Monday, March 26, 2007

Moving Beyond Sectarianism

As Nepal is trying to recover from the hemorrhages of a decade-long insurgency, it is taking fresh hits from another set of dream merchants - secessionists - Jay Krishna Goit and Jwala Singh and Messiahs of ethnic cause। However, the sad part is that they do it even when the country is bleeding and society is trying to come together after years of violence, mistrust, and blame games.

The country is being treated like old, poor, and helpless parents that do not have anything to pass along to their children। Like children who abandon poor and ailing parents that are unable to pass along any fortune, a growing number of groups are now exhibiting their disgruntlement and threatening to disassociate.

Instead of nurturing the nation to heal and deliver the things, we are bleeding it further, in order to succumb and surrender to our demands। We might be doing so while not understanding the situation; the things that united and prosperous democracies have to offer are completely different from those of an ethnically divided, highly unstable, and vulnerable nation. For example, the things that Ghana, a young but successful democracy, have to offer to its citizens are way better and higher in standards than what Sudan, an ethnically divided and unstable nation has to and can offer to its citizens.

While other countries around the world are modernizing their economies to compete in global markets, Nepal is getting bogged down by ethnic violence, lack of rule of law, accountability and good governance, and demand for secession। Every time it tries to get back on its feet, political insincerity and manipulation pulls out the carpet from beneath its feet. After 1950, when visionary leaders like B P Koirala tried giving the country a fresh life through an infusion of vision, King Mahendra pulled the plug. After 1990, when democracy was infusing changes, the Maoists bogged it down.

Now, when it is trying to heal again, ethnic groups have blown their own war horn। It's not about whether the demands are genuine or not, but the timing. The country is being hit when it hurts most; when it is weak.

Our politicians have grossly reduced the saying, "All's fair in love and war" to "All's fair in politics and the quest for power।" However, in the game of power politics, what our politicians tend to misunderstand is that immoral and undemocratic means inevitably lead to immoral and undemocratic ends. The spillover effects of immoral and undemocratic acts are always irrational, illogical, and anti-social. For example, the Maoists, in their quest for power, divided the nation along the lines of ethnicity. Now they are the ones that are having a tough time dealing with the evils of an ethnic divide which they inculcated and exacerbated among people of different ethnicities.

What the Maoists failed to understand during their heyday of people's war is that in a politically enlightened country like Nepal, they will not be able to stop people from adopting formulas that work, even if it is for a short period of time।

One of the reasons why acts of political manipulation and undemocratic means to grab power are getting deeper instead of ceasing is because the perpetrators of immoral and undemocratic acts have never been punished in the entire history of Nepal as a sovereign state। The culture of impunity has reduced the need for rule of law into an oxymoron.

The Nepali society has been the victim of a lack of accountability on the part of politicians and bureaucrats for a long time now। Wrongdoers and spoilers in politics and bureaucracy have never been punished for their past deeds and that has now jeopardized the citizens' right to peace, stability, and prosperity. The reward for wrongdoers and culture of impunity started with heinous crime that Janga Bahadur committed early on in the history. Furthermore, the last Rana ruler, Mohan Shamsher, was not punished and forced to forfeit his property that was amassed at the expense of development of the nation; instead, he was made prime minister even after the fall of the Rana regime.

Similarly, the crooks of the Panchayat era that strangled democratic rights from seeing the light of dawn for 29 long years never got punished for their involvement in the suppression of the peoples' right to freedom, and are still walking free. The Mallik Commission, appointed to investigate the loss of life and property during the people's movement in 1990 and disappearances during the Panchayat era, is still collecting the dust. The reluctance on the part of the Seven Party Alliance's (SPA) government to make the Rayamajhi Commission's report public signals that there is a large possibility that the wrongdoers of King Gyanendra's repressive regime will, as usual, not be punished. The Rayamajhi Commission's report may meet the same fate as the Mallik Commission's report did and may just end up collecting dust.
Wise people learn from history and to date we have not been so wise when it comes to learning both from our mistakes and the mistakes that people in situations similar to ours have committed around the world। What we, as a nation, have failed to grasp so far is that we cannot have the basis of democracy if we don't have the rule of law and accountability. How long should this violence in the name of equality and social justice be tolerated before it is deemed political manipulation?

"New Nepal" will not bear even a tinge of newness if the lawlessness is not controlled and the lack of accountability not checked। It will rather exacerbate the existing instability and open the door for fictionalizations, mafias, and all of the other problems that stem out in the absence of the rule of law and lack of accountability. Those who are burning down the private and public properties in the name of seeking justice and equality are keeping us behind and making us grossly unequal by diminishing our competitive strength in the world arena. Those who destroy scarce resources in the name of seeking equality are by no means any less guilty than those who failed to ensure their equality.

The road to peace, stability, and democracy should not be allowed to turn murky and subsequently hijacked by individuals that want to impose their form of democracy। Be it the king or Prachanda, if they try to quench their thirst for power by quelling the peoples' right to freedom and democracy, they are the perpetrators. They should be held accountable for souring our dreams and hindering our road to prosperity. Our collective destiny cannot and should not be allowed to become a victim of power-mongers that try to ill-define the stretch and bounds of democracy for personal gain.

When democracy can emerge and persist in an impoverished, landlocked, and predominantly Muslim nation like Mali (emerged in 1992), where the average life expectancy of only 49 years is lower than ours, then there is no reason, at least in principle, why democracy cannot institutionalize and sustain in Nepal. As far as the persistence and smooth functioning of democracy is concerned, Seymour Martin Lipset's argument, "the richer the country, the greater the chance that it would sustain democracy" cannot be discredited altogether. In the absence of our ability to combine democracy on the one hand, with freedom, the rule of law, accountability, and good governance - prerequisites for the overall development and prosperity of citizens - on the other hand, power-mongers will time and again try to raise their heads and attempt to defeat the existence and need of democracy. They will do so to impose their own version of democracy, which will be highly illiberal in nature but will bear the tag "for the suppressed, by the suppressed." Are we ready for more propaganda yet?

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