Sunday, January 10, 2016

National Unity: An Individual Account

Deputy Prime Minister Chandra Prakash Mainali may have done little to settle the long-running debate on whether King Prithvi Narayan Shah was indeed a noble unifier of modern Nepal or merely a ruthless and ambitious expansionist. Still, Mainali’s contribution to the discussion has served to inspire much-needed introspection vis-à-vis our collective future.
General-secretary of the now-scraggy Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist), Mainali the man still remains a valued member of our fraternity of comrades splashed across the political spectrum. His legendary past has provided enough impetus to keep him going.
When Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli inducted him in the cabinet as one of half-a-dozen deputies, Mainali’s individual persona was what largely counted. Few among us can probably recall offhand his rank (last in the ladder of deputy premiers) or the specific portfolio he holds (Women, Children and Social Welfare).
Individualism has left Mainali unconstrained in his speech. In early November, two days after being appointed, he suggested that India wanted to annex the Terai region through its blockade, prompting New Delhi to condemn his remarks as malicious.
In his latest comments, Mainali focused the touchy issue of Prithvi Narayan’s legacy on an equally contentious concept: secessionism. Regardless of whether secessionism is a clear and present danger to Nepal or only the threat of a handful of irresponsible politicians, the term today is being thrown around with too much ease for the good of anyone.
Whether a Terai region that chose to break away from Nepal became part of India or established itself as an independent entity, the prospect of a separation would merit a degree of deliberations that is sorely lacking. Would India, given its own endless restructuring imperatives and dynamics gripping large states such as West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, see advantage in the acquisition of additional real estate?
On the other hand, might a landlocked Terai, sandwiched – to borrow that hackneyed term – between still-landlocked Nepal and India have the viability to exist independently? From the current debate, it seems a rump Nepal might still adjoin at least West Bengal and Uttarakhand together with the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.
Crude as Mainali’s assertion might sound, continuing with the national unity creed flowing from Prithvi Narayan – regardless of how contrived some might still consider it – would be the most fitting answer to the secessionists. As a political issue, restoring Paus 27 as National Unity Day failed to gain enough support within the Oli cabinet. The fact that we are still talking about it underscores the emotive power the subject wields over the very notion of Nepaliness.
Even if we concede that Prithvi Narayan failed to lay the foundation for sentimental/emotional unity among Nepalis, we are still forced to ask what role successive generations of Nepalis themselves have in that failure. If we as sovereign and free people want to make that ultimate break from the Divya Upadesh (Divine Counsels), then we would need to muster the courage and conviction to abandon Prithivi Narayan’s concept of Nepali nationhood.
Granted, that might be easier for some Nepalis than others. If anything, Mainali’s remarks have the potential of forcing the most hardened secessionists to sit up and ponder whether they may actually have a better deal within today’s national borders.