Monday, March 29, 2010

Setting the Record Right

Scores of people have written about Girija Prasad Koirala (GPK) since his demise. From incidents such as the flight that they took together with GPK to the advice that they gave him were meticulously recollected in order to highlight their association. Strangely, people did not hesitate to reap creative mileage from his death. Instead of sincerely highlighting his achievements and fallacies, which is important to set the record straight, they used the opportunity to toot their own horns. The rarest and the biggest example of duplicity came from none other than the Maoist duo Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai. It was quite obnoxious to learn that the Maoists duo that lured him with presidency, but eventually double-crossed him in the last minute, considered his passing away as a demise of a guardian. Hypocrisy at its best!

GPK might not be anywhere near in terms of moral virtues that Mahatma Gandhi had or selflessness that Nelson Mandela practices, but to fight relentlessly for democracy for decades is not something that everyone can or will be willing to do. One may argue that living in the proximity of one of the world’s greatest socialist thinkers like B P Koirala could have planted the virtues of democracy in a megalomaniac, but understanding virtues of democracy alone is not enough when it comes to making democracy work for the common men, which is what happened in the case of GPK. I am not particularly enthused at discussing GPK’s checkered past, considering that he is no more with us and that culturally we avoid talking about someone’s shortcomings after their demise. But, in weighing his achievements and fallacies, I find it important that between the eulogies, the unending praises and the references to GPK as a “maverick” that we take a moment to step away and be just to history. Revisionist history, especially in matters that may frame the future of modern Nepal, can be harmful, and, hence, must be avoided at all costs.

Making mistakes is human. In between birth and death, certain things are bound to happen one of them being mistakes. Like everyone else, GPK had his share. What sets his mistakes apart from common men’s is that they could have impacted the dreams of millions of Nepalis clamoring for a just, prosperous, and peaceful Nepal. They could have had far reaching consequences. Political pundits that churned out articles left and right after GPK’s demise made an interesting argument about what would Nepal be like had GPK not stood for democracy? But that is only one side of the coin. Given the fact that he had already achieved what he fought for the good part of his life through restoration of democracy in 1990, his ability to provide democratic dividends to the citizenry also needs to be evaluated—thoroughly.

Given the international goodwill he enjoyed and respect he commanded at home, at least in the early days of restoration of democracy, what would have Nepal looked like had he understood the importance of intra-party democracy, strengthening of institutions, quelling political corruption, enhancement of social justice and equality, and strict handling of the process of mainstreaming the Maoists, to name a few?

GPK ruthlessly destroyed the political career of his contemporaries. Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai’s political careers were cut short to promote his own. Had he allowed intra-party democracy to take root, NC would not have been left with just mediocre leaders that they have today. The party does not have a dynamic leader that can effectively energize the base, forget about energizing the nation and bringing it together. Intra-party democracy fosters emergence of competent leaders. When GPK became the prime minister in 1991 for the first time, the current president of the United States was a visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. None beyond his family and friend circle really knew him. It is the transparent intra-party political system that allowed an African-American man and the son of a single mother with limited means to become the president of the most powerful nation on earth. Given the role that intra-party democracy has on the emergence of a leader, can we truthfully ignore what he did to perpetuate his hegemony within NC and its implications on the emergence of future leaders?

GPK repeatedly inducted people implicated for political corruption in his cabinet. Instead of using people like Pradeep Giri, whose potential to this date remains unexplored, he repeatedly chose to be surrounded by the same herd irrespective of their fading public persona. This led the emergence of a political caste – a sort of Brahminical caste. His turning of blind eye to massive political corruption ultimately created an ethical disequilibrium as the lines between good and evil thinned. It had a disastrous consequence on the moral fabric of the nation. Corruption trickled down to courtrooms, which is the last thing that a young nation struggling to remain requires. Dozens of judges are currently under investigation for corruption charges. We, as a nation, have been slipping in all indicators related to good governance, accountability, corruption, and this is not an effect of a single overnight incident. It a ripple effect of institutional failure resulting from letting the corrupt herd manipulate the system to their advantage.

Importance of social justice and equality never got GPK’s attention. The practice of nominating a handful of politicians belonging to ethnic minorities for important ministerial and other important positions to showcase ethnic equality, which had been the norm during the Panchayat era, continued unabated. When the time came to recognizing equality eventually, he signed an agreement with groups from a particular region, which was dead wrong. What the nation needs today is a comprehensive equality policy, not the oiling of squeaky wheels.

One of GPK’s greatest failures was not to understand the real intentions of the Maoists. They made him sleepwalk tirelessly to fulfill their own agendas and double-crossed him when it came to fulfilling their promise of supporting him for the first president of Nepal. His unabated appeasement of the Maoists created more problems than it solved. Whether his judgment was clouded by his failure to understand that appeasement never brings peace or by the Maoists coordinated lewd acts carried out in concert with his inner coterie shall always remain a subject of speculation.

When it comes to the prospects of democratic consolidation, he left the nation far worse off than the one he had inherited in 1991. He had a ‘clean slate’ back then. He could have utilized the opportunity to build and strengthen institutions, nurture the rise of competent politicians by promoting intra-party democracy, extract the loyalty of citizenry through big social reforms and comprehensive equality policy, and contain the decay of law and order through strict handling of the Maoists. We might have been better off compared to where we would have been otherwise, but we are way behind from what we could have achieved had GPK been a more thoughtful and visionary persona. GPK was really good at seizing the opportunity, but when it came to translating them into success for all, that is where he failed, and failed miserably. He has left us a country, where the promise of the dividends of democracy and the resultant expectation of it by Nepalis remain illusory.


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