Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Slap In The Farce

The hard slap that stung across Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s cheek has spawned a stimulating variety of responses. That the predominant political personality of our times, the symbol of the nation’s promise as well as the perils, was so publicly humiliated has left its own searing mark on our collective countenance.
It is not difficult to sympathize with those arguing that political leaders, notwithstanding their brazenly manifest failings, deserve the basic physical security every Nepali expects as a matter of daily life. In these emotionally charged times, though, more vocal seems to be support for Padma Kunwar, whose shock treatment many indicate they would personally liked to have administered to some more our leaders.
Then there are those – particularly from the Dahal camp – who continue to characterize the attack as some kind of a conspiracy against democracy. Those who see the slap as an attempt to malign the political leadership, Maila Baje feels, may have it entirely backwards. If anything, the attack was a manifestation of the disrepute the current political leadership has fallen into.
With Dahal now having joined the company of Nepali Congress President Sushil Koirala and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist chairman Jhal Nath Khanal, it can be said that public revulsion cuts across party lines. While the individual attacker in each of the cases may have been a disgruntled activist of the respective party, the general pattern cannot be separated from the perspective that has been evolving since the spring of 2006.
Nepali leaders who vowed to end the impunity of royal autocracy have ended up perpetuating such exemption on a far greater scale. The search for excuses for not having been able to produce a new constitution even after repeated extensions to the two-year deadline continues to challenge common sense.
Sitting atop a legally dubious arrangement that makes the much-maligned royal exercise of Article 127 as a model of constitutionalism, today’s leaders must have known how widely they have exposed themselves to popular discontent.
Dahal, to be sure, exists in a category of his own. He represents a party that unleashed unprecedented death, destruction and despair on the people all in the name of ridding feudal tyranny and ushering in a new albeit amorphous period of liberty and equality.
In truth, there was little popular faith in his protestations, be it during war or peace. Although the Maoists had not defeated the ‘old state’ militarily, the public mood changed when they teamed up with the mainstream parties, whose leaders were seemingly contrite for their own past failures, with promises of change. Luminaries of Nepali civil society essentially vouched for the Maoists by incessantly proclaiming that the then-rebels, unlike the royal military, had raised arms for the people.
That the Maoists under Dahal ended up no differently than the parties they had once ranked alongside the monarchy in terms of depravity rankled the Nepali mind. How much the Maoist leadership’s abandonment of the ideology that fueled the ‘people’s war’ must have aggrieved the foot soldiers might help to explain Kunwar’s action.
Dahal’s propensity to retain the initiative by speaking through all sides of his mouth, juggling contradictory positions and often indulging in third-rate maneuvering was responsible for the waning of his persona. The latest slap was nothing to cheer about, but it would be reckless not to grasp its symbolism.