Monday, November 15, 2010

Accounts Of Awe And Aggrandizement

All these years later, Marich Man Singh Shrestha, the last prime minister of the partyless Panchayat system, continues to extol this quality of that polity: Where else could someone from his modest social and economic milieu rise to become head of government?
It wouldn’t take much to hear in Shrestha’s query the tenor of inadequacy many ex-panchas still express almost as an act of expiation. Hard as it might be to believe, there were people who were genuinely inspired to serve their nation under the banner of partylessness. Yet it turns out that every man or woman like Shrestha was outnumbered by those who believed they had the right to be served by the system.
The post-April Uprising spurt in published reminiscences of the period abounds in such sentiment. Take this gentleman who reached the pinnacle of political, administrative and diplomatic service. Doubtless, Nepalis today continue to benefit from his wisdom percolating across the media on diverse matters. In ruminating on them, there are times he appears to emphasize his own role in events all the while demeaning what he was representing.
Not that we couldn’t have tolerated personal aggrandizement from this esteemed personage, at least. A youth once seen milling around a foreign medical professional apparently impressed the benefactor sufficiently to find his mooring in higher education overseas. The country saw in him immense promise even before he had submitted the dissertation justifying the erudite honorific that was a rarity then.
Questions persisted as to when – or even whether – he ended up fulfilling that academic requirement. Then far intense speculation swirled around the true purpose of his ascendancy. But these things hardly detracted, as far as Maila Baje is concerned, from the extraordinariness of his personal story. But today condemnation of the system that seemed to have made all that possible tends to appear as an essential ingredient of his recollections.
Another gentleman recently revealed how one monarch had dispatched him to China on a highly sensitive mission. Nowhere in his tantalizing narrative did he seem to marvel at the great trust he happened to bear amid Nepal’s geopolitical vulnerabilities. Everything seemed to have been scripted to demolish the monarchy’s image in keeping with the prevailing political climate. The reality that the man reached one of the top rungs of the palace-led system, complete with its perks, remained buried in his story.
A few former palace officials continue to offer interesting details about how individual royals varied in their values, attitudes, needs and expectations. But for the most part, their musings have descended into a barefaced settling of scores. The holier-than-thou approach of advocates for rival palace camps has marred what remains of redeeming value for historians. How even the supposedly worst victims in individual palace secretariats ended up far better than the average stalwart retiree in the Singha Darbar wing of the civil service, especially in terms of providing for their family, is not part of the storyline.
Everybody was simply too good for the Panchayat system and therefore the polity simply owed them. It is this subtext that makes former prime minister Shrestha’s seemingly worn-out words all the more refreshing.