Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Comments on The Economists's 10 Dec 2009 article on Nepal

The full text of the article in The Economist (UK) is available at the above link.

It appears that the "Maoist Mole" at The Economist is at it again. I disagree with the statements:
(a) that the "Spread of violence in Nepal is not just the Maoists' fault"; and
(b) "India faces a choice between a democratic Nepal where the Maoists have a big role and a militarised Nepal where, ultimately, the army calls the shots. For all its pride in its own democratic traditions, India might plump for the soldiers. If it wants stability and peace on its borders, that would be the wrong choice"

(a) The culture of violence is the Maoists' unique gift to Nepal. They still grind the country to a halt (bandhs) at the drop of a hat. They have displaced at least 60,000 families during their insurgency. Journalists have been killed and maimed with incredible impunity. Appropriated property has not been returned. They are in the process of unilaterally, i.e. without authority from the Constituent Assembly, 'proclaiming' 13 'autonomous states'. Again unilaterally, they are letting loose 4,000 disqualified combatants from the cantonments, over 50% of whom are minors, without planning for their reintegration into society. There are over 100 armed political groups now in Nepal, copying the Maoists. The Economist is unawares of ground reality here when it makes this irresponsible statement.

(b) The phrase "democratic Nepal where the Maoists have a big role" is a contradiction in itself. There will be NO democratic Nepal if the Maoists have their way. The Economist may fool itself in its ivory tower; we Nepalis do not have that luxury. Though the Maoist leadership displays a spectrum of Marxist-Leninist thinking ranging from the doctrinaire to the opportunistic, we cannot overlook the fact that they have come to power by the bullet, with only a thinly disguised veneer of the ballot. Multi-party democracy is not in their scheme of things. They have admitted as much.

While I do not believe that the army has the skills or is meant to govern, it can better provide stability and peace than the Maoists. The latter's dismal record on peace and stability is there for all to see since the time they emerged as the largest party in the CA.

It is also revealing how The Economist has given the choice to India. It seems it is not Nepal's choice whether we strive for democracy or concede Army rule. Anyone in Nepal who knows where their bread is buttered will agree that, given the current situation, the choice indeed is India's. What a pity!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

President Obama's Speech while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, 10 December 2009

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, citizens of America, and citizens of the world:

I receive this honor with deep gratitude and great humility. It is an award that speaks to our highest aspirations - that for all the cruelty and hardship of our world, we are not mere prisoners of fate. Our actions matter, and can bend history in the direction of justice.

And yet I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who have received this prize - Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela - my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened of cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women - some known, some obscure to all but those they help - to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by forty three other countries - including Norway - in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict - filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.

These questions are not new. War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease - the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences.

Over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers, clerics, and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when it meets certain preconditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the forced used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

For most of history, this concept of just war was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God. Wars between armies gave way to wars between nations - total wars in which the distinction between combatant and civilian became blurred. In the span of thirty years, such carnage would twice engulf this continent. And while it is hard to conceive of a cause more just than the defeat of the Third Reich and the Axis powers, World War II was a conflict in which the total number of civilians who died exceeded the number of soldiers who perished.

In the wake of such destruction, and with the advent of the nuclear age, it became clear to victor and vanquished alike that the world needed institutions to prevent another World War. And so, a quarter century after the United States Senate rejected the League of Nations - an idea for which Woodrow Wilson received this Prize - America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, and restrict the most dangerous weapons.
In many ways, these efforts succeeded. Yes, terrible wars have been fought, and atrocities committed. But there has been no Third World War. The Cold War ended with jubilant crowds dismantling a wall. Commerce has stitched much of the world together. Billions have been lifted from poverty. The ideals of liberty, self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced. We are the heirs of the fortitude and foresight of generations past, and it is a legacy for which my own country is rightfully proud.

A decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats. The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.

Moreover, wars between nations have increasingly given way to wars within nations. The resurgence of ethnic or sectarian conflicts; the growth of secessionist movements, insurgencies, and failed states; have increasingly trapped civilians in unending chaos. In today's wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sewn, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed, and children scarred.

I do not bring with me today a definitive solution to the problems of war. What I do know is that meeting these challenges will require the same vision, hard work, and persistence of those men and women who acted so boldly decades ago. And it will require us to think in new ways about the notions of just war and the imperatives of a just peace.

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago - "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive - nothing naïve - in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

I raise this point because in many countries there is a deep ambivalence about military action today, no matter the cause. At times, this is joined by a reflexive suspicion of America, the world's sole military superpower.

Yet the world must remember that it was not simply international institutions - not just treaties and declarations - that brought stability to a post-World War II world. Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans. We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will. We have done so out of enlightened self-interest - because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.

So yes, the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace. And yet this truth must coexist with another - that no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy. The soldier's courage and sacrifice is full of glory, expressing devotion to country, to cause and to comrades in arms. But war itself is never glorious, and we must never trumpet it as such.

So part of our challenge is reconciling these two seemingly irreconcilable truths - that war is sometimes necessary, and war is at some level an expression of human feelings. Concretely, we must direct our effort to the task that President Kennedy called for long ago. "Let us focus," he said, "on a more practical, more attainable peace, based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions."

What might this evolution look like? What might these practical steps be?

To begin with, I believe that all nations - strong and weak alike - must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I - like any head of state - reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates - and weakens - those who don't.

The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks, and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan, because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense. Likewise, the world recognized the need to confront Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait - a consensus that sent a clear message to all about the cost of aggression.

Furthermore, America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don't, our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention - no matter how justified.

This becomes particularly important when the purpose of military action extends beyond self defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor. More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region.

I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.

America's commitment to global security will never waiver. But in a world in which threats are more diffuse, and missions more complex, America cannot act alone. This is true in Afghanistan. This is true in failed states like Somalia, where terrorism and piracy is joined by famine and human suffering. And sadly, it will continue to be true in unstable regions for years to come.

The leaders and soldiers of NATO countries - and other friends and allies - demonstrate this truth through the capacity and courage they have shown in Afghanistan. But in many countries, there is a disconnect between the efforts of those who serve and the ambivalence of the broader public. I understand why war is not popular. But I also know this: the belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice. That is why NATO continues to be indispensable. That is why we must strengthen UN and regional peacekeeping, and not leave the task to a few countries. That is why we honor those who return home from peacekeeping and training abroad to Oslo and Rome; to Ottawa and Sydney; to Dhaka and Kigali - we honor them not as makers of war, but as wagers of peace.

Let me make one final point about the use of force. Even as we make difficult decisions about going to war, we must also think clearly about how we fight it. The Nobel Committee recognized this truth in awarding its first prize for peace to Henry Dunant - the founder of the Red Cross, and a driving force behind the Geneva Conventions.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe that the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America's commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not just when it is easy, but when it is hard.

I have spoken to the questions that must weigh on our minds and our hearts as we choose to wage war. But let me turn now to our effort to avoid such tragic choices, and speak of three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.

First, in dealing with those nations that break rules and laws, I believe that we must develop alternatives to violence that are tough enough to change behavior - for if we want a lasting peace, then the words of the international community must mean something. Those regimes that break the rules must be held accountable. Sanctions must exact a real price. Intransigence must be met with increased pressure - and such pressure exists only when the world stands together as one.

