Monday, September 07, 2015

Upsetting, Yet Understandable

In all honesty, I can’t say it doesn’t hurt. But it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
I used to tell everyone that a day would come when people would start demolishing our statues and portraits. “Come on, Girija babu, give the people more credit. They’ll never forget those who’ve been on their side all along.”
The mob that demolished my statue at Birgunj may or may not be representative of the popular mood. But it certainly had a different notion of history and accountability.
Five years after I left the mortal world, they still blame me for the mess country finds itself in. Out of loyalty, the Nepali Congress described the demolition as an “undemocratic act” that had really saddened the party and supporters of democracy. I don’t know about that. But I do wonder how the people would have felt if they saw the big picture.
In retrospect, the term “grand design” I popularized was kind of misleading. It contained too much of a sinister streak, almost an implication that everything that had gone wrong in Nepal was part of an elaborate external plan.
Things are far simpler.
I don’t believe Nepali politicians are congenitally predisposed to destruction. Hard as it might be to believe, we do think about the well-being of the people and nation. Events, ideas and perspectives drive us in different directions because they emanate from disparate levels. In an effort to outdo one another, we unleash forces that ultimate constrain our ability to act.
Personally, I never harbored hopes of becoming the first president of Nepal. The reason was simple: I never believed we could – or should – do away with the monarchy. That should have been clear enough from the “ceremonial monarchy” and “baby king” that I had been pushing. But, no, the long view was discredited as a camouflage for appeasement.
Institutionally, the Nepali Congress and the monarchy remained in antithetical existence. Deep down, each recognized how it was inextricably linked to the other. At the same time, each was most susceptible to disinformation spewed by other quarters vis-à-vis the motives of the other.
After the April 2006 Uprising, it’s no secret that we all discussed whether, in the name of sidelining the monarchy, we had unleashed forces that would ultimately consume us. Sure, Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh broke tradition and arrived at the airport in New Delhi to welcome me with the warm epithet of South Asia’s elder statesman. You think I was fooled? All I remembered then were the humiliating hours Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made me wait outside his office when I wanted to convey my opposition to his advice that we should support the king’s first takeover in the interest of national salvation.
Within the party and among our allies, there was a feeling that I was unable to grasp the generational transformation Nepal had undergone. Okay, even if we conceded that the monarchy was a political anachronism, what would fill the wider institutional vacuum? In those heady moments, who had time for cooler minds. (And what would a lanky havaldar who just couldn’t stop living know?)
Eventually, the 12 Point Agreement had to be preserved through a bevy of side deals, compromises and unspoken undertakings. There was no appreciation of the post-1990 reality that the passage of time would erode our popularity and restore faith in those we supposedly had vanquished.
I know there are many who envy my good fortune that I left the world when the going was still good. Their desire to lump every ill on me was partially realized at Birgunj. I’ll gladly take the hit – and whatever comes next – on behalf of those who thought we were smarter than your average Nepali.