COMMENTARY ReconciliationNotConsensus

As the nation remembered the late B.P. Koirala to mark one of his momentous decisions thirty four years ago,&nbsp;&nbsp; many miss a vital message that the country’s first elected prime minister and founding leader of<BR>the oldest surviving democrat

Jan. 10, 2011, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 04 No .-14 Jan. 07-2011 (Poush 23,2067)

December 30, 1976 Tribhuvan Airport, Kathmandu

As the plane flying from Patna touched down at a far corner of the Kathmandu tarmac, away from the domestic and international  terminals, the waiting Ganesh Raj Sharma’s eyes suddenly became wet.  Tears trickled down his cheeks on seeing a familiar lanky face alighting.

As the security forces  whisked the man away in a van to what then seemed an unknown destination a senior Nepali Congress lady leader made a sarcastic remark, “Ganesh Raj ji must have become happy now.”

He was indeed happy. Not because the man was sent back to Sundarijal jail eight years after he was freed from the same place to face, to quote himself,  “an uncertain future”.  But because Sharma  believed that it was the most defining moment of the 50-year political career of the man.

Facing a number of  sedition charges, the man  could have been hanged or sentenced to life.  But he decided to take “a calculated risk” to return from the eight years of foreign exile, because “ the existence
of the nation was at greater peril than his individual life,” and as a nationalist he  was “duty-bound” to place the nation ahead of him.

Prime minister Indira Gandhi did not want him to end the exile in India. The ruling Congress chief Deokanta Baruah tried to persuade him from returning to Nepal. Intelligence operatives hovered around his Benaras shelter to provoke him into changing the mind.

But the man would not budge. He had made up his mind. He was determined to return home and, perhaps, make up for the blunder of the life he made eight years earlier in going to India after  being freed
from Sundarijal  jail.

He returned home with the call for national unity and reconciliation (see: BOX).  Between traditional forces and the modern forces. Between nationalists and democrats.

To lawyer, close relative and confidante Sharma , it was “a momentous decision” of B.P.Koirala.

When B.P. made that momentous decision, the Cold War was at its peak, taking its heavy toll on a number of vulnerable countries including in Nepal’s Asian neighbourhood.

The disintegration of pro-US Pakistan, the collapse of the pro-western Iranian kingship, the annexation of Sikkim ruled by a king with an American wife , the Soviet-engineered overthrow of monarchy in

Many including the ruling absolute monarch feared Nepal was in danger too. It was the question of a nation, not of an individual leader or institution.

Three decades later, much has changed. The Cold War does no longer exist. The bi-polar world has become a thing of the past. It is beginning to take a multi-polar shape after a brief uni-polar innings.

Nepal today is not Nepal of yesterday either.  Much water has flowed down Koshi, Gandaki and Karnali.  There has been a regime change.  The monarchy is no more.  A republican set-up is in place. A federal
structure is due to replace the long-running unitary state.  A constituent assembly is in place with the newly empowered people exercising   their ‘sovereign’ rights.

The change has not ushered in the desired results.  Rather, the situation has gone from bad to the worse.  Ironically, the agents of the change have been competing with each other to paint a dark picture and uncertain future of Nepal. The crisis B.P. saw thirty fours ago has assumed even more serious proportion.  Nepal is in an unprecedented  tatters today.

That the global attention has shifted to South Asia has not helped the matter.  With two rising economic giants, China and India, on its borders Nepal should have found itself in an unenviable position to
cash in on their growth.

What it finds today, instead, is in a Catch-22 situation.  The powerful neighbours had never been as suspicious of each other as they are today.  India  sees China as a number 1 threat to its national security.   Though not as outspoken as defence minister George Fernandes after the “China-targeted” Pokharan nuclear test  twelve years ago, India has not hidden  its Dragon fear.

Eyeing to replace the declining US as the number one world power China is, in the opinion of many, adventurous in its neighbourhood.  If not,it is overly cautious.  “We live in times of peace but we cannot
forget war” said its defence minister  in a recent interview. According to him, a full scale war is unlikely but “the accidental outbreak”  of regional military conflicts cannot be discounted.”

Not surprisingly, the military build-up on the borders of both India and China have been intense.  Nepal happens to border both! It faces a challenge of its soil being converted into their playground and avoid
becoming another Afghanistan or Lebanon.  A tall order given the state the national institutions are in.

As global attention expectedly shifts to  the strategically located South Asia of which Nepal is a part, the challenge becomes even more awesome.

With traditional institutions destroyed and whatever institutions are there in a very weak state Nepal  the situation is anything but comfortable.

The only way is look up to the time-tested formula BP propounded years ago at a grave personal risk.

The politics of reconciliation at home despite mutual disagreements is the answer, not the consensus  imposed from the outside. Such a consensus has almost done Nepal in.

Will the present-day national actors – politicians and the intelligentsia – rise to the occasion? And make, at least, a semblance of the momentous decision BP dared.


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