Leadership of Muscle and Money minus Morals

Everyone is groping in the dark to find the answers: when, how and why did we go so horribly wrong? Some insights might soon be forthcoming in two thousand plus secret US embassy cables from Kathmandu in the WikiLeaks website sent during the tenures

Dec. 3, 2010, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 04 No.-12 Dec. 03-2010 (Mangsir 17,2067)

Everyone is groping in the dark to find the answers: when, how and why did we go so horribly wrong? Some insights might soon be forthcoming in two thousand plus secret US embassy cables from Kathmandu in the WikiLeaks website sent during the tenures of Ambassadors Michael Malinowski, James Moriarty and Nancy Powell.  They cover events from early 2002 till February this year and hopefully will cover the Kangressi infighting between the Girijangress and Deupangress factions that led to their dissolving the discredited Third Parliament. That enmity continues till today, has paralysed its collective leadership and, as a consequence, contributed to the ennui of the Constituent Assembly itself.

Full article below:

Nepali public mood is one of despair morphing into anger. Surveys show that only five percent of the people think the country is heading in the right direction and only twelve percent think positively of their elected representatives. Nobody seems to be expecting this demonstrably incompetent lot to write any kind of constitution in the remaining six of their self-extended twelve months. Given the range of unresolved thorny issues – from the very framework of the state to the nature of democracy itself – if a draft is hastily declared in penultimate days, it will in all likelihood be burnt in the streets by our abundant disgruntled groups.

Everyone is groping in the dark to find the answers: when, how and why did we go so horribly wrong? Some insights might soon be forthcoming in two thousand plus secret US embassy cables from Kathmandu in the WikiLeaks website sent during the tenures of Ambassadors Michael Malinowski, James Moriarty and Nancy Powell.  They cover events from early 2002 till February this year and hopefully will cover the Kangressi infighting between the Girijangress and Deupangress factions that led to their dissolving the discredited Third Parliament. That enmity continues till today, has paralysed its collective leadership and, as a consequence, contributed to the ennui of the Constituent Assembly itself.

This writer will be particularly interested in the cables of January 2003 when the late Narayan Singh Pun was negotiating the ceasefire with the Maoists and had at one point called for the good offices of Ambassador Malinowski to arm-twist certain obstinate neighbouring diplomats reluctant to let their wards talk directly with the royal regime without their interlocution (which they engineered three years later with the 12-point SPAM agreement). One cannot help wondering what could have changed, and how, in American thinking between then and November 2005 after the Dhaka SAARC summit when the US essentially “outsourced” its Nepal policy to the Mughlanis. It will be interesting to see the official version of (now in Dhaka) Ambassador Moriarty’s explanation of his highly undiplomatic public outburst that “King Gyanendra will soon be flying out of Nepal hanging on the nose-cone of a helicopter!” The cables from November 2005 till the declaration of Loktantra in April 2006 are what anthropologists would call “thick text”, often four times a day, and should provide a mirror into the morality of Loktantrick times and the international factors that legitimized and fertilized a range of unprincipled behaviour.

Moral turpitude is a two-way street, and US diplomats’ readings of Nepali shenanigans will be a far less reproachable traffic than the self-serving behaviour of the Nepali politicians themselves that will probably be found in WikiLeaks commented upon with glee, since that is what has led to the current imbroglio. The secret cables should help us understand the unprincipled politics of those times and to appreciate the nature of the current political mess.