One urgent example is the effort to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to seek a world without them. In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: all will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work toward disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I am working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people. When there is genocide in Darfur; systematic rape in Congo; or repression in Burma - there must be consequences. And the closer we stand together, the less likely we will be faced with the choice between armed intervention and complicity in oppression.

This brings me to a second point - the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.

And yet all too often, these words are ignored. In some countries, the failure to uphold human rights is excused by the false suggestion that these are Western principles, foreign to local cultures or stages of a nation's development. And within America, there has long been a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists - a tension that suggests a stark choice between the narrow pursuit of interests or an endless campaign to impose our values.

I reject this choice. I believe that peace is unstable where citizens are denied the right to speak freely or worship as they please; choose their own leaders or assemble without fear. Pent up grievances fester, and the suppression of tribal and religious identity can lead to violence. We also know that the opposite is true. Only when Europe became free did it finally find peace. America has never fought a war against a democracy, and our closest friends are governments that protect the rights of their citizens. No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests - nor the world's -are served by the denial of human aspirations.

So even as we respect the unique culture and traditions of different countries, America will always be a voice for those aspirations that are universal. We will bear witness to the quiet dignity of reformers like Aung Sang Suu Kyi; to the bravery of Zimbabweans who cast their ballots in the face of beatings; to the hundreds of thousands who have marched silently through the streets of Iran. It is telling that the leaders of these governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation. And it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear to these movements that hope and history are on their side

Let me also say this: the promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach - and condemnation without discussion - can carry forward a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.

In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable - and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty, and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There is no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement; pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.

Third, a just peace includes not only civil and political rights - it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.

It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. It does not exist where children cannot aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.

And that is why helping farmers feed their own people - or nations educate their children and care for the sick - is not mere charity. It is also why the world must come together to confront climate change. There is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, famine and mass displacement that will fuel more conflict for decades. For this reason, it is not merely scientists and activists who call for swift and forceful action - it is military leaders in my country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance.

Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All of these are vital ingredients in bringing about the evolution that President Kennedy spoke about. And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power, to complete this work without something more - and that is the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share.

As the world grows smaller, you might think it would be easier for human beings to recognize how similar we are; to understand that we all basically want the same things; that we all hope for the chance to live out our lives with some measure of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves and our families.

And yet, given the dizzying pace of globalization, and the cultural leveling of modernity, it should come as no surprise that people fear the loss of what they cherish about their particular identities - their race, their tribe, and perhaps most powerfully their religion. In some places, this fear has led to conflict. At times, it even feels like we are moving backwards. We see it in Middle East, as the conflict between Arabs and Jews seems to harden. We see it in nations that are torn asunder by tribal lines.

Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint - no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith - for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Adhering to this law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. We are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power, and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us.

But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached - their faith in human progress - must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.

For if we lose that faith - if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace - then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass.

Like generations have before us, we must reject that future. As Dr. King said at this occasion so many years ago, "I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the 'isness' of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal 'oughtness' that forever confronts him."

So let us reach for the world that ought to be - that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls. Somewhere today, in the here and now, a soldier sees he's outgunned but stands firm to keep the peace. Somewhere today, in this world, a young protestor awaits the brutality of her government, but has the courage to march on. Somewhere today, a mother facing punishing poverty still takes the time to teach her child, who believes that a cruel world still has a place for his dreams.

Let us live by their example. We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that - for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pax Americana Continued?

Barack Obama, winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, has committed 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan. In a somewhat low-key but nevertheless firm address at the West Point Academy (which trains US Army officers) yesterday, the US President reaffirmed that the interests of US national security lie in the escalation of the fighting in Afghanistan.

Obama was quick to make clear the goals of this escalation: (a) to ensure that Al-Qaeda finds no safe haven in the region; (b) to ensure that the Taliban do not win; and (c) to fortify the Afghan security forces. All laudable objectives. But stating objectives alone do not make them attainable.

The war on terrorism, and by proxy on Al-Qaeda, has been on for the past eight years. Osama bin-Laden is still free if he has not succumbed to disease. True, many in the top leadership of that organization have been eliminated. But who is to say what its true strength is even today, given the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan? The US retaliation after 9/11 defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan handily. Yet they have now re-grouped and are well on their way to confronting the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. As for the Afghan security forces, strengthening them may be a very iffy task. The political culture of Afghanistan, no matter what Obama mentioned in passing, is not democratic or cohesive. President Karzai has been re-elected by default; his sole opponent refused a re-run. The scenario that unfolded after the rout of the Taliban in 2001/2002 clearly indicates the factionalism embedded in Afghan society. Hence, the goals cited by Obama may be overly ambitious.

Furthermore, this business of exporting democracy - whether to Afghanistan or Iraq - is, to put it gently, a joke. Democracy must be home-grown. When a country has neither a democratic tradition nor a political culture which feeds democracy, no external force can shove democracy down feudal throats.

The US President further assured the world that America does not see itself in the role of a "patron" in Afghanistan, but rather sees itself as a "partner", for peace, security and development. Mr. Obama has a wonderful way with words, we are all aware of that. But let us say CNN or any news organization were to ask the man in the street in Kabul how he views the US. I doubt the answer would be "partner". Even the Afghan president would not be where he is without American patronage.

Getting down to geo-political basics, Afghanistan has an important border - with China. Is it wild imagination to surmise that the US would like to have access, whenever needed, to walk down the Wakhan Corridor? It already has Japan, South Korea and (arguably) Taiwan as allies to the east of China. Philippines and Thailand are additional allies to the south-east. Some of the ex-Soviet countries to China's north have also been wooed as allies. Pakistan, and increasingly India (especially as regards Tibet), are US friends to the south of China. Afghanistan is yet another ally in this "Great Game" of the 21st century. The sole super-power and the rising one are playing. Afghanistan is not an unimportant pawn.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Our Religious Right

(A Letter to the Editor - published in The Kathmandu Post, 27 Nov 2009)

Biswas Baral should understand that we live in a democracy with freedom of religion ("Final Thoughts on Gadhimai", Nov. 26, Page 7). If people have faith in Gadhimai and wish to sacrifice buffaloes to the Goddess, who is to say they are "religious fanatics"? The Post has also published a letter from a woman in Norway who considers this event a "disgrace to Nepal" ("Not in God's Name", Nov. 26, Page 7). They are practicing their faith and let no one, especially someone living in Scandinavia, complain.

Baral goes so far as to philosophise, "people who commit violence against animals early in their lives are likely to commit violent crimes against other people when they grow up" (no reference cited). Animal sacrifice to Goddess Durga is a basic practice in Hinduism. I have a Chettri friend in whose family every male member is taught to cut a goat with a khukuri (in a single clean stroke) by the time he is 14 or 15. It is a rite of passage into adulthood. My friend cut his first goat at 15 and his first buffalo at 16. He is middle-aged today and has committed no crime in his entire life.

Hinduism was taken away as the official religion of this country, ironically under the watch of three Brahmin politicians. But at least 65% of the population are Hindus (another 15% are Buddhists). Let them practice their religion without uncalled for judgments. I will not judge the American people, for instance, for the number of turkeys they are going to kill for Thanksgiving. Let no one judge Nepalis for practicing their religion.

Friday, November 20, 2009

No Foreign Interference on Nepal Army!

