The Big Questions – why this Mughlani blockade? why has the “world’s best constitution (2nd edition)” not solved anything but instead has brought about the current mess? why is Nepal’s political class so incompetent and reprehensible? – still have no definite answers. But the broad contours of the rhyme and reason behind them are beginning to emerge from the fog of propaganda and verbose rhetoric. And it is not a pretty picture.
Two different seminars with many nationally eminent folks a few weeks apart happened this past month which provide some insights. Just after Christmas, Nepal Law Society held a “constitutional and political dialogue to resolve the present conflict”. Apparently it was the seventh consultation and the conclusion was that the provisions of citizenship, inclusiveness, electoral process and constituencies were all flawed and needed drastic amendments. The embarrassing atmosphere that prevailed in the room was heavy with the unarticulated question: werenot Your Eminencesin the CA supposed to have done all that as part of your ToR in the last seven years before promulgating such a flawed constitution?!! And in the rancorous verbal slugfest that followed, no one bothered to even recall that we were gathered to address constitutional amendments proposed by the Law Society, proving that one cannot solve substantive political issues through procedural and legal means.
Former Speaker Subash Nemwang set the apologetic tone saying there is no alternative to accepting the promulgated constitution warts and all. Since all politicians from CA1 to CA2 are all equally polluted, there is no point trying to hold a holier-than-thou attitude but instead all must proceed with nebulous dialogues and amendments. Ex-Kangress Madheshi leader Mahanta Thakur immediately counter-attacked by bluntly stating that not only was the CA process flawed but that this constitution itself was born dead. Arguing for an absolute communal line that Tarai and Hills were different in both nature and people, he said the attempt to create a New Nepal has ended in a fiasco.
Cash Maoist Narayan Kazi Shrestha lamented that so many months into this crisis, no atmosphere had been created for meaningful dialogue; and Kangressi Shekhar Koirala narrated a litany of contradictions in the behavior of political parties that suspected the loyalty of Madheshisonly but not that of the northern denizens of Tibetan origins. It was UML’s ex-PM Madhav Nepal who belatedly remembered his party’s erstwhile philosophy of class and not caste, enough tocome out with rhetorical guns blazing against the Madheshi participants. He remembered eminent Madhesissuch as Bhagwati Prasad Singh promoted to highest offices by (incidentally Panchayati) Pahadiyas. He also argued that Madheshis were exploited by Madheshi landlords and not Pahadiyas, that his party’s proposed VDC chief a Dalit, was murdered by them. The room just exploded with verbal diarrhea after that.
Last Monday, Nepal Britain Society held a discussion program led by former finance minister Madhukar Sumshere Rana on why Nepal should join the Commonwealth of Nations. Held to also celebrate the bi-centenary of Nepal-Britain diplomatic relations (and thus of the Sugauli Treaty), it was an attempt to cheekily re-think why Nepal slid back with Loktantrato Mughlani bullying and micro-management since the days when King Mahendra had restored Nepal’s neutrality and sovereign self-respect in the comity of nations. Given that Rwanda, never a British colony, had joined this body, would it not enhance Nepal’s diplomatic footprint, to say nothing of enhanced cooperation in Commonwealth Games as well as in soft power areas of education, culture and human rights?
Many of the participants, while agreeing on the need for Nepal to be on the diplomatic offensive, did not share that feeling of warmth towards Britain, mainly because it still holds Col. Kumar Lama hostage;has sided with Modi in issuing a joint communique against Nepal’s new constitution;refuses to speak out against the Mughlani blockadeeven though it has caused far more economic damage than did the April earthquake; its past ambassador has expressed anti-Hindu secularist and republican advice for Nepal even as its own Queen remains the head of its church; and in the last decade of Mughlani-inspired regime change in Nepal has actively pursued a communal agenda pitting one Nepali ethnicity against another under the guise of funding inclusiveness and thus covertly supported the Mughlanis.The sour views reminded one of the feelings expressedto Annapurna Post on the Modi-Cameroon joint communique in November by Nepal’s living Victoria Cross winner Ram Bahadur Begha, Gurkha soldier who fought in the jungles of Malaya: “UK has devalued the blood we spilled for them!”
