A renowned journalist in Kathmandu during a conversation last week acknowledged something that very few journalists in Nepal dare to write about. He basically told me three things. First, the peace process is dead. Second, the euphoria of spring 2006 revolution has all but dissipated and there is a seething anger among the public about the ongoing political mess. Third, the country needs a major course correction if it is to be saved from slipping into anarchy.
His views did not surprise me at all. It did not surprise me, because for me, achieving multiparty democracy by joining hands with the violent radical communists was always a far-fetched dream that I simply could not conceptualize. Hard- headed me? Sure, but I have to have evidences to believe in something. For me, hope is not a method. And, if history is any lesson, it has never happened anywhere else. Deep down, this is one of such instances where I very much wanted to be proved wrong. Honestly, there are very few instances when I have felt that way. The nation and people would have benefited and their hope for peace would have come true.
His words got me thinking. How did we get where we are? The political malaise that we witness in Nepal is not of current making. It is a result of inept political decisions taken year after year for more than the past one and a half decade. The revolution of 1990 had provided a perfect platform to radically transform the nation. It is impossible to have such a golden opportunity anytime soon. Girija Prasad Koirala’s hunger for power, ballot-rigging and horse-trading culture that he oversaw and did nothing to control, herd of incompetent and corrupt politicians that he cropped to checkmate Ganeshman Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai’s more moderate and comparatively well-educated followers destroyed the prospects of democratic consolidation in Nepal. Inability to bring about a social change through radical reforms turned a perfect ground for democratic consolidation into a breeding ground for violent insurgency, which Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai had failed to achieve their political dreams under Nirmal Lama’s leadership and beyond were sharp enough to see.
GP Koirala’s annihilation methods of fellow competitors within the party and exceptional expertise in bringing down the government soon became the norm in Nepali politics. All sides: United Marxist Leninist (UML) to former royalists adapted it well to their best advantage. The recent audio tape scandal in which Krishna Bahadur Mahara is heard pleading his Chinese handler millions for political horse-trading is nothing new in Nepali politics. The only difference is that Mahara having been on the run in jungles did not realize that, unlike in jungles, in human settlements, communications can be intercepted and recorded to score political points. People learn from mistakes. This incidence is sure to bring about enhanced sophistication in Mahara’s future dealings.
In Nepal, politics has never been about people. It is practiced in the name of people but not for the people. If we look back, justifications for political change has been always based on people. But as and when political changes materialize, it is quickly reduced to a political opportunism and money making scheme. Repetition of it over and over again can be interpreted in two ways. A more neutral interpretation would call it as the failure of political leadership without raising a question of about whether or not it ever had a vision about as and how to bring about socio-political and economic change. But if an evidence based approach is to be taken, there is ample room to suspect the very intentions of politicians that advocate political change. Looking back political change that politicians pushed for appears more like a ploy to get to the corridor of power and remain there than anything else. What follows the change is misinterpretation of what change was actually for.
The political bickering and power struggle of mid-90s and onward succumbed whatever little vision that Nepali politicians had in terms of bringing about the real change in Nepal. Politicians both within the Nepali Congress and the UML spent more time sharpening their skills required to out-compete the opposition faction within the party than thinking through the issues confronting Nepali society. In the absence of their ability to solve people’s problems, emergence of a powerful political force was eminent, which they conveniently undermined till the Maoists gained grounds and emerged as a prominent threat for their political survival.
Gyanendra’s political adventurism provided a perfect ground for the Maoists to lure the major political parties. The political parties by then had become so used to remaining in the power that they saw nothing wrong in the Maoists’ lewd act.India’s assurance as a guarantor must have provided additional confidence. But what the parties that agreed to bed with the Maoists and India that provided both the moral and material support to the Maoists during the insurgency undermined was that the Maoists that were promising to play by the rules were not loafers that all of a sudden had gotten their hands on guns.
The mainstreaming of a violent radical communist group that had picked guns after being disillusioned with the parliamentary democracy cannot and should not have been based on mere commitments. But the necessity clouded judgments. India saw it as a perfect opportunity to dislodge ultra-nationalist monarchy, parties wanted additional force to fight back the crackdown on them, and as far as the Maoists were concerned, it was the best opportunity to parachute to the urban areas. There might be few, but there people like myself, who still believe that Gyanendra’s political adventurism could have been defeated without joining hands with the Maoists. It would have taken time and that is what GP Koirala did not have on his side. Joining hands with the Maoists has created more problems than it has solved. Looking back, politicians must have realized that putting strategy before ideology is never productive in the long run. Joining hands with ideologically antagonistic force is always counterproductive and dangerous.
It is not the politicians’ fault, entirely. Neither media, nor intellectuals cautioned about the possible dangers associated with bedding with the Maoists. Some did not want to jeopardize their status by sticking their neck out, whereas others did not want to come across as a “regressive” element in a nation that is immersed in “ultra-progressive” glory. That was three years ago. The media and intellectuals are still reluctant to question the utility of the Constituent Assembly, whose main function is to draft a new constitution and act as a legislature. Failure to promulgate a constitution within the stipulated date and elect a prime minister even after the seven rounds of voting has already proved its futility. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity. Isn’t it high time for Nepali media, academics, and intellectuals to engage in real analysis rather than put faith in the process that has failed to produce results? Committing one mistake after another is not the way to build an egalitarian society. Learning from the past mistakes and doing things differently when things do not work is.