Nepal is perhaps THE country where foreign interference has reached a level of absurdity. Every politician of note heads south of the border before taking any decision. A certain ambassador has taken on the role of Governor General. Squeezed between two giant nuclear powers, we get it from north and south, though much more heavily from the south. The laughable irony is we - the Nepali Government - has allowed foreign interference in this country's internal affairs to be the modus operandi for all and sundry. Though never colonised, we have a grovelling approach to anything foreign. And when certain foreign countries line the pockets of our corrupt politicians, we might as well hand over our independence to anyone who wants it.

Currently the Nepal Army (NA) does not have an official second-in-command. Major General Toran Jung Bahadur Singh's promotion to Lieutenant General is being delayed by the hue any cry of so-called human-rightists. 49 Maoist detainees allegedly disappeared from the NA's Bhairavnath barracks in 2003-2004. The NA has established the whereabouts of 12 of them. It is common knowledge that detainees routinely gave false names. Upon release, they carried on with their real names. So, arguably, the 37 "missing" detainees may have followed this exact practice. The NA's internal investigations have cleared Gen. Toran, under whose Brigade Command Bhairavnath Battalion was at the time. The current Defense Minister, and of course the NA, has stood by Gen. Toran's eligibility for promotion.

On the other hand, the US, UK, the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the National Human Rights Commission are creating a brouhaha that this General has been implicated in human rights violations and can be promoted only at the risk of the country's "democratic credibility". Our dilly-dallying Prime Minister has yet to take a decision on this matter, ignoring his Defense Minister's advice. Apparently, the PM is shaken by visits from the military attache's of the countries mentioned above. Nepal must be the only country where junior diplomats - and military attaches are just that - have direct access to the PM and can sway his judgment.

While the Maoist militia have come out of their cantonments on many occasions, directly violating the Peace Accords, not once has the NA ventured out of its barracks except to help with humanitarian needs such as floods and earthquakes. Further, what is good for the gander should be good for the goose too. It may be remembered here that the NA has investigated so far 72% of all allegations received against it and 175 personnel have actually been punished for rights violations. How many from the Maoist militia have been punished? Or did the so-called PLA not murder and pillage, among civilians, in the countryside? Instead, the supremo of the PLA has come and gone as the Prime Minister of this country! Where were these human-rightists looking then?

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the NA is the only institution that is keeping this country from total anarchy. The Maoist guns stored in the cantonments are fossils. The real weapons are buried deep in various parts of the country. Maoist leaders still talk of state capture, urban warfare and dictatorship of the so-called proletariat. They tried to politicise the NA by arbitrarily sacking the previous Chief and are now making a big issue of "civilian (or even people's!) supremacy", all the while pretending that they do not have a private "army", the PLA, and their youth wing, the YCL, which is primarily staffed by militia who should be inside the cantonments.

So, foreign parties, leave the NA and its internal matters alone. You have done enough harm already by meddling in Nepal's internal affairs.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Can Peace Hold in Nepal ? by Siddhartha Thapa

Can peace hold in Nepal? The answer to this question will draw mixed reactions from different quarters. But, whatever the reactions might be from different quarters there is a subtle consensus amongst Nepali politicians that the peace in Nepal is slowly but surely faltering towards a premature end. However, why is the peace process in Nepal heading towards a failure? First, the existing ideological divide between the parties and the Maoists is just too wide. Second, the recent Sino-India tension is real and Nepal is an issue that is prominent for both these countries. Third, the lack of leadership is clearly visible. And last, the role played by some external forces mainly the UNMIN and Norway is particularly questionable.

UNMIN’s bias for the Maoist Party is best explained by the relationship Samuel Tamrat shares with Maoist leaders. Tamrat, a former rogue rebel from Eritrea played a crucial role in establishing UNMIN’s mission in Kathmandu – he flew into Noida, New Delhi and met Dr.Bhatterai many times and his communist background came in handy to gain the trust of Maoist leaders. For the Maoist party, the presence of UNMIN served two strategic purposes to aide their strategy of eventual power capture. In plain and simple words, the Maoist party has used UNMIN as a tool to propel their tactical advancement in consolidating power in Nepal. First, UNMIN has in various reports to the Security Council equated both Nepal Army and PLA as equal entities. The obvious consequences of such reporting are beneficial to the Maoists as the PLA is seen as a national army en par with the Nepal Army – thus providing legitimacy and recognition for the PLA. What is without a doubt the most indigestible element of UNMIN’s presence in Nepal is that despite repeated warnings and suggestions it continued to accept thirty thousand militia as the total strength of the Maoist army – Prachanda declared to his cadres how the actual strength was only nine thousand and that he had foxed UNMIN.

Despicable as it may sound, UNMIN can serve no further purpose in our peace process – even with their use of sophisticated CCTV’s - murders happened in UN monitored camps and weapons continue to be removed from weapon containers which have UN stickers. It is without a doubt, a more structured indigenous surveillance can mitigate the complications arising in these UN cantonments. Next, UNMIN’s presence has also helped the Maoists to neutralize Indian hegemony in Nepal’s peace process. Fearing that they will be ultimately exposed and that India may intervene against their interests, Maoists have used UNMIN to checkmate India – UNMIN’s political mandate makes her the principal arbitrator of Nepal’s peace process and not India. The only difference between India and UNMIN is that for the UNMIN it just wants to conclude the peace process and leave, where as, for India nothing less than the establishment of a democratic polity will satisfy her investment in Nepal’s peace process.

Another prominent international player in Nepal’s peace process is Norway. The Norwegians have delivered consistent incantations to the Maoists leadership on the way to move forward. This juxtaposition can be explained by the role played by former Norwegian Ambassador to Nepal Tore Torang. Ambassador Torang was a key player in introducing Prachanda to numerous other Kathmandu based ambassadors. The most notable meeting that Ambassador Torang brokered between Prachanda was that with Ambassador Powell of the United States. Sri Lanka is a glaring example of how deceitfully the Norwegians took on the side of the outlawed Tamil Tigers – the same process is being emulated in Nepal. Why? Norway has the money to spend on development, and they have identified the Maoists as their partners to expand their base in the developmental process of Nepal, with issues such as human rights, inclusion and gender discriminations providing a perfect façade for their unity.

In a recent panel discussion in Washington titled, “China 2025”, organized by the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, a prominent expert on Asian studies, Aaron Friedberg from Princeton University warned of a “period of India-China tension". He further added that, "There are things that are ratcheting up on the border a little bit, but I think broadly tamped down within limits that are set by the political leaderships on both sides." However, the most interesting of Professor Friedberg’s observation was that Asia is a unipolar political entity and that India’s presence can help constitute a balancing force on Beijing. As Indo- US cooperation has increased, Asian politics has taken an interesting turn. China operated in Asia as a unipolar power with India in the distant as a balancer.

However, American-Indian cooperation has drawn Asian politics into a world of multipolarity which is discomforting to Beijing. It is in this context that Nepal cannot be ignored. In this jostling of diplomatic supremacy, Nepal has been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Nepal is now as much a priority on the security policy paradigm of both China and India. As for China, it needs a leadership in Nepal that can assure them that Nepal will not be used against creating trouble in Tibet. Where as India, needs to maintain her interest in Nepal so that energy harnessed in Nepal can be used for her industries as India grows rapidly. Equally important is the growth of Naxalism in India and the possible ramification a rogue Nepal can have on the security of India. What would serve the Indian’s best is if they tried understanding the security complication of their country through the eyes of Nepal.

