As Political Uncertainty Looms Ominously…

The problem with secularism is not just that it is a product of European socio-political history with Popism: its "church as state" antiquity does not find resonance in Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism.

Oct. 6, 2021, 9:41 a.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 15, No. 06, Oct. 08, 2021 (Ashoj 22, 2078) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

The impending Dussain festivities mark the end of one "political year" (akin to the fiscal calendar year from mid-July to mid-July) and the beginning of another. Government offices begin shuttering down and Kathmandu sees a massive exodus of civil servants and employees of schools and businesses. Friends and relatives from far and near gather in home villages and – between gastronomic orgies – engage in sharing information and views that shape their political views and charge the politics of months following Tihar.

If governments and political parties manage to put out positive messages just before Dussain, they can expect those positive vibes to dominate Dussain conversations, reaping them windfall political benefits. Conversely, if they even unwittingly send out negative impression, undoing the damage later is near impossible even with all the modern propaganda machinery at their command. This Dussain, it is politically negative take-aways galore that Nepalis are carrying back home with them, not just of the political parties but also this Loktantrick dispensation.

Topping the list is the message that so-called mainstream communist parties – the UML or Prachanda's Noida Maoists – are unfit to rule. They were given a clear, overwhelming two-thirds majority mandate by the Nepali voters but, unable to manage their internal politics and petty (quite frankly pecuniary) ambitions, they frittered it away irredeemably in three years. Even as Leninists the world over collapsed some three decades ago, intellectually backward Nepal saw their rise to prominence during this period – aided and abetted by failed Euro-American Lefties and their NGOs unable to prevent rightwing rise in their own Trumpistan, Boristan or the rest of Europe but quite happy to assuage their consciences by promoting revolutions in the Global South. Now the message Nepalis are finally taking back home is that, sweet rhetoric aside, commies can't be trusted.

Deuba's Nepali Kangress should have been able to reap a political windfall out of this communist disarray, but on the contrary they fare perhaps even worse. Rather than opting for fresh elections when they should have campaigned among the voters highlighting communist failures, they instead opted for short term power in a coalition government where Prachanda's Noida Maoists call the shots. This leaves Deuba and the Kangress to bear all the blame of incumbency every passing day. When firing him in 2002, King Gyanendra had called Deuba "incompetent": it is now widely accepted that Deuba indeed is grossly incompetent.

He and his coalition partners have been unable to even form a government these last three months, and the people he has appointed do not inspire any hope. News also has just surfaced that the chief justice of this highly politicized judiciary – one that blatantly took part in bringing down Oli and specifying the appointment of Deuba – has extracted his pound of flesh to have his nominee appointed in Deuba's cabinet!

Moreover, although Deuba, Prachanda and the breakaway Madhav faction of the UML as well as the Madhesi parties blamed Oli for overstepping constitutional norms and bounds, they themselves have proven even worse. Their ordinance scandal – passing one outside of parliament and the constitution to help Madhav Nepal and Mahanta Thakur break away from their parent parties but rescinding it when it was going to boomerang on the breakaway factions – proved that Kangressis are no democrats!

On top of it, passing an ordinance budget that promotes whitewashing of black money (or in the case of Noida Maoists, loot from banks and embezzled "peace process") has tarred them with a terrible stain of corruption. This attempt at legalizing illegal gains was done even as Pandora Papers have implicated rich Nepalis. It has simultaneously allowed Oli and his UML to wash away their egregious scandals and financial shenanigans even as local elections approach in early spring.

While their duplicitous handling of the American MCC has eroded the credibility of all major Loktantrick parties and Nepal's diplomacy with it, it is their juvenile handling of the country's ambassadorship that has damaged this dispensation overall as well. The Deuba-Prachanda government recalled ambassadors from twelve countries (including countries such as US, UK, India, China and Japan that Nepal has very close relations with) and rescinded the appointment made for eleven other countries.

