Of the three imported and imposed framings of a New Nepal – federalism, secularism and republicanism – the first led to the collapse of CA1 and continues to tie CA2 into an unsolvable Gordian Knot. The second too has come under serious challenge in recent months, adding to the fears that CA2 will also dissipate like a foggy miasma, leaving only negative rancor andno positive result in its wake as did its previous avatar. The opposition to doing away with Nepal’s Hindu identity was previously confined to the RPP-N but has now migrated into the center stage of Nepali politics with a significant section of the Nepali Kangress beginning to question its legality and wisdom.
Those upset with the desecration of Nepal’s Hindu identity were not just a majority of Nepalis (surveys over the last decade show consistently that support for retaining ‘Hindu state’ has been about sixty percent nation-wide), but also many Indians. I still remember my first meeting with India’s former water minister Suresh Prabhu at a World Bank-sponsored dialogue in Abu Dhabi (shortly after the first CA1 session that sleepwalked into this mess) when he angrily asked me in Hindi: “It is OK for you guys to bring all these changes that you have, but what was the need to remove Nepal’s position as the world’s only Hindu state?” When reminded that it was his own Sonia-Manmohan-Yechuri combo that did it (aided and abetted by Abrahamic proselytizers) he was both speechless and seething.
Now that the unravelling of the 2005 architectural plan based on the 12-point Delhi Deal is accelerating fast – partly because the very socio-political foundation was fake and partly because ‘Delhi’ has changed and now sees how the above Deal and its “deconstructing Nepal policy” really damaged its strategic interests vis-à-vis the China – it behooves all of us to admit inconvenient truths and reflect on what we might have missed as we continue failing to institutionalize a “Westminster-on-the-Bagmati” over the last three of six decades. While the indigenous attempt at finding a Nepali model of governance, the Panchayat, lasted three decades, the attempt to Westminister-ize Nepal has failed thrice (between 1951 to 1960; 1990 to 2002; and 2005 to 2012) and shows every sign of failing again with the repeat show since 2013. This stepping back a little is necessary to gain some historical perspective, to understand what underlying forces were at play, and to help us make judgments about the course of action to follow.
In his incisive essay titled “The Use and Abuse of History”, Friedrich Nietzsche argues that we need history for life and action because, like a chain that runs with us, we cannot forget our past no matter how far or fast we run. He distinguishes three types of history – monumental, antiquarian and critical. The first type is needed for the hero aiming to do great things but who cannot find examples among his contemporaries and seeks teachers and comfort among great impulses, often mythical, from the past. Antiquarian history is needed for the conservative to justify his existence with love and trust of his origins. The third critical way is to “have the strength to break up the past and apply it too, in order to live … to bring the past to the bar of judgment, interrogate it remorselessly, and finally condemn it. Every past is worth condemning … it is not justice that sits in judgment here nor mercy but only life itself… Its sentence is always unmerciful, always unjust … [and] it would generally turn out to be the same if Justice herself delivered it.”
In that Nietzscheian sense, politics is about power which is best exercised invisibly. A successful politician is said to be one who gets his followers and the masses to do what he wants but is able to make them think it is instead they who are telling this humble servant of the people what to do. If we look at the last six decades of Nepal’s democratic interregnum, what various leaders did is more or less obvious: what is less so is why they did make the decisions they did. Each leader from across the political spectrum makes tall and altruistic claims, and those of some such as the Koirala brothers or Pushpa Lal from the left end of the political spectrum have acquired hegemonic status. Are they really the iconic saints that their followers make them out to be? What compulsions, both personal and contextual, drove them to their decisions that still affect all of us today?
Fortunately, memoirs and books have begun to appear that bring to light views and perspectives of other political players as well. Few though they may be, they help us de-reify Our Great Leaders and may help us in institutionalizing an order that will allow us (and the generations succeeding us) to realize ourown dreams, and not to waste time trying to achieve the dreams of BP, Pushpa Lal et al only. Memoirs of Matrika Koirala, writings of Rishikesh Shah, Arvind Rimal, Mukunda Regmi, and a host of others give alternative glimpses of political reality that party-line glorifications of the Great Leader conveniently filter out. Yes, these writings too are partial truths, many of them embarrassingly hagiographic; but like the proverbial blind men and the elephant, they have the merit of at least having touched the elephant. Reading them between the lines, deconstructing their sayings and comparing them with different views of other hagiographers would allow us to make better sense of our history, see the mistakes of the past to help us avoid them in the future, and understand the complexities that make Nepali polity unique and impossible to re-frame by “democracy projects” of international friends.
The latest in the series is a biography of politician BishwaBandhu Thapa by economist and refugee/migrants expert Binod Sijapati. Bishwa Bandhu’s political career clearly spans over six and a half decades since the revolt against the Ranas and has seen pendulum swings from Kangress to Panchayat to Kangress and out again. Writer Sijapati, self-avowed Kangress-inclined from student days, began this exploration to try and understand why BishwaBandhu, a relative of his and otherwise a decent man of integrity in public life, ditched BP Koirala and became part of a band of Kangressis who sided with King Mahendra and helped lay the foundations of the Panchayat. The book ends up becoming more a study of the qualms and conundrums of Sijapati as he wrestles with his contradictory understandings of a political personality and the swings of history. The answer why BishwaBandhu switched away from Kangress was better given by BishwaBandu himself at the launch of the book: why only he or the likes of Surya Prasad Upadhyay or Tulsi Giri he asked – even Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Ganesh Man Singh had to leave the Kangress precisely for the reasons he did!
My in-between-the-lines reading is that, perhaps the answer can be found if one reflected on the picture in page 71 of the book. It shows the first cabinet of King Mahendra in December 1960 which has Aniruddha Prasad Singh, Rishikesh Shah, Tulsi Giri, BishwaBandhu Thapa and Surya Bahadur Thapa. The assistant ministers (not in the picture) were Nageshwar Prasad Singh, Bhuwanlal Pradhan, KazimanKangdangwa and Khagendra Jung Gurung. What is significant is that the ministers are all Chhetris and the assistant ministers are what today are called Janjati, Newar and Madheshi – and no scheming Bahuns anywhere in sight! Most of the Bahun leaders of Kangress and Communist parties were then the guests of the King in detention lockups.
Chhetris were the backbone of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s army in the campaign to unify Nepal. They are not only the largest ethnic group and ubiquitous across Nepal – almost one in every six Nepali and in every district – they also occupy a unique place as glue in the country’s ethnic spectrum. Even if Nepal achieved zero population growth, Chhetris are bound to grow because of their inherent inclusiveness. They marry Janjatis and call the offspringsChhetris, whereas Bahuns relegate their mixed-marriage offsprings to the Chhetri caste. It was primarily the revolt of the ChhetriSamaj and Chitra Bahadur KC of the Jana Morcha that ended the prospects of CA1 passing a ethnicity-based federal constitution; and it is the revolt of Chhetri leaders such as Kamal Thapa, Khum Bahadur Khadga, Pashupati Sumsherethat has called for restoring Nepal’s Hindu identity. In the big three parties, the battle against dominant Bahun oligarchy is led by Chhetris, from Sher Bahadur in the Kangress to Netra Bickram Chand of the Dash Maoists. Is there an important message here that the stale mainstream discourse is missing as it navigates the foggy waters of Loktantra?