Last, the ideological divide between the Maoists and the political parties is just too wide – end goals are drastically different. Political parties remain week, unorganized and do not have the imagination to check mate the Maoists both politically and constitutionally. Equally deplorable is the leadership of the political parties. In such light, the Maoist has entangled politicians in useless political debates. While politicians remain locked in Kathmandu, Maoists roam around Nepal campaigning and organizing against the state. As political capacity to check mate the Maoists erodes, the use of force seems like a probable strategy to counter the violence unleashed by the Maoists. Capable political leadership would explore ways of uniting parties against a common threat and then fighting the Maoists politically and constitutionally in which the Maoists would have surely lost once defanged by the process of democracy.

As things stand the peace process has entered the last phase, it can either work from here or completely fail. India and China must exert their influence on political actors to build consensus so that Nepal can usher in a new era of peace, stability and democracy. However, UNMIN’s mission to Nepal needs to be further streamlined if not terminated for all the dishonesty that has been synonymous with her presence in Nepal. Her further participation in Nepal’s peace process is determined by her ability to resist being used by the Maoists – it is a fallacy to generalize that the UN is an impartial peace mediator – all conflict mediators take side and this is a historic phenomenon. Most important, political parties and Maoists need to reach a common ground to ease the persisting ideological divide that engulfs them – democratic process and constitutional liberalism are processes that can’t be traded for the sake of peace.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Day's Cricket

It has been speculated that Prince Edward (the one with questionable sexual inclinations), the son of Edward Longshanks (who captured and killed Scottish nationalist William Bruce, as depicted in the film "Braveheart") played a game something like cricket in Kent in 1301. The origins of cricket has definitely been traced back to 16th century Tudor England. It soon became the national sport of England. When the sun shone on the British Empire, the game was exported to its colonies. Ironically, today, these very same ex-colonies manage to thrash the English regularly at their own game.

Cricket conjures up the image of teams in gentlemanly whites playing demurely and even having tea breaks over a 5-day test match. That was the way it was for a long time. But with the advent of one day internationals and the the more recent 20/20 forms of the game,cricket has thrown off its colonial heritage. It is now a colourful exciting game. The 20/20 matches even have cheerleaders!

My attention span is ideal for a 90 minutes game of football (soccer). Fast-paced action with just one half-time break. Within 2 hours, the match is over and one can go about one's business with the 'high' induced by the game. Even as a tennis fan, some of those slug fests which last 3 to 5 hours are hard on the attention span. So imagine my chagrin last Sunday when I recklessly decided to watch the India vs. Australia one day international cricket - the match started at 9 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m. I kept my interest in the game whetted by rooting for the doomed Indian side, but still I think I have just watched my last 7-hour game!

It was an important game. Australia is ranked No.1 in ODI cricket and India No.2. They were playing a 7-game series this time,in India. Australia led the series 3-2. So India had to win this game to stay alive. India had lost the previous game by only 3 runs, despite the 175 scored by Sachin Tendulkar. So it was anybody's game.

Unfortunately, it wasn't! India had 27 runs and 5 men out, due to the heroics of the Aussie bowlers Johnson and Bollinger. Tendulkar was out for 10, Sehwag and Yuvaraj for even less. A good partnership between Jadeja and Parvin Kumar helped India a bit, with both scoring over 50. Anyway, all out with 170 runs. The Aussies started batting. Their star batsman Shane Watson scored 49 before Harbhajan Singh got him to hit a flyer for a catch. Harbhajan got the dangerous Ricky Ponting out too. But one cannot hope for miracles, not with a measly 170 runs against Australia. The Aussies won by 6 wickets, and my 7 hours ordeal was disappointingly over.

My post last June was on the 20/20 world finals between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, played in England. I ended it by saying, "Whoever wins...the trophy will be held high with pride and the world of cricket will marvel at the heroics of these young men - from South Asia!" It was my personal ode to regional South Asian pride. South Asia could not lose in June. This time, it did. So until next time, regional pride will have to be patient...and I shall not be watching entire cricket games anyway, unless they are 20/20 matches which last only about 3 hours. One consolation I do have from last Sunday is that I won a $10 bet from an Aussie friend who was betting on the Indians! Now I have to figure out which country's dollar is strongest before I collect my win.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mon Ami Asterix

Asterix, the beloved Gaul, recently celebrated his 50th birthday. Appearing first in a French magazine in 1959, 33 Asterix comic books have been published as of 2008. The story line is that of a village of ancient Gauls in Brittany resisting Roman occupation. They have a magic potion to help with the resistance but they are also brave and industrious. France celebrated Asterix by naming its first satellite, launched in 1965, Asterix-1.

The cast of characters in these comics are a sight to behold. Asterix, warrior nonpareil especially when he has had a go at the magic potion. The huge Obelix, strong as an ox and Asterix's side-kick. The bard, Cacophonix, whose lack of singing talent is the bane of the whole village. I have a dog which bears an uncanny resemblance to Dogmatix, always scratching fleas off himself. The village chief is carried around on a shield. Many other colourful characters abound.

The Romans, with their empire, just can't seem to vanquish this little band of Gauls. Wave after wave of legionnaires are sent against Asterix and company, to no avail. To those of us who fancy David against Goliath, this is the ultimate turn-on.

The creators of this marvel, writer Rene Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo, have provided a commentary on history and politics. Uderzo's parents had fled Mussolini's Italy so he had no qualms about making the Romans laughing stock of the Brittany country-side. His illustrations are superb and make Archie comics, or even the old Classic comics, look like rags. Goscinny died in 1977 but Uderzo has carried on as best he can. At 82, he has not stopped.

I am going to go now look for the latest Asterix comic. Au revoir et vive les Gauls!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Barbecue and Politics

Happened to be invited to a superb barbecue dinner very recently. It was a small group, including two CA members, one of them a seasoned politician. With the impending street agitation promised by the Maoists, politics naturally took up a lot of the conversation time.

I had certain basic questions, not being a politician nor much of a political analyst either:

1. Why did the Army not step in when the King's powers were removed by the SPA and the Maoists in the spring of 2006?
There was no call for this action by the King himself and the Army Chief then was not a man of action.
2. When the country was declared secular, why did the Hindu majority in Nepal remain silent?
Because they were Hindus and tolerance is a basic tenet of Hinduism.
3. Why does not anyone have the courage to face Girija and change the NC leadership?
He still has a coterie of strong supporters within the party and the Koirala name probably is an asset for him.
4. So what is going to happen with the Maoists agitation starting 1st November?
Their call for reviewing the President's decision on reinstating the Army Chief sacked by the Maoists holds absolutely no water. Right off, the case is in the Supreme Court and, without its decision, there cannot be any discussion on it. Besides, there is no constitutional provision for the President's action to be reviewed by the CA. Further, the unconstitutional move was initiated by the Maoists themselves when the sacked the Army Chief directly without sending their recommendation to the President. Of course, they also abrogated the whole principle of consensus when they went ahead with the sacking while all other parties were against it.

Well, the answer to the fourth question was rather an earful but I learnt a lot. In summary, the Maoists' brazen move to replace the Army Chief with their chosen General backfired. They had to resign. They lost face. The street agitation going on now is only to let people know that they still have some "punch" left. Of course, going into the foreign involvement in the Army Chief fracas would extend this post too long; so I will not even touch that. The issue is not "civilian control of the Army", as hyped by the Maoists - it is simply politics as played out by power-hungry politicians who do not care a whit for the people of this country.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nepal First! (People's Review, 16.7.2009)

The last display of nationalism, or at least a variation of it, which I saw came about in rather an ironic fashion. An Indian Policeman from Darjeeling won the “Indian Idol” song competition in 2007 and Nepalis went wild with pride and joy. This is not to take anything away from Prashant Lama. A clean cut young man, who probably looks more “Nepali” than you or me, he has a beautiful voice and sings Nepali songs from the heart. The irony, obviously, is that the show of Nepali nationalism could squarely be attributed to the musical talents of a foreign policeman. Where then are our Nepali icons and idols?

