Monday, February 1, 2010

Living in interesting times

Recently, the Constituent Assembly (CA) Sub-Committee on State Restructuring and Distribution of State Powers came up with the anxiously-awaited state restructuring plan. They proposed two alternative models to choose from. While the first model had 14 provinces [Khaptad, Karnali, Tharuhat, West Madhes, Magarat, Tamuwan, Tamsaling, Newa, Sunkoshi, Kirat, Limbuwan, Madhes and Birat], the second one had six provinces [Karnali, Gandaki, Sagarmatha, Srijanga, Lumbini (Bhawar) and Simraungadh (Janakpur)]. The full committee forwarded the 14-province model to the CA with a few amendments. Although there is little chance, given the pace at which political agreements on issues of national importance are reached, that any agreement will be reached by May 28, 2010, the CA now has something to show off, no matter how inferior the models might be.Remaining insincere towards people’s need and the nation’s progress while drawing a paycheck can be at best called a morally-repugnant act. CA members should either stop draining the state’s coffer or get back to business.

One may argue that having to choose from models that creates unsustainable federal system is worse than having none. The argument rings true, but the problem with that kind of reasoning is that it does not take into consideration the context that we are in. Let’s not forget that we live in an ultra-progressive nation, where populist beliefs guide political strategies and ends justify the means. So searching logic and economic reasoning behind the proposed federal models is like pondering over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s sanity. And, voicing for referendum over the various federal models proposed from within and outside the CA is like proposing Osama Bin Laden be baptized so that islamofascism can come to an end. It is simply not going to happen.

It is not going to happen for two simple reasons. First, it is not politically-profitable for the new entrants of Nepali politics. Second, in Nepal, issues of national importance have never been decided as per the wishes of people. They are decided based on whether or not the top echelons of the major political parties and the intelligentsia aligned with the political parties benefit from the major overhaul. Anxiety and pain of common men, which politicians claim to understand, is forgotten immediately after these little guys dip their finger in purple ink in voting booths. That is where their participation in democracy ends. What happens after that is ill-justification of political mandate and making that mandate profitable for the ruling elites and the so-called intellectuals that line up to justify the political crimes committed by their bosses.

Both politicians – most of whom are from the political parties of yesteryears – and intellectuals who claim to understand the negative repercussions of creating ethnic states have to understand that selective application of logic does not work. What is happening in Nepal defies all logic. While the real estate market has nosedived worldwide, there is a real estate boom in Nepal. In between the two fastest growing economies, economic indicators continue to worsen. I remember studying that if you keep an object in between two hot bodies, it also heats up but that logic, too, fails in the case of Nepal.

Much-needed social reforms, devolution of power, and empowerment of ethnic minorities never got into political radar in the last two decades. An alarm did not go off even when the Maoists promised for an ethnic federation. Forget that, the makers of 1990 constitution, most of whom are still in circulation in politics, instead of proposing to make it more inclusive, which would have saved both time and money, ran away from it as fast as their legs could carry them. When you run away from the child that you father, the chances that your future relationships being seen as promiscuous are almost 100 percent. Plus, the political change that we are now witnessing now in Nepal is largely ethnic-based.

All along the way, everyone, be it those arousing the ethnic masses that have been bypassed by the state or those that apply logic to negativities of ethnic federation, knew that social mobilization had outstripped the institutional capacity. But none confronted the truth. The former did not confront it because pushing social mobilization to a farthest possible point was politically expedient for them. In politics, it is political base that matters, not the truth. For the later, the truth did not matter as long as it did not shake up the political foundations of political parties, whose prominence determined the fulfillment of their personal ambitions.

The debate over the viability of ethnic federalism is redundant at this point in time. The expectations of ethnic masses have been aroused beyond the state’s capacity to mange it within the existing set-up. And, the new federal structure that is other than ethnicity-based will not do any good to those pushing for ethnic federalism. Ethnic federalism may not be able to bring about the changes that ethnic minorities are clamoring for but remaining backward under the leadership of those that they see as their own will be more consoling. When someone our own lets us down, it hurts but also heals soon. The feeling is far better than betrayal at the hands of group that never realized the agony of how it feels to remain marginalized generation after generation. It makes perfect sense from ethnic minorities’ point of view to have faith on someone of their own no matter how chequered his or her past might have, because it provides a point to begin. The hope that someone capable from within their own ethnic group will takeover down the road is more reassuring than pinning the hope on elites from the other ethnic group, especially when the ethnic group in question is the one that never understood the pain before they were forced to. And now, when they appear to have understood, it is hard to believe whether their appreciation of pain is genuine or a ploy.

Ethnic federalism might not work like most things in Nepal but will be a good learning experience. People may eventually realize that in a globalized world, sharing resources and knowledge is the only way to achieve collective prosperity. Hopefully, by then, our so-called intellectuals too will emerge out as more wise beings that understand the fact that for people to understand and have faith in your reasoning behind why things should be done in a certain way, you first have to have guts in pointing fingers at the politicians of your own ethnic group when they commit political crimes or fail to deliver. Until then, let’s experience the joy of living in a nation that defies all logic!

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