What will happen to a community, say Limbu, residing in Magarat? Will that community have to leave Magarat and settle down in Limbuwan?
By Chattra Bahadur
It is rather unfortunate to see that neo-libertarians cannot withstand any form of criticism, especially when anyone points at current follies prevailing in Nepal in name of janabhawana. It resembles as if they have proclaimed themselves as the only defenders-of-liberty. They promptly label others (who criticize or deviate from their conception) as undemocratic and feudal. Moreover, it is tragic when they equate alternate perception being irrational and illogical, and being a vestige of the feudalistic and regressive mindset. The behavior of neo-libertarians often suggests ‘their-way-or-no-way’ mentality which is against the principle of democracy they aver about. Trying to silence dissident voices and smearing any person or any idea that does not match with own perception is not known democratic virtue.
Especially in democratic form of governance, it is common practice to measure achievements as an indicator of performance of the ruling alliance. That is the guiding principle of functional democracy and democratic governance. The inability to devise and implement coherent strategy to deal with the Maoists, lack of reassuring performance in terms of systematic governance, undertaking protracted negotiations while failing to address core issues, and inability to present any tangible outcome have been glaring failures of the SPA. And pointing at these failures cannot be justified, in any manner whatsoever, as being undemocratic, favoring the monarchy (either directly or indirectly), or portraying pessimistic picture of Nepal.
Are the neo-libertarians suggesting that we maintain stoic silence even when the ruling alliance fails to provide worthwhile performance, on the promise of which it came to power, because it carries the tag of being ‘democratic force’? By questioning the actions, where does the issue of taking sides arise? If questioning is equated with taking sides or favoring one over another, it can be, at the best, termed as ‘irrational exuberance’. Does it mean that we do not see/report or ignore anything negative because it presents pessimistic picture and it does not look good when ‘democratic force’ is in power? If we have to accept this definition of democracy and/or people-centric governance of the SPA, then it is the same as the King’s version of democracy. So what is the difference between these two?
Of course, justification is presented as the Parliamentarians are ‘grass-root politicians’ who are ‘responsible to people’ and that they are ‘below the law’. While these justifications can be upheld in normal circumstances, the same cannot be said to be true at present. Instead of being elected, the current Parliament was reinstated to which the representatives were elected about eight years ago: as a reminder, the life of the Parliament was fixed at five years as per the provisions of the Constitution under which it was constituted. How the Parliament is representative of people when the Parliamentarians are only armed with already-expired mandate and are devoid of fresh mandate? We cannot forget that the Parliamentarians had refused to undertake electoral campaign in their constituencies citing the Maoists threat while the electorate, which they claim they represent, was abandoned to face the Maoist atrocities on their own. When all the political parties severely limited their activities within the safe confines of the Kathmandu valley, on the basis should we categorize them as ‘grass-root workers’? If the environment was not conducive, what were their efforts to make the environment conducive? When they were absent from the ‘roots’ at the time they were required the most to assist and aid the needy, and to create conducive environment, it is a wonder what will be credible explanation for their conduct and what is the basis of making a tall claim of being ‘grass-root politicians’ having responsibility towards people.
On one hand, political dynamism is frequently stressed by affirming creation of new political order with new socio-political arrangements. On the other hand, we are expected to accept previously acquired mandate being relevant even now (after eight long years and changed political landscape) suggesting stagnancy, which is contradictory to widely reported political dynamism. In a condition wherein the Parliamentarians vigorously complain of lack of political processes and the absolute political domination by the Maoist in their constituencies, what is rational explanation of accepting their claim of being representatives of that electorate? When they had not faced fresh elections to reach the current Parliament, to which electorate are they responsible to? Do their responsibilities lay to the Maoist leadership and the Maoist cadets who were actively involved in the April revolution or to India where the SPA and the Maoists had sought refuge and where the peace-deal was finally brokered?
Some are exultant that the Nepalese situation is not as bad as some countries in Africa or other countries said to be without conflict; therefore the situation is not depressing. The African situation is largely attributed to continual fight over decades for ethnic supremacy among various tribes and religious supremacy between Christianity and Islam. Whereas the level of hatred among communities within Nepal has not reached that epic proportion, it is likely to reach the same level very soon in Nepal. The political structure of the Maoists clearly indicates the bifurcation of geographical land (called federalism) among the ethnic communities such as Magar, Kirat, Limbu, Newar, etc. It is not clear whether bifurcation is an appeasement ploy of the Maoists or whether they have genuine concern for various communities. Some national political parties have accepted federalism in principle whereas some are silent. Switzerland, for instance, has practiced federal form of governance successfully: land is divided among three ethnic communities and each federal government has its own president. The presidency of Switzerland is rotated amongst three presidents every two years. But what will be the form of federalism in Nepal? According to the Population Census, 2001, Nepal has about 100 known ethnic groups (10 dominant ethnic groups constitute about 69% of the total population).