Nepal thus has no ambassador in 23 of the 33 countries it has missions in, and given that it does not even have a full-fledged cabinet nor an undisrupted parliament, it is not clear when it will have them in place. Moreover, even if appointed in the coming months, how long would they be able to serve, given that elections to a new parliament are due in a year's time if not earlier?

Besides the loss to state coffers in transferring and establishing families across continents and then transferring them back, this move has grievously damaged the Loktantrick parliament and its credibility. It must be remembered that the current rulers introduced the provision of parliamentary hearings for diplomatic appointments. It has not only turned into a show of "all form and no substance" but has damaged the credibility of both the parliament and the ruling party. Afterall, these appointments underwent parliamentary hearings where ALL the parties (then or now in power) had unanimously approved them. Now for the ruling parties to withdraw the ambassadors under the pretext that these were political appointments is to demean parliamentary hearing as well as their vote (and credibility) therein! Loktantra thus hammers nails in its own coffin.

This increasing loss of Loktantra's credibility is calling into question as well its supposed "major gains", i.e., republicanism, federalism and secularism. Federalism at the province level is not just not functioning at all but has become a haven of corruption as the bicycle purchase scandal in Province 2 indicates. The rows in Bagmati, Gandaki, Mechi and Lumbini Provinces prove, if proof was needed at all, that this layer of governance is redundant and merely serves to give jobs to political cadres at taxpayers' expense.

There is also growing realization at the mass level that the monarchy was sidelined by these incompetent and corrupt party neo-feudals at the behest of foreign powers. The attack on all symbols of national unity as well as distortion and misinterpretation of Nepal's history and traditions through externally funded campaigns have become blatantly obvious and highly irritating. It is beginning to invite a nationalist backlash, and post-Dussain one can expect even more intense counter campaigns.

Among these imported ideologies, it is secularism that has faced the most scrutiny and now growing opposition, interestingly within the Kangress as well as the Oli faction of the UML. During the last Kangress party convention – and it has been grossly incompetent in holding the long overdue current one – more than half the delegates moved to bring back Nepal's Hindu identity but were ignored. Now it seems not anymore.

And if there is one damaging charge by the Oli-ites against the Madhav Nepal faction of the UML, it is that Madhav is a Holy Wineist, a reference to his role in the Evangelical Korean proselytization program as well as his promoting another evangelical pastor as his primary henchman within his UML (Socialist). Interestingly, this charge conveniently ignores the fact that Oli as prime minister spent three days in Soaltee Hotel attending that Holy Wine conference, although he and Bidya Bhandari have subsequently made efforts to recant by offering golden jalahari to Pashupati Nath and setting up Ram Mandir in Thori.

The problem with secularism is not just that it is a product of European socio-political history with Popism: its "church as state" antiquity does not find resonance in Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Nor does the Abrahamic injunctions of "One True God" or the command to proselytize find much resonance in non-Abrahamic religions. To quote Vivekananda, Hindus do not believe in tolerance since it is so patronizing: they believe in acceptance of all religions as true for their time and place, hence without the need for conversion. As Nepalis realize the inherent insult in that concept sneakily inserted into the 2015 constitution, a growing backlash is emerging. That alienness in the concept is manifest even in its translation as "dharma nirapekshyata", with dharma being wrongly translated at "religion" instead of "ethical right conduct" as per one's stage in life, a householder, a sannyasi, a student and so on.

In that sense, Hinduism is a supermarket of religions and it took Atal Behari Vajpayee to point out that the word should have been translated (and implemented) as "panth nirapekshyata" (or path neutrality). The same is true of another imported concept where patriarchy is translated as "pitrisatta" (which means rule by the ghosts of departed ancestors) instead of translating it as "purush-satta" (or male-rule). One thus can expect a more robust discussion on this and other failed themes of Loktantra within thousands of households in Nepal this Dussain; and its impact on the coming political year's agenda can be expected to be anything but calm.

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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