Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lost in populist rhetoric

The major political parties of yesteryears: the Nepali Congress (NC) and the United Marxist Leninist (UML) may regret not having paid greater attention to the words of the late poet Gopal Prasad Rimal: “One day in an era…” - words which the NC and UML parroted relentlessly during the run up to CA elections. As is often the case when the ideas of others are regurgitated, the NC and UML appear to have lost sight of the holistic implications ensconced in the late poet’s words.

For in the same poem that contains the phrase mentioned above, Rimal also alludes to the arrival of such a day that fundamentally alters the very assumptions upon which an existing paradigm is based. Self-absorbed in the victory of past elections and reassured with erroneous data from the South, Nepal’s former democratic title-holders appear to have severely misinterpreted the meaning and spirit of poet Rimal’s words.

The single day in our era has come and gone and instead of reinstating the NC and UML to their former pedestals, this day has all but eradicated the UML as a credible political contender and as many argue, may unwind a life’s worth of work, started by the late B.P. Koirala.
The verdict of CA elections is in, and there is no turning back. As humbling the former titans’ experience has been, they are the victims of their own inability to understand and counter Maoists’ strategies. The NC and the UML thought that the YCL’s irrational activities were enough to turn off the voters. So instead of trying to defeat the Maoists by scoring a goal, they foolishly wished YCL’s high-handedness to prove as a suicide goal, which at the end of the day did not happen.

Although it is unclear at this time how the Maoists will move ahead in days to come, a few speculative ideas may be generated based on observations from the Maoists’ landslide victory and lessons from history.

In turbulent times, voters tend to choose candidates who promise radical changes. During the early 1930s, the voters in Germany were so frustrated with the inability of their government to address the country’s basic problems that they opted for a candidate from the extreme right to bring about a desired change in the status quo - that candidate happened to be none other than Adolf Hitler.

Although premature to predict whether Nepal’s Maoist party will abide by its commitment to democracy or interpret its victory as unconditional support for the full execution of the ‘Prachanda path,’ the tendency for a radical party to continue carrying out radical policies should not be negated. A clear majority in a body that is tasked to write Nepal’s future constitution is not a position that should be treated lightly; Nepal simply cannot afford to rely on liberal interpretations of what Maoists leaders say from this day onwards.

To the Maoists’ credit, at no point throughout the peace process or the entire period of insurgency has its leadership expressed anything but a full-fledged commitment to the Maoists’ strategic end-goal: the establishment of a one-party communist republic. Any misrepresentation of the Maoists’ strategic intent has come from outside the party - mainly from individuals and organisations that have chosen to retrofit Maoist utterances to their own world-views, regardless of the Frankenstein prescriptions that have often resulted.

For two agonising years, the mainstream parties engaged the Maoists through appeasement. The Maoists in turn, engaged the mainstream through an ultra-realist paradigm. At the end of Nepal’s peace process, realism has triumphed and the Maoist strategy of hard-ball negotiations has prevailed.

A stunned Indian government, bent on showing its own Naxalites that violence doesn’t pay off, is now forced to shake hands with a group that it had once, unilaterally declared as ‘terrorists.’ Having outsourced its Nepal policy to India, the United States of America also faces an unsettling prospect of a China-friendly government in Nepal, thanks to Indian miscalculation.

Such considerations however, are now moot points. Much more relevant is how quickly the unseated parties can reinvent themselves and provide credible alternatives to the Maoist writ. With a gigantic representation in the CA, the Maoists find themselves in a commandeering position from which they have virtually unlimited powers to remake the Nepali polity in their own image. This is all the more reason the presence of competing ideologies and thoughts are a must to resuscitating Nepal’s democracy.

The lesson here is two-fold: the politicians of the NC and UML must practice what they preach; and these parties must engage in introspection to fully comprehend the disastrous consequences of compromising their parties’ distinguishing principles, in favor of their political rivals’ electoral platforms.

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