It is also natural that an ethnic community with a larger population will try to dominate and manipulate in terms of political leverage and land: what will be the response of other smaller communities? Will the smaller ethnic communities accept the domination of larger community and why should they accept the domination? Some communities are bound to accuse of ill-treatment and partiality which will again fan hatred amongst communities. Secondly, how will the central government be constituted? Will the formation of the central government be guided by majoritarian or proportionate principle, and what will be its role in the federal structure? To what extent, the central government can exercise its powers over the federal governments? In a scenario with large number of ethnic communities, each community having equally large number of castes, and without adequate diligence regarding long-term social and political implications by the political parties, federalism may be very difficult to devise and implement, if not impossible.
Other operational issues will also arise: what will happen to a community, say Limbu, residing in Magarat? Will that community have to leave Magarat and settle down in Limbuwan? If it does not have to leave, will it be accorded treatment of a second-class citizenry? Who will bear responsibility if any community harbors genocidal ambitions against another (we have already witnessed this incident in former Yugoslavia during Milosevic regime)? Some may even argue that we will learn as time progresses. After all, are not we learning from and paying the price of political inaction that resulted in the Maoists insurgency? And are we ready to pay the same price as before? Thus, from a political perspective, federalism is a catchy word; however, if handled insensitively, it is bound to lead to disintegration and new level of irrational mayhem that has not been witnessed in Nepal before. Unfortunately, track record to extract undue political mileage and haphazard implementing capability of the political players in Nepal fail to provide reassurance.
The national media has, time and again, reported and commented on the rising incidence of criminal activities. Two explanations are repeatedly presented:
(1) criminal activities are normal in transitional phase, at which Nepal is currently in; and
(2) given the delicate nature of ongoing peace negotiations, the police have been advised of restrained action not to upset the peace process.
However, achieving long-term peace is totally different from providing security to the citizens. While one negotiating partner is involved in large-scale extortion and strong-arm tactic in the name of democratic politics, another is chanting peace mantra without imparting its foremost duty of providing security to citizens. This is incomprehensible because mindless aggression of the Maoists and meekness of the ruling alliance will lead to anarchy instead of promised long-term peace.
The national dailies also report of the Maoists’ parallel administration all over Nepal. Other actions such as collection of tax revenue by setting up revenue offices at Nepal’s international borders, collection of road taxes by setting up temporary check-posts in the national highways, delivering legal verdicts in kangaroo courts, etc. are widespread. This is in direct violation of conditionality of negotiation modalities. Whereas the government cannot mobilize its army and confine the army within barracks, the Maoists can freely setup temporary army stations anywhere it wishes to and recruit anyone it wants to. Still worse, the Maoists cadets and activists encircled the Prime Minister’s official residence at Balwatar in name of providing security while negotiations were underway – there was report in the newspaper that even the Prime Minister’s medicines were obstructed for sometime. Though the Maoists are not the conquering army who had secured comprehensive victory over the Nepalese Army, their above-the-law activities and inflammatory statements resemble that of one. Given this instigating attitude of the Maoists and lusterless response of the ruling alliance, from where does the optimism emanate from? The mute and chaotic response of the SPA to increasing Maoist threat has already begun to alienate some of the supporters.
Even after being in complete control over political processes and other state mechanisms for more than four months, Nepal appears dysfunctional and in disarray. In current political language, it is ‘failure to consolidate the achievements of the April revolution’. A minister in the current government had complained of unsupportive attitude of the civil employees which made to headline in the national dailies. The persistent bureaucratic confusion is surprising since the SPA had complete backing of the various employees’ unions, civic society, and intelligentsia in its bid for people-centric governance. Moreover, the SPA has also established the form of governance that employees’ unions, civic society, etc had long-demanded. In this context, inability of the government to make much headway brings forth likely question: was their support based on political opportunism or is it genuine failure of the SPA?
Thus, instead of smelling fresh coffee in the morning, looking at sunrise from cozy terrace, and embracing misplaced optimism when reality is starkly different, we must recognize the real dangers that lie ahead. Instead of reciting hymn of idealistic utopia on basis of theoretical knowledge, we must have courage to point out and criticize the wrongs of the policies and actions. Instead of professing African experiences, we should concentrate on our own experiences because the African conflicts have genesis on altogether different social and structural milieu. Just as the African conflicts call for unique solutions, our conflict also requires unique solution that should consider our socio-political structure. Instead of equating politico-terrorism (politically-motivated criminal activities sanctified by a political organization afflicting large population) with purely economic-related criminal activities, we must distinguish between them and compel the government to address these issues.
It is true that price has to be paid for peace; however, the price should not exceed reasonable limits. The economic and emotional blackmailing because of burning desire for peace has to be put to an end and some tangible achievement must be shown.