What struck this listener about the discussions was not only how bad Nepal’s current Loktantrick diplomacy was. It was more the disappointment that EuroAmericans had outsourced their South Asia policy (and even issuing visas despite having full-fledged embassies in Kathmandu) to the Mughlanis. The question that many had was whether Nepal was not better off instead pushing its luck with the China-initiated Shanghai Cooperation Organization where Nepal is already a Dialogue Partner or, given the large number of Russian-trained doctors and engineers in this country, the Eurasian Economic Union.
These questions are being asked against the backdrop of the horrific aftermath of the 2005 regime change with active Mughlani tutelage. Lest it be forgotten, India is the successor state of the British Raj sharing much of the common political ethos. It also needs reminding that, although the December 1815 Sugauli Treaty put an end to the hostilities of the Anglo-Nepal wars, Britain and India continue in practice to think that they are each other’s extensions as far as the South Asian neighbourhood is concerned. Given how India has lost the goodwill of a couple of generations of upcoming younger Nepalis, Nepal’s search for friends perforce might have to swing to the eastern side of Eurasia.
The other backdrop is that, although the Constituent Assembly and a constitution made by it were supposed to usher in New Nepal’s Golden Age, the result has been the exact opposite dead-end. Also last week, despite Loktantrick resistance, the nation spontaneously celebrated Prithvi Narayan Shah’s birthday as Unity Day. If Prithvi Narayan’s history and contribution is to be denied as perthe communist penchant for Brother Number One and Year Zero, it would also rob the historical imperative for Nepal’s unity and the land would have to revert back to the four dozen odd Baise-Chaubiseprincipalities. Voluntary federalism might (or might not) then follow if they so wished. Unfortunately, nation-building certainly is not as simple as erasing the blackboard and starting anew.
Emerging vaguely from all this fog and din are the outlines of the answers to the Big Questions mentioned at the start, and its primary features can be summarized as follows. There is a tussle going on between India and Bharat, the former entrenched in place since Curzon and Nehru down to Manmohan Singh and the latter emerging since Modi from much deeper innards going all the way back to Kannauj of Vikramaditya and even further. While Bharat may want to see one Akhandcivilizational entity from Afghanistan to Burma, India on the other hand has perfected, so they thought, the art of coercive diplomacy: Bhutan collapsed and a regime change was effected there with just five days of fuel blockade. Since Loktantrick Nepal does not have politicians with vision or understanding but only careerist party apparatchiks used to taking instructions from spooks and Babus, they were totally unable to understand the mixed messages coming from Bharat but delivered by India.
And Modi too made the double mistake of sending his political message firstthrough India’s Jaishanker instead of an emissaryof more Bharatiya persuasion (leaving the primary Nepali recipients with the impression that Indian policy continues, not a new Bharatiyaneighbourhood one). He then also assumed that atheist acolytes of Marx and Mao (or those like the Kangress ideologically long subservient to them since the 12-point Delhi Deal) would readilyunderstand his advice. If he had problems with the word ‘secularism’ and could not bring back a Hindu state, he and his support base would have been happy with just ‘religious freedom’, which is part of the Hindu-Buddhist tradition anywayunlike with the Abrahamics such as Saudi Arabia and the American Tea Party. If he wished to see the logical culmination of India-initiated regime change, it was necessary that all Nepali stakeholders(including not just the India-backed ethnic forces but also the traditionalists) buy into the new constitution. Unfortunately, since themessage, the messenger and the recipients were reflecting very different wavelengths, the implication the Loktantricksterssurmised– and panicked – was that the King is coming back on a train driven by Modi. Hence they ramrodded through in hot haste aflawed and un-implementable constitution just to be to be able to claim that “republicanism has now been institutionalized”. The rest, as they say, is history and the mess that just compounds and refuses to go away.