I spent all of last week in Delhi as honorary Mekong citizen helping bring together for the first time ever colleagues of the Mekong and the Ganga to discuss experiences in water management and regional cooperation. It also became a good opportunity for me to meet old friends and India’s leading cognoscenti – academics, former diplomats, bureaucrats, journalists and politicians – on the side to discuss Nepal and its current travails. I conclude that, barring a few arrogant exceptions, there still remains tremendous goodwill in India for Nepal. However, most are quite ignorant of what is really happening in Nepal, those who do know something are confused, while those who follow events here really closely are quite disappointed that Loktantra has come to such a sorry pass and its politicians have turned out to be such a vile lot. Strangely, most Indians, even the modernists, privately say (much more than Nepalis generally) that Nepal should not have been declared secular and should have preserved its identity as the world’s only Hindu country. They get quite upset when reminded that it was their own “Yechuri Path” imposed on Nepal that has brought about the current instability and more to come in the days ahead.
Their composite questions and my equally composite answers were as follows.
Q: Everything is fine in Nepal now, no?
DG: Quite the contrary, politically everything is in a total mess. Previously it might have been called a “royal mess”; now it should be called a “loktantrick mess”.
Q: We never knew this. Why have Indian papers and the media not reported this?
DG: Because, for a democracy, Indian media’s due diligence on the neighbourhood is extraordinarily self-centered, lazy and lies in practicing what we call “handout journalism”, i.e. reproducing press briefings instead of attempting to go behind the stories to inform the Indian public as well as politicians. Also with its corporatization since the 1990s, its owners know on which side their bread is buttered and hence toe the official line much better than even bureaucrats. In contrast to their silence on literally burning issues today that would eventually impact India too, when the king was being demonized in 2005, stories of even obscure ‘royal relatives’ not paying their electricity bills were emblazoned across their pages.
Q: But has not Baburam recently formed a consensus government?
DG: That myth is the media’s cruel joke. The UML has stayed out as have several Madhisey factions. The powerful Vaidya faction of the Maoists is out on a warpath against Baburam and the Deuba and KB Gurung faction of the Kangress too are seething against the Sushil Koirala establishment for giving up the BP Koirala line and kow-towing to disreputable foreign agency implants. This government is not even complete, is full of discredited faces, and if times were normal would lose a vote of confidence in the parliament.
Q: Will they produce a constitution by May 28?
DG: Not a snowball’s chance in hell. They may produce a sheaf of papers that may facetiously be called a ‘constitution’ (which five law students can produce in a week); but that will be done by violating the procedures and provisions of the interim constitution regarding public consultations and without coming to an agreement on its basic framework. It won’t be a “peoples’ constitution” or even a workable one. Since it will be burned immediately in the streets and within the house as well, there is talk of imposing an emergency to promulgate it. Some democracy that will be!
Q: Why? We hear Nepali leaders coming to Delhi saying it will be produced and promulgated at all costs (“jaise bhi”) by the deadline.
DG: Nothing should or can be done “jaise bhi”: it should be done right, that is ”theek se”. The big parties in the CA cannot agree on the basics of the political framework of tomorrow’s Nepal because they hold very divergent political philosophies. Because the regime change of 2006 was externally inspired, talks of ethnic federalism, secularism, republicanism, forms of governance and the electoral system etc. have all turned out to be poorly thought through adventurism with little connection to Nepali needs or ground realities.
Q: But did not the Nepali people vote these parties to power in April 2008?
DG: Yes, in a manner of speaking, but how? The Maoists still had the guns; they and the Kangress-UML combine did not even allow former prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa to go to his constituency, to say nothing of other politicians holding different views; those elections were instead fought for “sadak, bijuli and pani”; the party manifestos never spoke of republicanism, secularism or federalism; the motion to declare Nepal a federal, secular republic was tabled by a home minister who was not even a member of the house; and no debate was allowed in parliament on this motion before the voting! The Supreme Soviet was probably as democratic a rubber stamp as this Constituent Assembly! And to top it all, their elected mandate of two years ran out in April 2010. The current of MPs are but mere illegitimate squatters.
Q: Is all this because China is very active in Nepal these days?
DG: Hardly! The Chinese ambassador has been absent from his post and on holidays in China for the last month: the Indian ambassador is sitting in the prime minister’s residence and summoning other party leaders for discussions with Baburam, reminding Nepalis of the terrible years of the 1950s under Matrika Koirala. In reality, the Indians are over-active while the Chinese are merely reactive: it is Indian political and diplomatic blunders that seem to be assuring the Chinese their lottery wins in Nepal.
Q: How can you say that? Look, Chinese projects such as West Seti are pushed forward while Indian ones are languishing in limbo. Is it not due to anti-Indianism in Nepal?
DG: You conveniently forget a fundamental difference. The previous version of West Seti as well as those such as Karnali and Arun-3 acquired by Indian companies following the Mughlani-inspired regime change in Nepal (and counter-inspiring continuing protests and litigation here) was meant for export to India even as Nepal reels under eighteen hours of power cuts a day. In Nepal we call that a “neo-colonial mode of development”, a continuation of the Mughlani British Raj policies. In contrast, the new version of West Seti to be developed by China’s Three Gorges is meant for ameliorating Nepal’s power shortage. If you were a Nepali electricity consumer reeling under severe power cuts, seeing all of this, would you be pro-Indian or pro-Chinese?
Q: Still, we sense anti-Indian sentiments being quite rife in Nepal. Why?
DG: The very expression “anti-Indianism” is a bit of an intellectual cop-out. If being pro-Nepal or pro-Bangladesh makes one automatically anti-Indian, it really behooves my dear Indian friends to introspect and reflect over what “Indianism” really means that seems to make the neighbourhood so “anti”. None of India’s neighbours I know really have any bad feelings about Bollywood, Gandhi the Mahatma, Tagore or even India’s double-digit growth. This means that the time has come for Mughlani Babudom as well as Indian well-wishers of Nepal to reflect on why sentiments against India are so high now after Loktantra and never quite that bad when there was monarchy in Nepal.
Q: Will the king come back?
DG: If you were Gyanendra, would you want to come back and handle the mess which is many times worse now than when he left? When he tried, OK in his own ham-handed way, to get a parliament elected after it had been prematurely dissolved by party infighting and to bring the Maoist insurgency (sheltering in Noida, let us not forget!) to heel, you chose to strangle the Nepal army and support the Maoists with the feckless party leaders in tow. They are still feckless, corrupt, incompetent, without a democratic atom in all their bodies, and have made a mess of Nepal’s administration; but they rule roost now. I am one who believes that Nepal’s head-of-state has to be above partisan politics and should not be brought under competitive electoral politics. Hence the need for a constitutional monarchy symbolizing the tradition of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s “flower garden nationalism” versus the ethno-Stalinist model unleashed by the Maoists today. However, if I were assigned the task of convincing Gyanendra to come back and take over, I don’t think I would succeed.