How is it that Nepali Kangress was leading a majority government that was fighting the Maoist insurgency but its party president would unauthorized go secretly to Delhi to meet the rebel leaders sheltered there, even as Deuba was in Washington talking to George Bush? To an observer from across the seven seas, how was it possible to make sense of the political morality in arguing for restoring a parliament dissolved by the majority government? Even more perplexing, how could the prime minister and his followers who dissolved the parliament go back shamelessly into its resurrected version, and after its five-year mandate had expired? How could the Mughlanis who declared Maoists as terrorists even before Nepal did, continue to meanwhile shelter them in Delhi, provide intelligence security and chaperon the insurgency’s top leadership to confabulate with India’s senior politicians against a supposedly friendly neighbouring state in times of peace? How could parties that were the architects of the 1990 constitution (self-declared “the best in the world”) throw it into the dustbin without an iota of reform efforts? How could the parliamentary parties that avowed non-violent politics provide a hit list to the Maoists to murder candidates for local elections called by the King in 2005? How did they appease the Maoists politically to the hilt and now complain that the Maoists do not believe in parliamentary democracy but still believe in a revolution to establish the dictatorship of the politburo as per Leninist strategy of using “useful idiots”? How could they be brought en masse into a resurrected parliament without due process of popular elections, without a single commitment from them to eschew the politics of violence and one-party dictatorship? The US has at least been consistent: it still has not forgotten the murder of its security guards, nor has it removed the terrorist tag of the Maoists without first seeing concrete evidence of their having given up violence as a political tool.

Nepal’s problem lies in democrats not really being democrats, socialists (and communists) not really believing in socialism, and politicians being in politics not for public service but as unprincipled careerists out to make money. If politics is the art of managing power in society, Steven Lukes, Karl Polanyi and even the sages of Samkhya philosophy have advised us that it is of three types: coercive (tamasik shakti) of the state, persuasive (rajasik shakti) of the market and moral (satwik shakti) of the civic sphere that relies on volunteerism born of deeply held beliefs. It is that third ethical force that Nepal’s political parties lack. They believe that money from looting the exchequer and the coercive muscle of their goon squads are enough to justify a blissful career at the helms of the state. It is whispered among the cognoscenti that even a small conservative party in the current 22-party coalition nominated to the cabinet a character with a particularly unsavoury past because, so argued its party chief, the main purpose today is to make money for the party (with constitution making ostensibly being a non-issue!), and goon-squad boss is the only one that can do so without any qualms of conscience.

In all of this loot going on during the last three years, the “ethics community” of Naagarik Samaaj has been criminally silent: having prostituted their supposedly independent consciences to particular political leaders, they have lost the capacity to shed any light in the current darkness. The question is not where the country headed, because the answer is plainly downhill; rather it is: what are the pathway options on the table that promise any outlet from this stagnation? Only three political philosophies are distinct out there, the majority of the parties having written themselves into the ethical margins as porters to the Maoists.
This writer will be particularly interested in the cables of January 2003 when the late Narayan Singh Pun was negotiating the ceasefire with the Maoists and had at one point called for the good offices of Ambassador Malinowski to arm-twist certain obstinate neighbouring diplomats reluctant to let their wards talk directly with the royal regime without their interlocution (which they engineered three years later with the 12-point SPAM agreement). One cannot help wondering what could have changed, and how, in American thinking between then and November 2005 after the Dhaka SAARC summit when the US essentially “outsourced” its Nepal policy to the Mughlanis. It will be interesting to see the official version of (now in Dhaka) Ambassador Moriarty’s explanation of his highly undiplomatic public outburst that “King Gyanendra will soon be flying out of Nepal hanging on the nose-cone of a helicopter!” The cables from November 2005 till the declaration of Loktantra in April 2006 are what anthropologists would call “thick text”, often four times a day, and should provide a mirror into the morality of Loktantrick times and the international factors that legitimized and fertilized a range of unprincipled behaviour.

Moral turpitude is a two-way street, and US diplomats’ readings of Nepali shenanigans will be a far less reproachable traffic than the self-serving behaviour of the Nepali politicians themselves that will probably be found in WikiLeaks commented upon with glee, since that is what has led to the current imbroglio. The secret cables should help us understand the unprincipled politics of those times and to appreciate the nature of the current political mess.

