Saturday, September 29, 2012

Someone To Do Our Dirty Work?

In calling for a ‘liberal dictatorship’ that could save Nepal from impending catastrophe, historian Satya Mohan Joshi ostensibly spoke for countless compatriots. Such sentiments have become commonplace during casual conversations and in online chatter but do not yet command commensurate coverage in the media. It will take more of the likes of the nonagenarian academic to keep that quest in the headlines.
When an exasperated interviewer questioned whether his prescription did not represent a contradiction in terms, Joshi cited King Mahendra’s record as an example. Implied in Joshi’s remark was the fact that democracy was an annoying distraction to substantive action.
This is not as outrageous a concept in this day and age as it might sound. Even in the world’s most advanced democracy, some people have started to look enviously at the ease with which leaders in China can get things done. (How many times, after all, has Thomas L. Friedman, the respected foreign affairs columnist of the equally venerable New York Times wistfully wondered how much more President Barack Hussein Obama could have achieved had he had the ‘flexibility’ of a President Hu Jintao?)
Just because Joshi cited King Mahendra and because his son, the last Nepali monarch, has been drawing record crowds during his regional tours does not necessarily mean the monarchy should be the focus of our attention here. (In any case, Maila Baje finds it hard to imagine a scenario where a restored monarchy would manifest itself in an authoritarian incarnation.)
Since Nepalis have already experienced an oligarchy and a non-party regime, this new dictatorship would probably have to come from someone who has total organizational control, who has leadership of a coercive force such as the military or who has a powerful and dynamic personality that could simply attract others.
Girija Prasad Koirala, Nepal’s closest example of democratic authoritarianism, could not go too far. Military rule could be a novel experiment in Nepal, given that the armed forces have never directly run the country. Or someone could just emerge in some form or the other and begin proving his or her abilities by getting the job – at least a lot of it – done.
But we must consider the other side of the coin first. What do people demanding a liberal dictatorship actually envisage? Of course, benevolent dictatorship is a form of government in which an authoritarian leader exercises political power for the benefit of the whole population rather than exclusively for his or her own self-interest or benefit or for the benefit of only a small portion of the population. But will Nepalis have the patience to put up with such a dictator once the welcome wears off?
A people who could rise up against a monarch who was barely halfway through the three-years he asked for to set thing right remain sullen as the successor political class failed to complete their job in twice the time they were allotted. What has really stopped us from organizing a massive uprising for the promulgation of the constitution? Some congenital collective perpetual oppositional proclivity?
If we are looking for someone who will do our dirty work for us on ill-defined terms and a perilous tenure, we might better recognize right away the elusiveness of that liberal dictator.