Saturday, May 12, 2007

Nation on the brink

While the Eight Party Alliance's (EPA) government is trying hard to maintain its composure and portray things as normal, the situation in the country is obviously far from being normal. It has been more than a year since the despotic regime of King Gyanendra crumbled, but with each passing day the future of this largely hungry nation appears bleaker than ever.

People have started asking: What have we, as citizens, achieved since the fall of King Gyanendra's despotic regime?

The nation's democracy is becoming a casualty in the "crossfire" of partisanship. Peace, which the Nepali people longed for so dearly, appears no-where in sight. The outrages against the defenseless populations: the senseless robbing and murder continue unabated. Incidents of marauding raids are increasing at an unprecedented rate.

Our combined desire to have Constituent Assembly (CA) elections is in limbo due to the intra and inter-party power struggle amongst the political parties representing the EPA. Because of inability of the EPA government to secure peace, hold CA elections on time, and bring other positive changes that are long over due, people have started referring the past one year as a "lost year."

The Maoist leaders that once ran for life have become parliamentarians and ministers and are enjoying their heyday. While the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are forced to live under sub-human conditions away from their home, the Maoists that chased them away from their homes are riding imported cars — be it state owned or forcibly seized from private citizens.

The NC and UML stalwarts seem to have forgotten the promises made to ordinary Nepalis during the April uprising and are once again busy enjoying their field day in the corridor of Singha Durbar.

The Youth Communist League's (YCL) mayhem continues unchecked in the capital and elsewhere in the country. The two rival factions-the Maoists and the Madhesi People's Rights Forum — are locked in a deadly duel for power in terai. The society that once exemplified harmony is now inching towards anarchy.

To some extent, the ongoing political violence is influenced by opportunities arising from state's weakness to ensure inclusion of ethnic communities and control political nudity of the Maoists.

The government offices in terai have been shut down for months now. The Pahadis have started leaving terai, fearing their lives. The government's power and the administrative structures vital to securing the law and order are shrinking.

Clearly, the political order is being founded on and sustained by violence. In the present day Nepal, violence, not public virtue, seems to be the basis of authority. The ordinary citizens have started suspecting the ability of the government to secure peace, and the Maoist commitment towards democracy.

Unfortunately, they are forced to keep their heads down in the face of the guns that the Maoists have covertly stored and the absence of viable options.

How do these symptoms of a dying political and social order play out? The signs of morbidity are very much evident in the present political, economic, and social life. With the ongoing decay of political and social order, politics is no longer the instrument through which contending interests are conciliated in a structured framework. Investors are shying away and moving towards greener and safer pastures and people have started suspecting those that do not belong to their own ethnic community.

The only things that will be born of this condition is a regime of rapine, despotism, poverty, and powerlessness. The current situation, if not corrected, would lead to an accelerating loss of state sovereignty, concomitant decay of state institutions, and worsen communal violence that is already reshaping social relations.

Furthermore, it will slow down the democratization process, which is essential for pulling Nepal out of poverty and placing it more firmly on the path of stability and sustainable development. It is necessary to stop political violence and lawlessness, because it impedes the necessary economic development. It does so by destroying human lives, economic assets, and through penalizing the accumulation of capital and wealth.

Every society that witnesses political upheaval confronts political violence and lawlessness for a while, but if not controlled, it can spread faster than wild fire and destabilize the essential democratic foundations in long term. Thus, political violence and lawlessness syndrome should be controlled effectively, because if allowed to persist, they could destroy people's right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Organized criminal groups, having nexus with the corrupt officials and politicians, will start mushrooming. Organized crimes as a result of such nexus will be extremely hard to control. A country, if infested by the twin problems or crime and underdevelopment, would have little prospects of developing into a stable and prosperous democracy.

A country like Nepal which has weak institutions is an idle breeding ground for an organized crime and corruption. Crime and corruption thrive best in unstable situations, such as the one Nepal is facing. Thus, before organized crime syndicates and warlords root into our society, the current EPA government should contain political violence and lawlessness.

Nepal is already confronted with high incidence of poverty and backwardness, and therefore, it cannot afford to get locked in a double bind of political violence and poverty. There are no easy ways out of this vicious circle. Thus, political leaders should not commit the same mistakes that they committed during the 1990s. This time around, they should do it and do it right. The Nepalis, who fought hard for democracy, do not deserve anarchy, poverty, and powerlessness.

Establishing a state's authority both in and out of the capital is an essential condition for any political order, including democracy. Building a decentralized system, through devolution of power, may ultimately be the best deterrent against future guerrilla resurgence and sudden outburst of political violence. A well functioning democracy is in everyone's best interest. Hence, the EPA government should work towards strengthening the capacity of the state in traditionally "stateless" areas in order to rein in violence and create space for an unbiased civil society to take root. It is crucial for the consolidation of peace, stability, and democracy in Nepal.

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