How is it that Nepali Kangress was leading a majority government that was fighting the Maoist insurgency but its party president would unauthorized go secretly to Delhi to meet the rebel leaders sheltered there, even as Deuba was in Washington talking to George Bush? To an observer from across the seven seas, how was it possible to make sense of the political morality in arguing for restoring a parliament dissolved by the majority government? Even more perplexing, how could the prime minister and his followers who dissolved the parliament go back shamelessly into its resurrected version, and after its five-year mandate had expired? How could the Mughlanis who declared Maoists as terrorists even before Nepal did, continue to meanwhile shelter them in Delhi, provide intelligence security and chaperon the insurgency’s top leadership to confabulate with India’s senior politicians against a supposedly friendly neighbouring state in times of peace? How could parties that were the architects of the 1990 constitution (self-declared “the best in the world”) throw it into the dustbin without an iota of reform efforts? How could the parliamentary parties that avowed non-violent politics provide a hit list to the Maoists to murder candidates for local elections called by the King in 2005? How did they appease the Maoists politically to the hilt and now complain that the Maoists do not believe in parliamentary democracy but still believe in a revolution to establish the dictatorship of the politburo as per Leninist strategy of using “useful idiots”? How could they be brought en masse into a resurrected parliament without due process of popular elections, without a single commitment from them to eschew the politics of violence and one-party dictatorship? The US has at least been consistent: it still has not forgotten the murder of its security guards, nor has it removed the terrorist tag of the Maoists without first seeing concrete evidence of their having given up violence as a political tool.

Nepal’s problem lies in democrats not really being democrats, socialists (and communists) not really believing in socialism, and politicians being in politics not for public service but as unprincipled careerists out to make money. If politics is the art of managing power in society, Steven Lukes, Karl Polanyi and even the sages of Samkhya philosophy have advised us that it is of three types: coercive (tamasik shakti) of the state, persuasive (rajasik shakti) of the market and moral (satwik shakti) of the civic sphere that relies on volunteerism born of deeply held beliefs. It is that third ethical force that Nepal’s political parties lack. They believe that money from looting the exchequer and the coercive muscle of their goon squads are enough to justify a blissful career at the helms of the state. It is whispered among the cognoscenti that even a small conservative party in the current 22-party coalition nominated to the cabinet a character with a particularly unsavoury past because, so argued its party chief, the main purpose today is to make money for the party (with constitution making ostensibly being a non-issue!), and goon-squad boss is the only one that can do so without any qualms of conscience.

In all of this loot going on during the last three years, the “ethics community” of Naagarik Samaaj has been criminally silent: having prostituted their supposedly independent consciences to particular political leaders, they have lost the capacity to shed any light in the current darkness. The question is not where the country headed, because the answer is plainly downhill; rather it is: what are the pathway options on the table that promise any outlet from this stagnation? Only three political philosophies are distinct out there, the majority of the parties having written themselves into the ethical margins as porters to the Maoists.
One is the dominant Maoist (especially Vaidya faction’s) view that the insurrection begun in 1996 must be taken to the logical conclusion of establishing a one-party rule. Nepali ground realities as well as the international mood, to say nothing of the high physical costs, will doubtless prevent its realization. The other position is that of RPP-Nepal’s which argues for new elections and a referendum on major issues of monarchy, federalism and secularism. However, it is not clear from which legal basis one could move forward, since the interim constitution does not allow for it and the current CA is deadlocked and defunct. The third position is that of the veteran of Nepali politics KP Bhattarai. Since the Girija-Mughlani roadmap forced upon the King has collapsed, go back to the 1990 democratic constitution, he says, and put its unacceptable provisions to a referendum.

Maybe the time has come to consider this third option; and the Maoist appeasers must find the guts to face the truth that their 2005 experiment has been a singular disaster. We just have to wait and see if Malinowski and Moriarty might be unwittingly providing, in all the embarrassment to follow, that face-saving moment.
Dipak Gyawali.JPG

Dipak Gyawali

Gyawali is Pragya (Academician) of the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and former minister of water resources.

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