Sunday, May 12, 2013

Living With Loktantra’s Lok Mans

The domestic drivers of the April 2006 uprising tried their best to portray the appointment of Lok Man Singh Karki as the chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority as the greatest threat Nepal as a nation has faced in the last seven years. But, apparently, best was not enough.
Why those who proposed Karki – given his controversial background in the civil service going back decades over three political systems – saw him as the only person fit for the job remains intriguing. No less mysterious is the fact that those who opposed him so vociferously failed to stop the formal appointment.
If the notorious foreign hand indeed played the major role here, it would not be hard to understand. After all, what area of Nepali life has been spared the insolence of incessant external interference as we continue on our journey toward a nebulous newness?
Come to think of it, Nepalis are a distinctive breed. When we feel under siege domestically, we anxiously beseech foreigners to bail us out. When foreigners, having lent such support, try to recover their return on investment, we scream mad.
What makes us expect anyone to help us so selflessly in the first place? A national sense of entitlement stemming from a notion that our very existence is somehow a favor to the rest of the world? On the other hand, if we recognized that every offer or action came with a price tag, would we stop seeking foreign support?
Alas, our collective choice is not so clear-cut, especially considering how our geography has shaped our history. Ever since our emergence as a modern state, if we have tried to balance our place precariously between our two mighty neighbors, we have merely engaged in self-interest. Yet we have been quick to denigrate those pursuing such a policy – in the past and in the present – as merely wanting to perpetuate their personal power.
After 1950, when the active monarchists, Nepali Congress and the communists embarked on a campaign to denounce the Ranas as an oppressive oligarchy, they were not telling the whole story. Jang Bahadur and Chandra Shamsher may not have been your ideal democrat. But they did succeed in preserving Nepal’s independent identity during those turbulent times in our region.
Now, Maila Baje concedes, we can argue whether this independence was well worth the asphyxiation. But it would be dishonest to continue to take pride in our unbroken history of independence while condemning those who helped us achieve that feat. The Nepali Congress, like the monarchy, the CPN-UML and the Maoists, has learned how selective interpretation of the past can come to haunt the present.
The Yam Theory, isolation, democratic internationalism, Zone of Peace proposal, equidistance, equiproximity, transit hub, trilateral cooperation all stem from a realization that Nepal’s well-being lies in a stable region. The flipside of that recognition is that there are three countries involved that are individually defined by their own values, attitudes, needs and expectations in an increasingly globalized world that exerts it own set of pressures.
If Nepal feels its sovereign options are being undermined, it has the choice of trying to build the requisite response. That does not mean we are obliged to obey everything would-be allies say. Yet we expect China to help us loosen the grip of India, only to discover how tight Beijing’s own grasp has become. (Tibet, anyone?)
The international system is in a constant state of flux. But we act as if every country is automatically entitled to exercise sovereignty AND democracy without making painstaking investment in either. And then look what happens. The prize of loktantra comes at the price of Lok Mans.