering a deal to impact democratic changes and bring about lasting peace, in reality, the power brokers in Kathmandu and New Delhi have come to a stark realization that they are now embroiled in a political quandary with no easy exit strategy or panacea for Nepal. Even worse, the peace process has transcended into a multifaceted quagmire.
Behind the back drop of all this is the parody of the establishment of Loktantra – the reluctance of the EPA government to announce fresh poll dates. The sole mandate of the Loktantric revolution was for the Maoists to renounce violence and for the new transitional government to conduct elections to a Constituent Assembly. The worrying aspect that remains veiled from public observation is the murky politics in the name of Constituent Assembly elections.
An important facet that cannot be ignored at this stage (by the political leadership) is the rapid deterioration of authority and legitimacy of the government in the absence of elections. Sadly, elections aren't desirable to most. And even if they were, it would still be an uphill task to announce both the poll dates and conduct elections in a free and fair manner.
By purposely deferring the poll dates, the Prime Minister has indeed killed two birds with one stone. First of all, the Maoists who commanded an equilibrium of fear and expectations in the hearts of the general public, find that their inscrutable image is fast eroding. Instances of public agitations against them, police raids at the YCL offices and the arrest of their cadres, is indeed symbolic. However, for people to protest against growing Maoist atrocities, it is a prerequisite that the government enforces strict law and order. Unfortunately, the inability of the state security organs to foil YCL violence has severely demoralized the general public.
Second – the last time elections took place was eight years ago. Mainstream parties (barring the Maoists) have been isolated from constituency politics, therefore suggesting that if the elections were to happen when the law and order situation in the country is virtually non-existent (and the parties isolated from their constituency due to Maoist fear), it is certain the Maoists can indeed sweep the polls. However, one must ask: "has a major political crisis been averted by deferring the polls?" Koirala might have avoided an immediate political crisis but what about the impending political crisis in the name of elections?
The lethargy of the transitional period heralds two possible scenarios, both of them equally Machiavellian in nature. The first scenario is concerned with the poll dates. As new reports have emerged concerning the proposal of the merger of PLA into the national army, it won't be long before the Maoist leadership concurs that the announcement of poll dates will depend on the government's willingness to absorb a chunk of the PLA into the Nepal Army.
The idea of course is idealistic and euphoric in nature. This ludicrous idea, floated by leftist think tanks and partisan civil society leaders is the call for the integration of the rebels and the national army. Can an ideologically committed outfit such as the rebel army harmonize the balance in the state army or is it just a ploy to trigger a mutiny? In any event, the possibility of the polls hinges on Koirala's readiness to give into the Maoist proposal of merging the two armies.
The second of course is the postponement of elections with no alternative dates in sight. The rebels are ideologically committed, politically astute and strategically wed to their cause. The parties on the other hand need to demonstrate more commitment for their own existence.
It does not require a rocket scientist to conclude that all major power brokers in the EPA are playing with time in a battle for dominance. As political parties fail to keep the rebels in check, the rebels' undemocratic tendencies sweep the floor of urban centers. While political parties are busy tussling amongst each other, the rebels busy themselves concentrating on consolidating their reach within urban centers and within state institutions. As the political parties are engaged in securing hefty business deals and naively remain silent on Maoist excess, the policy of playing silent will backfire as the rebels continue to overwhelm the democratic institutions slowly but remarkably efficiently.
In their effort to mount pressure on the embattled Prime Minister, the Maoists have now floated the idea of a leftist alliance. Should the UML and Maoists come together in an alliance, it predictably heralds an explosive scenario. But it will ease the confusion perhaps, as once and for all, a clear line will be drawn separating the democratic forces and the non-democratic forces in the country. What is also inevitable is the demise of the UML, as the Maoists will emerge as the mother party in the leftist alliance.
But this situation alone can peeve Koirala, compelling him to indefinitely defer the announcement of poll dates. In either event, it is highly unlikely that elections will happen in the immediate future. The political party that can continue on top as the dominant force during the transitional phase without the need of elections to legitimize their authority will emerge victorious.
Has Koirala subverted a political crisis or does he find himself embroiled in a deeper political crisis in the days to come? The vacuum has indeed radicalized the Maoists but again, all this manoeuvring is with the aim of political dominance and out doing one another. Can Koirala swim past the nets cast by his own colleagues in the cabinet and his party, and most regrettably, by his own Home Minister?
Thursday, May 03, 2007
The core dynamics of Nepal's peace process hinge on the need for political agents to act in cohesion and simultaneously, to engage in competitive democratic politics. In other words, the specifics of Nepal's situation demand that political actors perform with autocratic efficiency while radiating democratic virtues. Both of these dimensions together, are what have helped propel the Maoists to their current political stature.
