Thursday, September 18, 2008

Article published in People's Review, 18-24 Sept., 2008


Perched atop her mountain at the southern rim of the valley, Phulchowki Mai has perhaps the best perspective on Kathmandu, It took an hour’s drive from Godavari to reach the top of this 9,000 feet high peak. The arduous and steep drive along a narrow road nestled in luscious green was in itself a thrill. But nothing prepared me for the peak. The early morning mist swirled amidst the forest and Kathmandu was invisible below the clouds. The shrine at the top had been renovated. Fourty years ago I had stood at this spot, participating in the “Phulchowki Day” trek up the mountain, compulsory for all students of St. Xavier’s School, Godavari. In many ways, this was a homecoming of sorts for me.

I was immediately taken back by the fact that the Phulchowki Mai shrine, further enhanced by a Shiva shrine and a Buddhist stupa, is now in the middle of an army encampment. While appreciating the Nepal Army’s protection, I am sure Phulchowki Mai is also feeling apprehensive at this worldly intrusion of military prowess. But the telecommunication and radar infrastructure atop the mountain do need protection in these uncertain times and surely the Gods understand. The Japanese government which provided these facilities can also rest assured that their aid is safe, protected not only by the Gods but also by the Nepal Army.

Let me elaborate further on the themes of religion and security which have been briefly touched upon above. Nepal had been known as the only Hindu Kingdom on earth, making it unique among the myriad of nations. I accept that this was not much more than a slogan to attract tourists for our hard-pressed economy. Now that this country is neither officially Hindu nor a kingdom, let us examine what this has meant to us Nepalis. Official figures say up to 80% of Nepalis are Hindu. This figure is inflated because it includes many ethnic groups who practice other forms of religion. About 11% of the population is definitely Buddhist. Whichever way one looks at it, the Hindu population is the largest in Nepal, followed by Buddhists. Even being extremely stingy with the numbers, 70% of Nepali population is certainly Hindu and Buddhist. Putting figures aside, Nepal does not have religious strife. The cohabitation of Hinduism and Buddhism is indisputable. So secularization was not necessary at all. What secular Nepal now has is an anti-Christian movement, apparently by disaffected Hindus, and a burgeoning Muslim population with a growth rate higher than the other religions. In effect, when the then Interim government declared Nepal secular, it accepted the dictate of proselytizing European groups who have this urge to save all mankind in the name of Jesus Christ. Not sure if Jesus would approve of this form of neo-colonialism.

It felt safe to see the Nepal Army on top of Phulchowki. It also was a reminder of the transformation of the army from an elite fighting force, say in the days of Amar Singh Thapa and Bal Bhadra Kunwar, to the oft-touted role of UN peacekeepers. UN peacekeeping is a chancy thing at best and does not demand too sharp military skills. Domestically, the NA’s role is to ensure the security of the nation. Obviously, we talk here of internal security, not security against our giant neighbours. The current law and order situation needs not be delved into. The Police has just had a major overhaul of its high command. The NA is still confined to its barracks, under the peacekeeping arrangement whereby members of the so-called Maoist “people’s liberation army” are confined – loosely speaking – to cantonments. The NA is proud of being apolitical. But being apolitical does not mean shrinking from its responsibility to preserve the country’s unity, sovereignty and independence. The Army Chief has reiterated that the NA does not belong to any political party but to the Nepali people. Laudable. So let the NA stand its ground when it comes to attempts to politicize it by integrating into it the rebel army. Let it also keep a sharp eye on politicians who sell their souls to foreign powers. Further, let it speak up on the issue of federalism which hopefully will be debated at length by the CA. Will federalism preserve unity? I hope our generals have an answer to this burning question.

So Phulchowki Mai stands as a sentinel over this beautiful valley and, by proxy, over the nation. Let us simply pray that she will protect this beleaguered land from those who seek power for personal gains, from those who do not have a shred of nationalism in them, from those who pander to foreign political interests and proselytizers – from all evil which may hinder the people of Nepal from fulfilling their potential.#


Mukunda said...

You don't need to be on top of Phulchoki to see the sad affairs on the ground.

HORATIO said...

Absolutely right, Mukunda. My trip there was more of a nostalgic one and also to pay respects at the shrine there.