Dussain, when the entire country shuts down for two weeks of family reunion and gastronomic orgy, is also when the incubation of new political ideas takes place. It sets the agenda for the coming ‘political year’ with the pressure rising after Tihar and peaking around Chaite Dussain in March. Those working in the capital and cities abroad return to the villages to describe what is happening in Kathmandu, and in turn pick up the mood and feelings in the village hinterlands. What might be the stories they will exchange this Dussain that will impact on events in November?
At the top undoubtedly will be the Vaidya faction of the Maoists denouncing Prachanda and Baburam as “Indian stooges out to ‘Sikkimify’ Nepal”. In Leninism’s fatherland, one or the other set of comrades would long have seen the Gulag or even the hereafter for much milder charges. In a feat similar to Delhi bringing the Seven Parties together with the Maoists for the 12-point Delhi deal in November 2005, the “uncooked spooks” have brought together the highly fractious and essentially anti-Maoist Madhesi parties under Baburam’s even more fractious, politically incomplete cabinet packed with many holding criminal charges. Their godfathered 4-point midnight deal has riled up not just the Vaidya faction but also the Kangress and EhMaLey. To ease the signing of the earlier 12-point deal, Mohan Vaidya and CP Gajurel had to be kept under detention in Siliguri and Chennai: this time they and their followers are on Nepali soil, still smarting from that experience, and angry at the duplicity of their own leaders.
There is rift within the Kangress too between the Deuba and the Koirala-Sitaula factions. However, unlike the Vaidya revolt which has a nationalist colour, the Kangress infighting is purely personal, bereft of political content, and hence more toxic for long-term democratic evolution. The question that will be asked by every villager is: in the wake of the mandate-expired and hence illegitimate CA being finally certified dead, what next after November? What bothers normal Kangress voters is the path hewed by the 12-point Delhi deal in 2005, the primary features of which have been accurately summarized by law professor Ganesh Datta Bhatta in Kantipur on 29th August as follows: it legitimized and rewarded political violence, divorced Kangress from friendly traditional forces, and put external powers (a.k.a. Mughlani Sahu and European proselytisers) in the driving seat of Nepali politics. No one aspiring for liberal democratic leadership has explained how we can get out of this mess without going back to the 1990 constitution.
A headline story in Kantipur on 18th September by its editor proves the point. It describes with breathless excitement how China’s deputy minister talked with Bihar’s chief minister Nitish Kumar (without Nepal’s involvement!) during the latter’s visit to China about developing Nepal’s hydropower. The reason the ever pragmatic Chinese did something so unthinkable (they or the Indians would never allow another country to do so regarding their resource development) is because they have seen how the new Loktantrick politicians of Nepal surrendered the driving seat to their southern benefactors who assured them a seat in the cabinet bus! Despite Nepal’s calamitous power deficit, all licenses for important hydro development sites have been given to Indian companies or their proxies for export to meet India’s demand.
The looming electrical winter of discontent, with power cuts of fourteen or more hours per day, will no doubt also be the subject of heated Dussain discussions. What will come under scrutiny along with this will be the politics of populism, both of Baburam Bhattarai’s “Mustang limo” and of erstwhile energy minister Gokarna Bista’s “energetic ministership”, especially when both raised hopes but subsequently failed to deliver substantive policy changes. Populism is an essential element of mass politics and those dedicated to it must constantly re-invent themselves along those lines. Both Baburam and Bista must be commended for effectively pointing this out to their political class who in their time in office failed to connect with the masses and only enriched themselves and their coterie. History, however, will be cruel in its assessment and not as adulatory as fickle mass opinion. Had Baburam managed to actually implement the long-awaited pollution tax on diesel and petrol and used that to fund the development of renewable energy, Nepal would be well on her way to a more sustainable and prosperous future. Had Gokarna Bista spent some of his remarkable oomph getting the long-pending electricity bill passed, together with its regulatory commission, might it have averted NEA’s impending bankruptcy? Both comrades failed to bring forth any such substantive changes.
The list of Dussain discussions is long – the federalism impasse; its impractical unit boundaries if it ever came to that; anger over the categorization of largest ethnic groups such as Chhetris and Bahuns as “others”; the attack on their cultural symbols including the national dress; the growing sense of insult felt by the majority Hindus with the imposition of secularism; its implied condemnation of their religion as inherently un-reformable and hence worthy of expurgation through aggressive proselytising; the marginalizing of heroes, martyrs and leaders of Nepali history with Baburam’s first official act paying obeisance only to the founder of the communist party; the censorship by media barons of news about alternative politics; and of course the perennial skyrocketing political corruption. One issue that needs pointing out as it will be discussed only in limited intellectual circles, but one which goes to the heart of a rapidly failing revolution, is that of the “three-pillar economic development policy” and the caving in of the revolutionary comrades on this front.
The insightful political economist Karl Polanyi made a distinction between societies that use markets as a valuable tool as opposed to those that place everything on the auction block. It is only the former that prosper, while the latter are condemned to colonialism. Societies built only around the idea of competition forget that cooperation is a natural, and ethically healthy, human trait. The three pillar policy, while recognizing the need for growth-inducing market exchange and the redistributing fairness of a regulatory state, inadvertently accepts the Polanyi argument that a third leg is needed – the reciprocity of cooperatives – if the dualism of “public-private” partnership is not to degenerate into fascism in its absence. This economic pluralism has been opposed by Nepal’s trading class who would prefer to see the hinterlands as their passive consumers; and in this they have the support of US Ambassador DeLisi. Not surprising, since his predecessors in the 1990s spent all their energies promoting Enronism in Nepal against local hydro developers. What is surprising, however, is Baburam’s finance minister Barshaman Pun caving in at the parliament’s public finance committee and promising to relegate cooperatives to a subsidiary role. Goodbye, economic justice and self-reliance: welcome, neo-colonial growth.