Nationalism is defined as “Patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts; policy of national independence” by the Oxford English Dictionary. In today’s Nepal, nationalism means different things to different people. It is a concept either mutated for political convenience or, more often, ignored altogether. What makes us proud to be a Nepali and how do we express this pride? Certainly it is foolish to be proud of our current development status, economic or political. So we need to look elsewhere to fan the sparks that can ignite the flames of our patriotism. History is an obvious area, but there are other not so obvious areas which can provide us with these sparks too.

While it has become recent fashion to debase our history for political reasons, we cannot ignore our glorious history. During the last truly national war, Balbhadra Kunwar displayed his bravery at Kalapani earning the respect of his British adversaries; the names of Kazi Amar Singh Thapa and Bhakti Thapa also shine on from that war. Bahadur Shah’s consolidation of his brother’s work in forming Nepal is a lasting legacy. The great poet laureate Bhanubhakta Acharya; the literary giants Lekh Nath Poudyal and Laxmi Prasad Devkota; more recently, Appa Sherpa, mountaineer supreme who has climbed Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) more times than any other human – we must take pride in these heroes and many others. And the name that reigns above all is one Pritihivi Narayan Shah, who founded Nepal by means of his leadership and military genius and with the gallant support of his army, composed, it might be noted, not only of chhetris but numerous other ethnic groups, a great majority of which were magars. This is the same Pritihivi Narayan Shah whose remembrance day, a national holiday termed “National Unity Day”, has now been stricken off the calendar. The same individual without whose feats, none of us would be Nepalis today. Alas, nationalism is but a pawn these days of power politics.

Besides history, we must be proud of our country’s natural beauty. Agreed, hungry stomachs cannot appreciate nature’s bounty; but that’s another issue, already mentioned above. We live in the shadow of the great Sagarmatha. Our rivers rush down from the Himalayas in torrents of silver streaks. The beauty of Nepal draws tourists from all over the world making it one of the prime trekking and mountaineering destinations. The artistry of our temples awe all. Not least, the gentle hospitality of the Nepali people is appreciated by the world. Given the events of the past 13 years, all of this may sound maudlin and laughable. But if we are to recover from those gory 13 years, these items of pride are the very instruments which will aid the recovery.

We do seem to have very little to be proud of today, in these times of lack of law and order and the hawking of our sovereignty to foreigners. But the trick is to rise above our condition and to act with vision and courage for a better future, one that we can be truly proud of. This effort, in itself, is Nationalism. We must not forget that we are a proud people never subjugated to colonialism, That we are Nepalis first, seconding our ethnicity for the greater good. This is not a dreamer’s wish. If we are to survive as a nation, we must all be Nepalis first. We can safeguard our ethnic heritage, but never forget that we are first and foremost Nepalis. We need to inculcate in ourselves discipline and fairness. For example, Switzerland has 10 times the number of vehicles as compared to Nepal, in an area less than 30% of Nepal’s. Yet the chaotic traffic that we see here is unheard of there. The simple reason being Swiss drivers know traffic rules and follow them strictly.

Sports is one area in which Nepalis are doing well while much more still needs to be done. The haul of tae-kwon-do medals garnered by our athletes in international competitions is something to be truly proud of. Our under-19 national cricket teams, men and women, have also done us proud. Our film industry has not risen to the challenge of nationalism. The Indian film “Chak De India” (we seem to be looking south for all our examples, but that, in itself, is no sin) made Indians proud of their nationality. Why not have a film that inspires Nepali nationalism, which could also be commercially successful at the same time? The theater arts and music also bend well to inspiring nationalism. I remember vividly Ganesh Rasik’s song of the 1960’s with lyrics dripping with nationalistic fervour - “Hatki hoena dati ladne Nepali ko bani huncha/Kahiley najhukne seer utheko swavimani Nepali huncha….” We must use lines like these to motivate us, to work harder, to be proud of being Nepali.

Prashant is a gifted singer who sings also in Nepali with brilliance. Our nationalism however must be stirred by stronger stuff - true pride, made in Nepal. We have much to be proud of if we can only shake off the lack of confidence our economic condition bestows on us. We are indeed a poor country. We must strive for progress. Meanwhile, let each of us do his or her part in making us proud of being a Nepali. Let us never lose our self-respect. Thank you, Prashant, for giving us a glimmer of nationalism. But now we want to do it our own way – the Nepali way!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

“Pheri Janma Hola Ki Nahola” (Will I be born again or not?)

Having passed through the usual Marxist/atheist and agnostic phases, inevitable results of attending a radically-oriented college, I have now come home after a long time away. I am not into temple-hopping though. I go to two temples – Pashupatinath and the family shrine (Kul Devata). It is hard to explain these things. I find a certain kind of peace in Pashupatinath. Of course, I presume the shrine’s reputation as one of the holiest Hindu shrines carries weight. But I identify myself with Lord Shiva, don’t ask me why. It just happened. Maybe this is what is called Faith. I surprise myself quite often as I go to Pashupatinath in the early mornings to burn a few incense sticks and receive “chandan” (sandalwood paste placed on forehead). I admit I am skeptical of all organized religions. Maybe this is because I never learnt enough about the religion I was born into, Hinduism. Certainly going to a Jesuit school did not help in that regard, though the education St. Xavier's in Nepal provided circa. 1970 compared to any in the world. In any case, I have a simple belief: the link between any individual and the Power (“Shakti”) out there, God – if you will, is a very personal one. One does not need to belong to any organized religion to validate this link.

I visited Pashupatinath again recently. I did my usual incense/chandan routine and took a circle around the shrine. This circle inevitably passes through a roofed structure where prayers and bhajans (hymns) take place, and from next to it one looks over the Bagmati River and the “ghat” (cremation area) below. Less said about the polluted river, the better. I do like to look at the ghat and feel the inevitability of life. Knowing that one day I, hopefully, will be cremated there, it is a peek into one’s ultimate resting place.

This time, in this area, there was a small group of worshipers dancing to a bhajan. Some of the dancers were lost to the world, as they offered the bhajan to God and danced, some almost in a trance. The refrain of the bhajan is the title of this piece, which essentially is a question – Will I be born again or not? The tune was catchy, the rhythm upbeat, the voices were sweet and mellow and the chorus line was profound. Without going into a theological discussion on reincarnation, I can only say I stood there, as if transfixed, listening to the bhajan and choking back emotions I did not expect.

I am quite sure that the singers there all believed in reincarnation. The ultimate in piousness and virtue is not be born again. Hence, the chorus. Not to be born again is the objective. Being agnostic on the concept of reincarnation, I did not identify as such with the bhajan. But it got me thinking. I find it most convenient to think of death simply as the curtains drawn on life. Doesn't really matter what happens after. What is to be achieved is to be achieved in this life. All successes and failures are recorded by society and perceived by oneself - in this life. Ah yes, but there is the Soul - where does it go? This may seem pathetically naive, misinformed or downright obstinate, but I'm not sure there is a soul to continue on the journey after death. Heaven and hell are concepts that can be argued about endlessly. Before I totally confuse myself and anyone reading this, let me say what I think: after death, its curtains with nothing more; alternatively, the soul (the spirit, or whatever one calls it) is absorbed by the Shakti out there. After that, I just do not know and am not sure I really care.

