Sunday, January 01, 2012

Holding On To Our Fragmenting Selves

Here we are welcoming the new year once again arguing over whose sense of injustice among us is more legitimate and why.
The Supreme Court order staying the proposed recruitment of Madhesi youths in the Nepal Army has fueled a familiar but infinite debate. The president (who is also the supreme commander of the national army), vice-president, deputy prime minister (who is also defense minister) are madhesis, yet some in that community still can’t quit complaining of how they are the victims of internal colonization. The other side is left wondering who quantifies how much must they must cede to prove their bona fides.
In this emotive atmosphere, it’s perhaps useless to keep harping on what really constitutes being a madhesi or a pahadi. The larger issue is looming ominously. The ever-expanding space available for articulating our grievances has unleashed ceaseless cries of marginalization. We did not need bahuns and chhettris rallying for their rights to recognize that we have always been a nation of minorities. As such, we cannot escape consensual existence.
Since the unity-in-diversity credo has been discredited as a legacy of an oppressive past, the search is on for an alternative model that fosters a genuine sense of commonality. Unfortunately, none seems available – at least one that can satisfy all aspects of our continually fragmenting selves. An alliance of several groups can project a majority for a while but the fault lines have been running too deep to make it sustainable. It becomes easier for everyone instead to define and decry that as a brazen display of political opportunism.
In our quest to remake the future as far removed from the past, our sense of victimhood is also becoming pernicious. Class, religion, ethnicity, caste, region and sexual orientation – not to speak of political ideology – have provided fertile ground not only for the magnification of gripes but also for their outright manufacture.
This intensifying sense of injury tends to rationalize every move. In global terms, we have a legislature that is far too bloated relative to our population, but we put up with it because we wanted to be inclusive.
As long as the money keeps pouring in from abroad, we have no problem subjecting ourselves to all manner of experimentation. But that has not stopped creating new contexts of perceived marginalization. When every death in the public square acquires a political content and is deemed worthy of declaration of martyrdom, politicians cannot resist pandering to the people.
Maybe this whole business of endlessly extending the constituent assembly is what keeps alive the myth called the peace process. The political establishment was mystified by the Supreme Court’s refusal to register its petition seeking a review of the justices’ verdict on the tenure of the constituent assembly. It was easy for us to dismiss the temerity of the politicians. Yet what we may really have to fear is the day the assembly actually has to produce a constitution that some of the drafters will likely find unacceptable right away.
It’s hardly a thought relishing for a year already known for its dire predictions, but maybe Nepalis haven’t fought our internal battles honestly enough to energize any genuine quest for peace.