Thursday, March 15, 2007

New Nepal: Rhetoric versus reality

While the Terai is burning with the flames of sectarian violence, the government is busy hammering a power-sharing deal with the Maoists। The mistake of discrediting the Maoist insurgency as simply a law-and-order problem during the initial phase of insurgency is being repeated. The grievances of Madhesis are genuine and should be addressed before they are manipulated for political gains.

The dark side of the ongoing ethnic tension is that some politicians whose careers have been in the doldrums are attempting a fresh return by playing the ethnic card। The trend of armed rebellion set out by Prachanda and Baburam has been used as a blueprint by many whose political stature has been cut short, either due to the loss of public support or because of their clout within their own political parties. It has become a standard practice to follow an aggressive and violent means in the name of "social change" when the career of a politician reaches an absolute dead end.

Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai resorted to using guns when they perceived that their party was a "sinking ship।" After the Election Commission officially recognized Nirmal Lama's less radical faction as legitimate United People's Front in 1994, Prachanda and Baburam's hope of seizing the limelight in Nepali politics was prematurely aborted. They knew early on that they would be unable to establish themselves as prominent figures through parliamentary politics. They had to resort to violence because that was the best --- perhaps the last --- option in hand for them to realize there dreams. Upendra Yadav and Jay Prakash Gupta became staunch advocates of the plight of Madhesis after they lost clout to the United Marxist Leninist and the Nepali Congress.

In addition, the latest entrants to the bandwagon of opportunistic politics are former Maoists Jaykrishna Goit and Jwala Singh, head of The Terai Jantantrik Liberation Front (TJLF) and the self-proclaimed leader of the renegade faction of TJLF respectively, who lost their ethnic dominance within the CPN (Maoist) to another Madhesi leader, Matrika Yadav.
The idea of social change is a noble one। Society should change with changing geopolitical situations and modern innovations. That is how human beings are able to utilize their maximum potential. But in the case of Nepal, the idea of "social change" has been widely abused for political gains.

Prachanda and others in his party believe the CPN (Maoist) to be the most inclusive party। They claim to be the agents of social change. The latest example cited to prove this claim is the composition of Maoist parliamentarians in the interim parliament, comprising mostly Dalits, women, and Madhesis.

However, the question often left out in this debate is what powers these Maoist parliamentarians will have and will be allowed to exercise, if any। The Maoist parliamentarians will vote as a unified block based on the directives they receive from Prachanda and his upper caste followers in the central committee.

The Maoist parliamentarians are like birds whose wings have already been clipped before setting them free in the corridors of the parliament building. They cannot and will not be allowed to act according to their conscience. It is the central committee, which is heavily dominated by the upper castes, bahuns and chhetris, who devise future political strategies and set agendas. Thus, the bitter pill behind the Maoist propaganda of inclusive politics is that it is the upper castes in the CPN (Maoist) who are using the Dalits and women as their puppets and running the show themselves. True social change warrants for bringing Dalits, women, and other marginalized groups into the decision- making positions not using them as puppets.
The Maoists, who got 73 seats in the 330 member parliament because of smoking guns they possessed and brainwashed militiamen, seem to be in a mood to sit down and listen to the genuine grievances of the Madhesis, who have stepped into the Maoist shoes। Matrika Yadav, a Maoist ideologue and central committee member, while referring to Jaykrishna Goit, the leader of Terai Jantantrik Liberation Front (TJLF), noted "that everything cannot be achieved through violence". That is like the pot calling the kettle black.

One thing for sure is that the Maoists, whose hands are stained with the blood of innocent people, do not have the moral authority to preach nonviolence as a means for social change। It is they who set the precedence of violent politics and taught that the politics of intimidation and killing is the shortcut to power.

Brahmin and chhetris have held far too much clout and say in the governing of the nation since the existence of Nepal as a sovereign state। Madhesis, who account for approximately 40 percent of the population, have been largely marginalized and discriminated against for far too long. The current dissent, if not dealt with very carefully, may fuel recurrent communal conflicts and robust separatist movements.

Except for the rhetoric of need for an independent state, the demands put forward by the Madhesis for an inclusive political system are largely genuine and the need of the day। We do not need a separate state to guarantee the rights of Madhesis and other marginalized groups. Goit's TJLF and its renegade faction led by Jwala Singh are playing the separatist card to enhance their bargaining power.

However, the deepening fissure and polarization between Pahade and Madhise could precipitate a bigger crisis। The real challenge now is to wilt such polarization not by force or violence, but by legitimate sharing of the resources of the country, irrespective of the culture, race, or region of the people. The only way to prevent separatism is through the introduction of a federal structure for regional autonomy that would guarantee ethnic representation. The demand for equity and self-governance should not be viewed from an ethnic dimension. It is not about ethnicity, but equity and social justice.

In Nepal, where leaders prefer cruising with the popular opinion rather than sticking to the politically and socially correct agendas, safeguarding territorial and political integrity will be one of the biggest challenges। The political parties should not allow the Maoists to change the parameters of the relations between Nepal and India rooted in the concept of equidistance between India and China.

If the Maoists-influenced leaders try to show any tilt away from India, it is very much possible that India could instigate and support the Madhesis and thus could jeopardize the very integrity of Nepal।

Furthermore, we cannot ignore India's expertise in instigating separatist movements. If it were not for India's involvement, the Pakistani Army had enough teeth to foil the separatist movement that led to the establishment of Bangladesh. Thus, until we are able to inculcate the feeling of nationalism and a sense of belonging in the Madhesis via the introduction of federal structure, the looming danger of instigation of separatist movements fueled by India stays put. The only way to annul that danger is through the introduction of federal structure.
The biggest danger to peace and democracy is not from the Madhesis. The Maoist commitment to democracy is highly questionable. Prachanda's recent interview to British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) conveys a loud and clear message about the Maoist-long term plans. He has clearly said that the Maoists will not settle for anything less than a proletarian communist state. The writing is on the wall, if only the so-called intellectuals and punditry of Nepal could read it.

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