So, "Pheri janma hola ki nahola?" Personally, that is no issue for me. I enjoyed the bhajan on a fresh Pashupati dawn. The intensity with which it was sung reflected devotion and faith. It was holy music to my questioning ears. It was profound.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sports and Regional Pride

With the Wimbledon Tennis tournament two days away, the general craziness over football (next year's World Cup, the ongoing Federation Cup, Ronaldo's trade from ManU to Real Madrid, Drogba's suspension, etc.), the World 20/20 Cricket tournament currently concluding in England does not perhaps hold the sports enthusiasts' attention very much. The cricket aficionados even dismiss the 20-overs only format of cricket as an aberration of that so-called gentleman's game, Test Cricket with its lengthy format moving at a stately pace, tea-breaks and all.

In any case 20/20 cricket is thriving and here to stay. Its international championship is played every two years. India won the inaugural championship in 2007. The 2009 finals takes place in London on Sunday 21st June (14:00 GMT, Star Cricket). The finalists - Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Pakistan upset the favourites, South Africa, in the first semi-final. Sri Lanka, and a young man named Dilshan, cooked West Indies' goose in last evening's second semis. As a south Asian, even though I am more a fan of tennis and football, it is a matter of sheer pride that two South Asian countries will be battling it out for the honours on Sunday. South Asia, usually in the news for its poverty and other sundry malaise, reigns supreme at least in that stately game of Cricket. Watching these young men play cricket (well not all of them are that young; Sri Lanka's hero, Sanath Jayasuria, will be 40 in less than 2 weeks)I think of how the colonized have thrashed the colonials at their own game, how a sport has given young men undreamed-of opportunities, and wish we could solve all our problems through a cricket match, or a match in any other sports for that matter.

Sri Lanka is in the headlines these days not because of Jayasuria and company, but because of the recent crushing of the LTTE rebels by the Sri Lankan Army and the consequent hullabaloo raised by righteous hypocritical "human rights" groups. Pakistan has been in the news for a long time: Benazir, Talibans, Musharraf, US's "fight against terrorism" and all of that.

But come Sunday afternoon, on a green oval at Lord's cricket ground in London, the cricket teams of these two countries will face each other sans guns, sans religious fanaticism, sans hatred. Just a a sense of pure competition, the will to win, an opportunity to give one's best. Whoever wins, I personally am a Sri Lanka fan, the trophy will be held high with pride and the world of cricket will marvel at the heroics of these young men - from South Asia!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jai Bandh! II

Further to my article "Jai Bandh!", published in People's Review, June 4-10, and also posted in this site on June 3, these photos were taken on 15th June when the YCL shut down the valley. These photos are mostly from the Balaju area, where the "jhadap" began.

Following that cliched saying about one picture and thousand words. The photos show (a) burning tire: symbol of bandhs here; (b) another burning tire in front of the welcome sign to the Balaju Industrial District; (c) a group of YCL activists; and (d) the police enjoying some shade. The rest is for your to figure out, think and take the appropriate action.

One thing I can and will say: as I walked to the Balaju Baise' Dhara Park and back, I saw about a 100 youth with formidable looking poles muttering about when they should start the stone throwing. There was not a single police outside the Balaju police station. I felt extremely safe walking along with these pole-bearing honchos.

Jai Bandh!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Such a Good Boy by Mark Zimmerman, MD, former Medical Director of Patan Hospital and currently, CEO, Nick Simon Institute, Nepal

That night in the Emergency Room, the area around the doctors’ desk was hot and crowded. Some people were trying to slide the charts of their own patients to the top of the pile. Others made yet another inquiry about the status of their relative’s treatment, or tried to gain an advantage by mentioning the name of some acquaintance who worked in our hospital. In Nepal, who you know is everything.

Paban the medical resident and I edged our way through the throng. It was time to divvy up the internal medicine patients. We sorted through the charts you take emphysema and this typhoid fever one, I’ll take this stroke and that pleural effusion. I went to search for a 16-year-old boy named Tej Bdr Tamang, whose left side of the chest was completely white on the X-ray (a sign that something other than normal lung was there). I found him in the wide, deserted outpatient hall, taking refuge from the bedlam of the ER. He sat on a wooden bench, erect, with his back to the wall. His brother beside him had jumped up to signal me when I’d called out Tej’s name.

I brought the boys in to an examination room, where the many stretchers left just enough space for a doctor to slide between. Patients’ clothing, bottles of water, half-eaten snacks, sputum containers, and urinals cluttered the tabletops and floor. Because Tej was too short of breath to speak easily, his brother told me about the illness. Three weeks of dry cough, fever, and now shortness of breath. I examined Tej and his reports, and decided that he probably had a tubercular pleural effusion a collection of fluid around the lung. He was sick and could not just be sent home on medicines, so I made arrangements to drain off some of the effusion.

It was quiet in the procedure room. Tej climbed up onto one of the exam tables. I helped him take off his shirt, a girl’s shirt embroidered on the front with three pink birds singing on a holly branch. After explaining the procedure to him, I put on sterile gloves, began to sort through my tray, and just then the hospital lights went out. That part of the Emergency Room was under construction, and the wall in front of us, as well as one in the room beyond, had been partially knocked down, leaving an opening out to the hospital courtyard. It was wide enough for the soft light of early evening to light the room, and for the pale purple of a jacaranda tree to accompany us Tej in his breathless anxiety, and I sorting, clinking the various instruments for pleural drainage.

The night was busy, with not enough nurses on duty, so I planned to have Tej’s brother assist me by pouring the antiseptics into bowls and handing me some xylocaine. Still, I was glad when Sushila turned up to help; better to have a nurse, especially with this boy being fairly sick. “This will sting a bit.”

A stoic lad though reed thin, he didn’t flinch at thee cold alcohol swab or at the jab of local anesthesia in his back. The fluid was easy to find. I fixed the position of the fat needle, about 2 inches into his chest, by clamping it near the skin, hooked up a valve and tubing, and began to drain him. Sushila held the outflow tube and a measuring jug. I pulled on the plunger. The big glass syringe became hot in my left hand as it filled with his fluid. I turned the valve and pushed. Foamy yellow liquid splashed into the jug.

The three of us formed a triangle, each brushing against the other two. Sushila spoke softly, intently to Tej.

Such a good boy.
You don’t even whimper, do you?
You are a brave young man.
So helpful to us, you are.
Such a good boy.

Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen syringes-full of fluid. I asked Tej how he was doing. “OK, but not much better.” I asked Sushila if she was getting weary. “Of course not.” The lights came back on.
Sushila repeated her litany once more and then I recognized the cooing words. I knew that she was speaking not just to Tej, but also to her own son.

I took care of Pujan two years before. He’d come to Patan Hospital with a sudden onset of severe headache and fever. It wasn’t meningitis, but that was about as far as we could go with a diagnosis. Our hospital’s equipment is limited and a nationwide strike that day prevented us from using the CAT scan across town. Pujan who never let his Mom walk to the hospital at night alone, who was tops in the local karate club, who gave portions of his food to kids who had none he died two years ago this month. The jacaranda was also in bloom then.

