Democratizing Corruption

A few weeks back in Jawlakhel, a confab of former generals, senior officials and ministers who had served under the monarchy asked the same question; and a veteran who had dealt with the 1989 blockade concluded most sagaciously for all of us, almost

Dec. 12, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol:09, No 11, December 11, 2015 (Mangsir 25, 2071

With the Mughlani blockade now well into the third month, with it having slowed down life to the idyllic pre-modern romantic minimum, and with still no clear answer why they did what they have done despite the debate in their RajyaSabha, it is worth indulging in some philosophising over it. Most Nepalis are doing so anyway in their cold homes and hearths and in post-earthquake tarpaulin tents. Even seven year olds unable to go to school and helpless in convince mummy to cook her favourite food because there is no gas in the kitchen are asking: why is India our enemy? How future Indian diplomats will overcome that deep and widespread distrust which they have been responsible for creating will be worth watching.

It is obvious by now thatthe reasons are not merelyModi’sHindutwa or Bihar elections, at least not significantly but maybe in synergy with many other ‘unknown unknowns’. And if we think only Nepalis are confused, it seems even Indians at the higher echelons are just as confused. Writing in the Indian Express the former finance minister P. Chidambaram asks: “With a seasoned politician as External Affairs Minister, a highly skilled and experienced diplomat as Foreign Secretary and an astute security expert as NSA, how did India commit grave tactical mistakes in dealing with Nepal?” While good enough for well-deserved Modi-bashing, this question begs the further question: had he been in power, given what his Congress (I) and Rajiv Gandhi did in 1989 and what Manmohan Singh too did in 2005 by blockading arms to the Nepal Army fighting the Maoists, would he probably not have done the same thing under similar South Block advice? The rot, as they say, goes much deeper than Modi or the BJP.

A few weeks back in Jawlakhel, a confab of former generals, senior officials and ministers who had served under the monarchy asked the same question; and a veteran who had dealt with the 1989 blockade concluded most sagaciously for all of us, almost echoing the famous Wittgenstein statement: what India really wants, it can never openly say! Indeed, as Steven Lukes has argued: power is best exercised invisibly. Unfortunately for the Mughlani master minds of this 2015 blockade, the lack of cooking gas in homes and hotels, medicine in hospitals, closed schools and long queues of stranded trucks on the Indian side of the border are anything but invisible. This article is being written in Kalimpong where BharatiyaNepalis are just as perplexed, ashamed and angry. Travelling in East Nepal to Kakadbhitta one did not see a single Madheshi activist and no signs of any insecurity that – so goes the Mughlani excuse – prevents the trucks from entering Nepal. Across the border, on the road to Siliguri, the queue of stranded trucks and containers extended some twelve kilometres.

Given that taxi drivers who hear opinions from all over discussed in their backseats are the best key informants, we asked ours what is going on. He said both sides of the border are now ruled by smugglers and black-marketers who have become millionaires in these last few months. While previously the prime smuggling item used to be betel nuts, it is now fuel with profit margins of up to fifty rupees per litre even after bribing Indian customs officials and the border security forces (SSB). Kathmandu newspapers had reported that the SSB was charging bribes of ten thousand rupees per truck they eventually let through; but our key informant was adamant that the going rate was between thirty to fifty thousand, depending upon the consignment and the urgency felt by the client. It was much cheaper, he said, than paying demurrage charges and weeks of per diem for stranded truck drivers.

This organized official bonanza is rent seeking, one might say, in the best of continuing East India Company traditions that would have made Clive and Warren Hastings proud. It is not for nothing that one hears it being said that a posting to the Nepal border or the embassy in Lainchaur for a couple of years is enough to assure sufficient dowry to get not one but three daughters happily married off! Now extrapolate the Kakadbhitta case through Jogbani and Rupaidia all the way to Tanakpur and you can see that Mughlani-inspired corruption has become one of industrial scale. It is sure to have significant implications in the future for everything from funding of politicians and their elections as well as cross-border terrorism. (To understand the pressures of the political economy, one may also remember that the damage to the formal Nepali economy by this Indian blockade has been calculated to be orders of magnitude higher than that by the April 2015 Big Earthquake, and thus akin to war crime damages from indiscriminate bombing.)

