Monday, October 12, 2009

Time for course correction

In The Fund for Peace Failed States Index 2009, Nepal occupies the 25th position. For eternal optimists, we are still 24 ranks away from being the most probable country to fail and as we sail through the transition period, things will somehow get better and the dream of “New Nepal” will be realized eventually. But for people who believe that hope is not a method, to be anywhere near Ethiopia and Afghanistan that rank 16th and 7th respectively is pretty scary, especially when things are getting worse rather than improving. It does not take very long for a nation to move up the index of failed states if the self-destructive course that a country is in is not corrected. It did not take very long for Zimbabwe, which was once considered the breadbasket of Africa, to become a basket case, did it? A single man’s never-quenching thirst for power has turned the future of millions of Zimbabweans upside down and Nepal has quite a few of them.

For radical communists, the more things get worse, better are the prospects of establishing “civilian supremacy.” As long as North Korea, where under “civilian supremacy” millions of civilians starve everyday, ranks ahead of us, self-annihilation is actually a leap forward. It is not only Pushpa Kamal Dahal for whom Nepal’s march towards becoming a failed state does not matter. There are others too. For Girija Prasad Koirala (GPK), whose hunger for power seems boundless, there is obviously Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, which ranks second in the list. The phrase “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” coined by the historian and moralist John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton and which applies well to Mugabe might as well apply to GPK if he fails to contain his greed. After falling out of favor with India, he has started courting China, East-European and Scandinavian nations now. How far can he go and how low can he stoop to elevate his daughter’s political career is yet to be seen.

The sad thing about the ongoing situation in Nepal is that most people know that the country is headed in the wrong direction but there is very little that they can do to bring it back into track.
As far as self-proclaimed messiah of Madhesi cause Upendra Yadav, who did everything but push for greater Madhesis’ right during his stint as foreign minister in the Maoist cabinet, is concerned, there is Iraq in the list, which ranks as the 6th most likely country to become a failed stated. Iraq is a perfect example for those who want to elevate their political stature by inciting ethnic hatred. Ignoring the fact that he blew off a golden opportunity to keep up the momentum to secure genuine rights that Madhesis have been denied for decades as long as he was in the corridor of power, he is back in action, that too in Raj Thakre’s style, threatening an already fragmented society with another round of ethnic uprising.

For observers who believe in measuring political progress based on indicators on the ground, Nepal’s chances of slipping further away from being a failed state is very dismal unless there is a major course correction. In the current set-up, there are way too many power hungry, morally bankrupt and shameless politicians that have emerged out at the top echelons of politics. Unlike in neighboring India, where only competent men make it to the top, the political system in Nepal is overburdened with too many power hungry, corrupt and incompetent politicians. The political system in India is far from being perfect but very few incompetent and insincere men actually become ministers in the central cabinet, and even when once in a while people like Sibu Soren penetrate the system, they somehow get flushed out periodically. Their chance of causing a collateral damage to the system, unlike in Nepal, is pretty slim.

The sad thing about the ongoing situation in Nepal is that most people know that the country is headed in the wrong direction but there is very little that they can do to bring it back into track. Finally, even those political pundits that endlessly vouched for joining hands with the radical communists that have been inconsistently consistent about the dictatorship of the proletariat, have started visualizing democracy’s blurred future. When academics with political ambitions get into punditry, the prescription is bound to be flawed. Where in the world has multi-party democracy been realized by joining hands with radical communists?

India, which provided aid and shelter to the Maoists during the decade-long violent insurgency in Nepal and facilitated its bedding with the centrist forces in Nepal, appears restless as continued commitment to the process it helped facilitate is benefiting everyone else but itself. India’s desperation will grow even further as the Maoists continue to tilt north. The Maoists know it very well that, as long they court China, the chances of Indian-sponsored annihilation is impossible. Plus, they are the ones that are best organized with well-crafted agenda, issues, roadmap and muscle power.

It is needless to say that the Maoists are shrewd operatives. Look at how well they define their agenda and keep the top leaders of the major political parties engaged in futile political debate such as “civilian supremacy” while the Maoists cadres at the grassroots level are busy expanding their political base. What are these politicians of the major political parties trying to achieve by debating “civilian supremacy” with radicals that believe in bringing change by butchering innocent civilians? Isn’t the contradiction quite clear?

The UML is already divided. The good chunk of the party leaders’ heart is with the Maoists’ cause. As far as NC is concerned, Dahal has once again rocked its boat by luring power hungry GPK. India for now seems to have ganged-up Ram Chandra Poudel, Sushil Koirala and others to checkmate GPK’s ambitions but there will be more GPK types in future as long as India believes in administering proxy rule in Nepal by buying off a handful of politicians.

India’s level of influence in Nepal is bound to dwindle unless there is a major course correction. Administering a proxy rule by purchasing a few politicians might be less costly and work for a short term, but if long-term security interest is what India is really concerned about, it should invest in and push for infrastructure development and institutional building. It should win hearts and minds of Nepalis rather than winning over a few politicians. Buying off politicians of a neighboring nation, which has tons of unemployed hotheads ready to be recruited for violent conflicts, is definitely not a sound investment. As the culture of political bribery gets entrenched, there will be simply too many heads to buy and too many bidders to outbid. The best way to checkmate the rise of radical forces that would eventually pose security threats to India is by building strong institutions in Nepal. It might take a while to produce dividends but that would be a more cost-effective and secure investment.


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