Sunday, May 20, 2012

You, Too, Are Part Of The Problem

Madhav Kumar Nepal, senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), blamed the Maoists the other day for the growing communal discord raging in the country.
His assertion coincided with lamentations by a group of senior Nepali Congress leaders that their once-dominant organization had been reduced to playing second fiddle to the Maoists.
It is easy to feel some sympathy for these men, Maila Baje acknowledges, whose parties still proudly proclaim how successfully they brought the Maoists from the jungles to the mainstream. But the CPN-UML and Nepali Congress must be called out for their complicity in the mayhem the Maoists have wrought on the country.
The physical destruction wreaked by the Maoists during the decade-long People’s War remains miniscule compared to the long-term divisiveness they have wrought in the name of creating a new Nepal.
In a country filled with minority communities, sharing their own experience of advantage and disadvantage, the Maoists invoked traditional notions of dominance and disempowerment for purely tactical purposes. If all Bahuns and Chettris had traditionally been the sole beneficiaries of the state, how could all the principal parties aimed at redressing that injustice end up being led by members of these privileged groups?
The people of the southern plains who complained of second-class citizenship of hills-based communities could deflect attention from the other internal reasons for the prevailing hierarchy of exploitation, thereby perpetuating injustices.
Members of the so-called martial classes were the prime candidates for foreign employment in military and civilian-security duties. The fact that some groups of Nepalis became more valued than others for their ‘honesty’ and ‘valor’ represented a form of discrimination that has always evaded serious inquiry. The beneficiaries of such perceptions acquired broader benefits in terms of outlook and enlightenment.
Distorted narratives on discrimination and disadvantage thrived on disproportionate foreign political, financial and academic patronage to the point where it has produced that ultimate anomaly. Bahuns and Chettris now have to be listed as Khas-Arya in the list of indigenous people in a last-ditch effort to preserve societal harmony.
When years of irreconcilable posturing are now claiming its costs, Madhav Nepal and his ilk cannot escape their share of the blame. The Maoist agenda of exaggerating Nepal’s ethnic and regional fault lines had a purpose politicians like Madhav Nepal could clearly have dissociated himself from.
It is hard not to be hurt and humiliated when your king puts you behind bars for your political beliefs. Not everyone can have the vision, experience, outlook and statesmanship to separate personal travails from the national imperative like B.P. Koirala did in his times.
Still it is incomprehensible that an entire party could hitch behind the Maoist wagon to spite the king and then refuse to accept responsibility for the distortions. After all, the Maoists would not have been able to inflict today’s communal discord without the CPN-UML abetting them every step of the way before and after the February 2005 royal takeover.
The same is true of the Nepali Congress. Instead of acknowledging its own role in the repression and misgovernance that fanned the flame of the Maoist insurgency, the party spent all its time blaming the palace for propping up the rebellion. Of course, the palace would be sympathetic to some of the demands raised by the rebels. The Panchayat machinery had checked those movements through security and administrative measures. The democratic system was supposed to address them without bullets and boots. As issues of national sovereignty and welfare became subjects of partisan political bickering, it was not unreasonable to see the palace and the Maoists on the same side on key issues. Instead of presenting a unified response to the rebellion, the mainstream parties indulged in their own petty political machinations.
As the rebellion spread, the king, citing his constitutionally mandated role, intervened. But the parties then ganged up and sought to blame him as being part of the problem. Prudently, he did not give them that opportunity for long.
Throughout its existence, the Nepali Congress had stuck with its principle of constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy through thick and thin. Although the Nepali Congress attempted to assassinate two monarchs, it still could maintain its fealty to the institution with great ideological credibility.
B.P. Koirala had understood that the monarchy was intrinsic to the Nepali Congress’ identity and politics. But his successors believed that in enunciating such fealty they had merely granted a favor to the palace all those years. Under Maoist pressure, but more in vindictiveness the king, the Nepali Congress ended its support for the monarchy.
There were mumblings against this wholesale abandonment of ideology, but they were just that, mumbles. Those lamenting the Nepali Congress’ decline today could have done something when it mattered.
In the end, according to the Maoist narrative, the rebellion brought down the monarchy and charted the road to a new Nepal. The other parties could not claim any credit because they arrived so late in the game. They have been there long enough, though, to become culpable for everything that has gone wrong.