Sushila’s husband is one of Nepal’s better-known artists. The Christmas after her son died, Sushila brought me one of his paintings, framed. It hung in my apartment, reminding me of them. She was better that second year after he died than she was during the first, but that glow that she once had seemed to have disappeared. We spoke from time to time, in the hallway or between patients. She drew some small solace from mentioning again the virtues of her lost son.

Tej began to cough at the same time as the fluid came more slowly. The chest was near dry in that area. I pulled the needle out.
“Ah, isn’t he such a good boy? Doesn’t even whimper, does he, doctor?”

Sushila went off to measure and empty the jug’s contents. I taped some gauze over the puncture site. His brother helped Tej to get his shirt on. I walked back into the swirl of the main ER, to write up his papers for medicines and a return visit.

This was written by Dr. Zimmerman a decade ago, but is relevant just as much today, indicating how little Nepal has changed.
This piece literally brought tears to my eyes, blinding what I was reading. What I thought was going to be a fairly 'clinical' story bloomed into something far beyond. "... the pale purple of a jacaranda tree to accompany u..." - fantastic imagery! This may be a "non-political" story but the political/social overtones are there for all to see: poverty - Tej wearing a girl's shirt; the electricity going off; the crowded hospital; the name dropping; and, of course, the lost potential of youth, as signified by Sushila's loss.

Tej Bdr. Tamang survived and is alive and well today.

Friday, June 5, 2009

My personal protest

A funny thing happened to me the other day. Kantipath is partitioned down the middle with cinder blocks and rope. There are however 2 breaks in this partition, presumably allowing drivers to make u-turns when necessary. Not so! I took a u-turn on one of these spots a few days ago. Out darted a traffic police who was waiting to pounce. He told me that a u-turn was not allowed there. I protested that there was no sign indicating this prohibition. He shrugged off my protests and said that u-turns hamper the flow of traffic and are therefore not allowed. Mind you, my u-turn was a complete turn (no need for backing) and I was all set to head in the other direction.

So I had a few choices: (a) just ignore the policeman and drive on - this proved unfeasible because he stood in front of my car demanding my license; (b) run over the clueless man - not advisable since I do value my SUV; (c) lock my car and just walk away. Now, in retrospect, I should have opted for (c) but in the heat of the moment, I simply flung my license at his righteous face and drove off. Had to retrieve my license from the police station after paying a "fine" of Rs. 200.

"Law and order", "politics of impunity" and such other terms are bandied about freely these days. What law was that policeman enforcing? And did he not get away with impunity? Anyway, I plan to take the same u-turn today. This time I shall go with Option (c), making sure that my vehicle blocks all traffic.

So if you see a traffic jam on Kantipath, you know what happened. It won't be the comrades "struggling in the streets", just me exercising my democratic right to protest the lack of proper traffic regulations and signs in this beloved capital of ours.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Jai Bandh! (Published in People’s Review, June 4-10, 2009) by Birat Simha

Yesterday, 1 June, I had one of my most peaceful days in Kathmandu since returning here about two years ago. I walked from Jamal to Kaldhara to Lazimpat to Maharajgunj and back. The streets were sparsely populated with pedestrians, a few bicycles, one or two ambulances on emergency call, a few daring motorcyclists and one ironic motorbike with the pillion rider festooned in a red bandana and carrying a red communist flag. A few mom-and-pop stores were stealthily open. The rest of the stores were shuttered down as tightly as the Guantanamo Bay complex in Cuba is soon expected to be. There was almost a festive mood in the air, people walking in the middle of the street with hardly a care in the world. I felt good walking in the middle of the street too and hardly felt the heat of the afternoon sun.

I have concluded the following from the scenario above:
(a) There is absolutely no need for petroleum-based vehicles in Kathmandu within the confines of the ring road. We can all live healthier lives getting good exercise by walking (or bicycling) in a pollution free environment.
(b) The perpetrators of bandhs, and there will be many more now that the Maoists are out of the government, need to allow shops to open. There is no purpose in inconveniencing hard-working merchants during these bandhs. Inconvenience the elite driving around in their SUVs, but why pick on these shops who are simply trying to make a few bucks? Shutting down shops will not pressurize the government in any way. It does not really care, can’t you see?
(c) Let us institutionalize bandhs in our fledgling democracy. Just like it was/is accepted practice to air political views standing on a box at the corner of Hyde Park in London, let us all accept that bandhs are a means of political expression. Just let’s not close down the economy. This way, we get the best of both worlds. People will certainly notice a bandh while the economy does not have to suffer.

Yesterday’s bandh was apparently initiated by the “joint action committee for Newa Autonomous state” demanding, inter alia, the declaration of Kathmandu Valley as an autonomous state. Not a quixotic cause, I might add. If Madhes is to be one state and the other ethnic groups are also having a go at autonomy, why not the Newars? They are, after all, the original inhabitants of this valley. Since federalism is supposed to cure all our problems and Nepal has already been “declared” a Federal Democratic Republic, it is hardly surprising that various ethnic groups try and consolidate their political identity by demanding autonomy. Now let us see where federalism will lead us. Will Nepal break apart at the seams or will we become a strong federal state such as the US? There is a saying, “Don’t go to the cardiologist unless your heart is giving you trouble”. The politicians of “New” Nepal ignore this. They have made us secular, federal and God knows what else is coming, whether we needed it or not.

I mentioned somewhere above that we would be wise to expect more bandhs now that the Maoists have abandoned the government and are in opposition. They have this basic strategy of “struggle programmes from both the streets and parliament”. Fine, I guess this is democracy in action and every political party has the right to stop parliament from functioning, to create massive traffic jams, to present the people with the gift of insecurity caused by political cadres (who can also be called hoodlums) attacking everything in sight and, in general, shutting down the country for days on end.

Even as I write this, I hear chants in the street below. And today is not even a bandh day. We are supposed to be having a bandh break between the Newa bandh from yesterday and the Maoist “struggle programmes” to begin tomorrow. Someone is breaking the bandh rules! So we can expect a long hot summer and monsoon while this new government tries to govern, when it has time to do so while trying to survive. The “logical” conclusion of the peace process and the formulation of the new constitution are supposed to top the political agenda. I know not whose logic the peace process is following. And what about Development? Or have we been declassified from being a LDC lately?

The Indian Congress Party swept the recent election there having co-opted the Academy Award winning song “Jai Ho!” My tongue-in-cheek “Jai Bandh!” is a cry of frustration, no doubt. I can only plead that let not this country be governed by an endless series of bandhs, leading nowhere except into deeper depths of poverty, lack of governance and mayhem.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Reflections from Sri Lanka and lessons for Nepal By P.S. Kunwar

Like everyone else in the world in general and South Asia in particular, the end of the LTTE has provided an opportunity to look for lessons for Nepal . The general perspective from the liberal left leaning international press, caught off guard as usual, has been to say that the Sri Lankan tactic of shunning negotiations, pursuing a relentless military campaign and acceptance of civilian casualties, a) should not have been followed and b) would not have worked. This press perspective was backed up by the never ending interviews from aid workers and human rights activists that focused on humanitarian suffering and the absence of peace. However, it did work and Sri Lanka is now rid of an affliction that hindered its progress for more than a quarter century.