For the past year and a half, the Maoists have manoeuvred with cut throat efficiency along multiple dimensions. By leveraging the need for horizontal political cohesion, the Maoists have demonstrated political acumen of a calibre that far exceeds anything that Nepal's democratic forces appear, capable of collectively comprehending.
Through alliances of convenience, mobilization of their sister organizations, and through carefully targeted public fixation on the monarchy, the Maoists have outmanned, outgunned and outwitted the Nepali people and their democratic representatives in one clean sweep.
As repulsive as the thought of "power through the barrel of a gun" may be, the Maoists' inclusion in the Nepali government was more than a mere compromise - it was inevitable. This inevitability in turn, has generated a unique set of risks and opportunities.
Rehashing risks associated with the Maoists' rapid ascendancy to power is unnecessary. Volumes of history already depict in graphic detail what happens when ruthless killers with inflated egos (and impossible ambitions) are met with disorganized apathy, appeasement and delusional, wishful thinking.
In terms of opportunities however, now is the time for centrist, democratic forces in Nepal to unite with a common understanding that nothing remains for the democratic forces to offer the Maoists. From the signing of the 12 Point Agreement to their inclusion in the Nepali government, the Maoists' journey to power is complete. There is no internal leverage left that Nepal's political agents can apply to integrate the Maoists into a democratic setting.
With this fundamental realization in mind, Nepal's centrist forces need to transition from the current mindset of cohesion, back to the natural state of democratic politics - competition. The challenge of course, is to keep the peace process on track and the best way to maintain the momentum, is to proportionately distribute the accountability - not just ministerial portfolios.
As members of the current interim government, the Maoists need to be delegated responsibility commensurate with the portfolios that they hold. As equal agents of the State, under no circumstances should the Maoists enjoy disproportionately lower accountability while their counterparts remain wed to utopian standards.
The days of pitting human rights activists and international media organizations against the government are over. Whether it be the YCL beating up students from Padma Kanya Campus, Maoists padlocking municipality offices, refusing to abide by terms and conditions outlined in the CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement), or the YCL engaging with the APF, all such events are fully transparent for everyone to judge - the Maoist leaders are either losing their grip or they're changing the rules as per their convenience.
Where the peace process is concerned, Nepal's centrist forces need to understand that they no longer have unlimited liability. The manner in which the King and his forces manoeuvred, left no choice for centrist agents but to bring the Maoists into the government. Having accomplished this feat, Nepal's centrist forces are no longer liable to being held hostage to peace on the Maoists' terms.
As sitting members of the same interim government, whether Maoist, NC, UML or whoever, each group is accountable to delivering Nepali citizens the peace, democracy and prosperity that has been promised. In other words, Nepal's political agents (irrespective of their ideologies), are all accountable to only one group - the Nepali people.
Nepal's centrist parties would do well to start campaigning for a national debate on the basis of accountability to the people. This is the single, most potent platform, that has been glossed over for almost two decades.
Mere talk of "people power" and "people's courts" have done wonders to elevate expectations. But where delivery is concerned, the "people" deserve so much more than what they have been given.
With the mindset that each and every political agent in the interim government is equally accountable to the success of Nepal's peace process, the rules of the game are changed. If the Maoists want a leftist alliance or a cross-party republican alliance or whatever, centrist parties should feel free to form their own democratic alliance along any dimension they feel appropriate.
With the UN on the ground, the international community, India and the United States fully committed to the success of Nepal's peace process, there is no direction left but to fully lever one's political platform. If these positions are chosen carefully, space can be created for everyone without stumbling into the Maoists' royal agenda - keep the public focused on a powerless monarchy while the Maoists get away with murder (literally).
The bottom line is this: For as long as the Maoists are able to leverage the monarchy as a political agenda, they (and their leftist ilk) will continue to drive the direction and momentum of political discourse. The minute a democratic alliance is formed (that delegates debate on the monarchy to the first seating of the Constituent Assembly) and focuses on delivering to the people (with accountability as the only agenda), there will be a monumental shift in the political tide.
The luxury that the Maoists had as external agitators (armed opposition) to Nepal's government is a extravagance they no longer retain. The more radical the Maoists become, the greater the likelihood of a democratic alliance that will expose the Maoists' for the sham they are.
Right now, Nepal's centrist forces are expecting a political victory on the basis of "suicide goals." If their strategy persists, the only outcome that is guaranteed is of another variety - "political suicide."
To prevent this tragedy, Nepal's centrist forces must urgently reassert their democratic credentials, replace the debate over the monarchy with a debate over the direction of democratic polity, and finally, they must regain the middle ground by revolutionizing the country's perception on the unacceptability of violence-driven politics.
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