Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Lessons from Bhutto’s Assassination

Benazir Bhutto gave her life for the sake of democracy in Pakistan. Was it worth it? Absolutely yes. Could she have averted her untimely death? You bet. All she had to do is, resort to a deal-based politics like the one that is being practiced in Nepal. She could have averted her assassination by allowing murderous assassins to dictate the course of her country. Her fault: she tried swimming against the tide of religious fanaticism. She courted death in order to regain political space lost to the fundamentalists, unlike in Nepal, where the so-called democrats are selling out ideology and democratic principles for the sake of political survival.

Bhutto, unlike our own "mainstreamers," refused to join hands with ideologues and religious fanatics in Pakistan. She rather chose to fight against them in order to make Pakistan a true democratic state. After living in the United States and the United Kingdom, she must have known the difference between living in a "liberal democracy" and the country held hostage by radicals. In a liberal democracy, for example India, a catholic woman from Italy is accepted and trusted to run the show. Whereas in society infested by political ideologues and religious fanatics—Pakistan—, daughter of the very soil fighting for people's freedom and democracy gets gunned down. Ideologically bankrupt politicians of Nepal should try to understand what the ultimate price could be if the brainwashed ideologues that embrace Mao's ideological fanaticism remain unchecked and are allowed to infest our society. Benazir's assassination holds grave lessons and warnings for Nepal.

Be it Mao's ideological fanaticism, which is embraced by the Maoists in Nepal or Bin Laden's brand of "Islamofascism" practiced by the religious fanatics in Pakistan, they are equally dangerous for liberal democracy. Religious and political fanaticism and liberal democracy do not go together. In Pakistan, with Bhutto's assassination, religious fanatics have succeeded in uprooting the seedlings of democracy completely. Whereas in Nepal, political fanaticism practiced by the Maoists and replicated by the groups led by secessionists such as Jay Krishna Goit and Nagendra Paswan have greatly reduced prospects of democratic consolidation. The chances of democratic consolidation appear bleaker than ever.

Out of many factors that propelled the rise of political fundamentalism in Nepal, the most important one is repeated subversion of democratic process by the political elites. The constant manipulation of people and the political processes by political gladiators has pauperized the society and wallowed the people in abject poverty. Needless to say, the never ending episodes of deal making in the dark corridors never allowed the country to escape from political instability and a cyclical legitimacy crisis.

Besieged by a multitude of hostile forces, the politicians in Nepal are politically insecure. They are so completely engrossed in the struggle for political survival that they want to subvert the genuine political processes. One recent example of such cowardice is Madhav Nepal's disclosure in Biratnagar. He wants the SPA to 'reserve' seats for top SPA leaders during the upcoming Constituent Assembly (CA) polls. What a mockery of democratic rights of people of Nepal.

Madhav Nepal's recent statement makes it clear that there are many politicians in the so-called mainstream political parties who want to construct a "kleptocratic" regime in which they can steal from the citizens, deceive and undermine them, even though they need them to survive politically. Don't you think these air-headed idiots need a basic course on rights of voters in democracy?

Two years after bringing down an autocratic monarch to his knees, Nepal continues to grapple with complex challenges of national reconciliation, national reconstruction, economic reform, and democratic consolidation. Sad but true, the citizenry is still anxious to see and enjoy the dividends of democracy. The political insincerity of the SPA and the Maoists have bogged down the democratic process to such a degraded level that only those who can muster and unleash enough violence and control the institutions of state can win the political wars for power.

The insensitive and autocratic monarch is sure to go. He deserves the axe that has fallen on his head, no doubt about it. People should face consequences for their actions/inactions. Only then they will start behaving like rational beings. Furthermore, what values can a shrewd king and his rowdy son add to the process of democratic consolidation in Nepal?

That said, let me make it clear that the route that the SPA has taken to unseat Gyanendra is dead wrong. It reflects political vendetta more than anything else. Deciding the fate of an institution through constitutional adventurism is a horrendous idea. The SPA should have allowed people to decide the fate of monarchy in Nepal. This is mainly because one of the major factors responsible for political instability in Nepal is the failure of the political elites to sufficiently adhere to the basic tenets of democracy and constitutionalism.

Nepal is notoriously emerging as a country where nothing works. Inability to embrace a workable political system stems from the opportunism and lack of vision of the politicians like Madhav Nepal within the SPA. They remain bereft of viable political ideology on which the nation's political future can be anchored. This bankruptcy in ideology and vision has made the SPA look more like a syndicate than a political alliance dedicated towards fulfilling peoples' desire for peace, stability, and democracy.

Today, both in Pakistan and Nepal, democracy is put on trial by brainwashed radicals. In Pakistan, by assassinating Benazir Bhutto, to some extent "Islamofacists" have succeeded in aborting democratic dreams. There is a big probability that both Pakistan and Nepal will end up as illiberal democracies. But Pakistanis have at least a reason to be satisfied. They had a leader, Benazir, who gave her life fighting for democracy. She at least tried to save the nation from falling into the hands of radicals unlike our own so-called democrats who have flushed ideology and democratic principles down the toilet for political survival.

The basic difference between Bhutto and the so-called democrats in Nepal is that, Bhutto believed in the tenets of democracy. Unlike pseudo-democrats in Nepal, she knew that fanaticism and democracy do not go hand-in-hand. She never acted as a "useful idiot" at the hands of radicals like our politicians in Nepal. She always adhered to democratic principles and had vowed to wipe them out. Scared to death, radicals had no choice but to assassinate her.

While our own Girija Prasad Koirala, who has given everything but his beloved prime ministerial chair to the Maoist radicals, is awaiting a natural death (whose death, I doubt, will be of any inspiration to those who truly believe in liberal democracy in Nepal and abroad), Bhutto died a hero, a martyr and an inspiration for many both at home an abroad. While Pakistanis are mourning the loss of their beloved and revered leader Benazir, we, the Nepali people are forced to watch painful sale of our democratic dreams.

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