A wise Sufi story concludes that for every egg the Sultan appropriates unjustly, his troops will put a thousand fowls to the spit. In analysing corruption, one has to distinguish between petty thieving and grand larceny. The former implies deviance that a sound core can still bring under control: in the latter case, the core itself is rotten and wholly unable to correct the deviance of underlings necessitating its sweeping away by external outburst of anger from an otherwise docile and dormant fatalistic public. One also needs to go back to the etymology of South Asian words to understand the difference between surface mould one can clean and the debilitating sickness in one who would otherwise do the cleaning. Corruption is bhashtachaar formed from two words: bhrasta (depraved) and achaar (conduct or proper dharma). The activity to limit corruption is called bhrastachaarniyantran (regulation) not its nivaran or nirmulikaran (eradication). So when the Indian SSB recently entered Nepali territory and shot Nepalis (sadly all MadheshiYadavs, and the silence of the Madheshi parties was embarrassing to watch), they were indulging in not corruption eradication but its regulation under their patronage. The crime in their eyes was not in smuggling but in those poor Yadavs daring to do that without paying SSB their due rent for permitting border crossing with a few jerry cans of kerosene.

The Mughlani Sultans in Delhi, ever since 2002 and more blatantly since 2005, have unjustly wanted something from Nepal which they cannot say publicly. To that end, they sheltered and patronized the Maoist leadership in their capital even educating their children while declaring them terrorists; and they corrupted Nepal’s parliamentary partiesand its then voluble but currently silent civil society by getting them to sign and sing hosannas to the 12-point Delhi Deal with the Maoists opposed to parliamentary (in their words) “butcher’s shop that displays goat’s head and sells dog’s meat”. All this to get rid of a Hindu Monarchy that they believed stood in the way of their getting what they cannot speak about. The architectural triumvirate of the subsequent regime change in Nepal consisted of foreign secretary ShyamSharan, ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee and then Nepal desk officer at the South Block (and current ambassador) Ranjit Rae. So powerful were they that they could veto any understanding reached by the King with special envoy Maharaja Karan Singh; and so powerful are they currently that even Modi had to bow to their will and send not a political emissary from the BJP but a senior BabuJayshankar of the same shade as the triumvirate with the same kind of obscenely un-political message. With envoys like that, any good intention on ModiBhai’s part was bound to be sabotaged and backfire.

The second of the triumvirate, Bengali Brahmin Mukherjee has just written a piece berating Kathmandu’s so-called elite KhasAryas for discriminating against Madhesh (when there is nothing in the current highly contradictory and un-implementable constitution that gives a Pahadiya anything it does not give a Madheshi) and countering Chidambaram by arguing that India should ignore all criticisms and pile more pressure on Nepal. While his ire and angst at the unravelling of his 12-point Delhi Deal is understandable, what is difficult to comprehend is how Mughlani politicians across the party spectrum fail to see the root cause of the rot in the underlying security paranoia of the Babudom and its bhrastikaran of Nepal-India, indeed SAARC relations. The corruption also lies in India’s active promotion of communalism in Nepal, with serious future consequences for Mughlan too.

The corollary corruption of Nepali polity stemming from the 12-point Delhi Deal is massive and unfolding. India and Modi, it is widely believed are angry and feel that the current crop of Nepali politicians and civil society it funded and promoted since 2005 to topple the monarchy have betrayed India’s faith in them. They might as well remember their own history of their Mir Jaffars and Jai Chands. Why would those who would betray their own King and their own “world’s best 1990 constitution” they themselves wrote not betray their new masters at the drop of a hat? There are several instructive and unfolding indicators that deserve close watching. The first is the action underway by the ombudsman anti-corruption CIAA against selective politicians, civil servants and business folks who have spoken out against the Indian blockade or not done Lainchaur’s bidding (with the exception of the chief’s relative and Nepal Oil Corporation boss and a few others). The other is the less-than-successful attempt to open up oil supplies from China which believes in state-to-state relations and (having burnt their fingers doing the Indian thing with fifty million for Comrade Mahara some five years ago) are suspicious of dodgy proposals to give oil distribution contract to families of the Maoist supremos and their storm troopers. But these are unfolding bhrastachaar dramas that are too early for comment and must wait for future columns.

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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