Nepal on the other hand has done everything by the book. So theoretically we should be well on our way to permanent peace. Theoretical prescriptions followed fast and furious from the likes of the treacherous UNMIN, the simplistic Nordics, unreliable Europeans, and a lumbering giant neighbor led by its fringe communist tail. We gave up our constitution, kingship, religion, culture, history, unitary state, national anthem, national seal, national dress and we still don’t have peace. In addition we gave away; citizenships, money to enemy combatants, the honor of being declared martyrs, and - most importantly of all - our place as a fully sovereign state in South Asia . Yet we still don’t have peace. Nepal ’s peace process is a case where the operation was a success but the patient died!

How did we come to this pass? Before following Sri Lanka ’s example of rejecting prescriptions from international peace quacks, it may be interesting to see why these international quacks and their attendant nurses from the press, human right activists and development business were tried. What were the motives of the Nepali leaders to allow such a travesty? It is all about cover-up, consolidation, cash and hope.

Motive 1: Cover Up. The simplistic interpretation of history and the cause of the Maoist uprising, swallowed hook-line and sinker by the likes of UNMIN, served our self-serving politicians well. According to this, Maoists took up arms against an autocratic king to restore democracy and create social justice. However, the fact that there was a functioning democracy, with a constitutional king, that they took up arms against in 1996 is conveniently forgotten. This version allows the politicians to cover up their decade long misrule and corruption as well as lay all blame on the kingship.

Motive 2: Consolidation. Even without the Maoists, Nepal had had enough of the geriatric greedy politicians and hence the celebrations after the royal coup. Following the advice of the quacks, these politicians were handed with the status of major parties without ever being put to the test. Who knows how history would have changed if they had participated in the 2006 elections. As the last election showed, these so-called major parties have continued to decline in popularity. In addition to the parties, it allowed a group of mentally challenged has-beens to emerge as leaders of civil society who till today are up to their vomit inducing antics in their attacks against the Presidency.

Motive 3: Cash. No one can deny the huge amount of money that accompanied the prescriptions from quacks. It was far easier for our “leaders” to rather lie down as a patient than debate the quacks understanding of reality. This led to a rabbit like multiplication of newspapers, NGOs, human rights groups with names like HURPES and peace builders eager to lap up this distorted understanding of history and make hay in the process.

Motive 4: Hope: Since Nepalis are a hopeful lot; our leaders who sold their souls still have two hopes. One is that the motives mentioned above do not come to light. The second hope is that the quacks prescription will still work. However, both hopes will be shattered. The alternative to the Maoists are not the mainstream parties. They can never be a bulwark against a Pol Pot like state. If a fresh alternative does not emerge from within the parties soon, they will lose the next conflict with the Maoists and take us with them to the darkest days in Nepal ’s history. If we depend on them we are sunk. The real civil society needs now to enter politics, the press and human rights movement to remove the cancer in Nepal ’s democracy, and like Sri Lanka , do it our way.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Etiquette for Street Protests

I sure am sticking my neck out trying to prescribe etiquette for what essentially is "mobism". But here goes.

Two days ago, I was walking along Durbar Marg when the Maoist street protest passed me by, on the way to the President's residence. There were a few hundred people with banners decrying "the Presidential Coup" and lots of Maoist flags waving merrily. One individual ran well ahead of the procession assuring all shopkeepers politely that they could keep their shops open, and there was no danger from the procession. This, I thought, was a very considerate gesture. I could observe the shopkeepers skeptically eying this messenger; but they did leave their shops open, and there was no damage.

Now I come to the crux of the matter. Sure, it is the democratic right of every citizen to march peacefully protesting whatever they wish - from stinking garbage to presidential decisions. BUT, there is something called traffic in this city of ours. It has far too many vehicles for its roads. So when these protest marches block entire streets, the already horrendous traffic situation becomes manic. Okay, I concede, those who own vehicles are the elite minority. But what about the taxis who need to earn a livelihood, or all the middle class motor cyclists?

I have seen political protests in many countries. For example, in the United States, they are controlled well by the police and their protest areas are designated beforehand. Traffic is never hampered. By exercising our democratic right to protest (or freedom of expression), we surely do not have the right to tie up traffic, cause commotion and destroy the peace. But this is exactly what our protestors - be they red or of any other hue - are doing. The police apparently do not know that protesters do not have the right to block traffic. Or they do, and don't give a damn!

Monday, May 4, 2009

What Is to be Done?

This is a layman's perspective on the events of the past two days. There are constitutional and legal analyses aplenty. One thing I can say right off is that these events are NOT based on constitutional validity or legalities. They are simply politics.

Prachanda had to ensure that he remained the leader of the Maoist Party. He therefore had to maintain his quixotic stand on sacking the Chief of Army Staff. His unilateral sacking brought down his government and he had to resign. The President was beseeched by 18 political parties to retain the CoAS. He did so in the best spirit of keeping intact the only security apparatus of the nation and to rebuttal the high-handed unconstitutional action of the Maoists.

Now the Maoist high command has declared that they will push for the CoAS's ouster in the streets and in government. They have further declared that a new government cannot be formed without their support. They have also termed the President's action unconstitutional. In effect, they have reverted to their rabble-rousing ways.

The next few days will probably see Maoist rallies all over the country and especially in Kathmandu. I doubt the police can keep the peace. Who else can? Obviously, the Army. The nation has reached this watershed to preserve its Chief. Let us see now if that Chief can direct the army to preserve the peace and security of the Nepali people.

The new government is apparently to be led by the United Marxist-Leninists, supported by the Nepali Congress, the 3rd and 2nd largest parties respectively in the Constituent Assembly. They will need the support of many other parties, not least the Madhesh-oriented parties, to form a government of national consensus. The Maoists should ideally support this "National Government" which can proceed with the drafting of the constitution - the main job of this CA. But Maoist "idealism" would perhaps prevent them from keeping the nation above petty party doctrines.

When Lenin wrote his pamphlet which was titled the same as the title of this piece, he knew what was to be done and did it. I wish Nepali "leaders" were Lenins, minus the Marxist flavour.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


This morning's (1 May) Kathmandu Post (not the other Indian-controlled daily) puts it succinctly: The Thauus have shut down the Terai (20 districts) for 9 days; essential commodities are in short supply; prices have soared; the queues at the petrol stations in Kathmandu are serpentine; there are daily strikes; and insecurity is rife.

Yet the Neros in our government fiddle on. The Maoists want to, if necessary, unilaterally sack the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Katwal. The Nepali Congress (NC), as the main oppositin party, is adamantly against it, and for once is showing aome mettle. The UML, which is neither Marxist-Leninist nor united, has come up with a brainless formula - sack Katwal, his number two Khadka (who is trying to be COAS by kissing the Maoists' you-know-what), as well as the Defense Minister Gurung, a top Maoist. NC opposes this. The Maoists, naturally, don't want Gurung removed.

This melodrama is being played out at the expense of the Nepali people who made the Maoists the largest party in the Constituent Assembly. The title of this piece is not a celebration of May 1. Rather, it is the call sign for aircrafts and ships in distress. This country is in distress, without a shadow of doubt. While the daily lives of its people deteriorate, the government is engrossed in political shananigans.

Today we are supposed to celebrate workers' rights. The only workers who have rights in this country are those belonging to the Maoist-affiliated unions. The rest remain as they were - in the morass of feudal, nepotistic constraints. More than half a million Nepalis are working abroad. How they must be celebrating their rights as Nepali workers today!

And while we may shout "May Day" at the top of our voices, asking for help, let there be no misconceptions. The only help can come from we ourselves. Donors, international organizations, and our giant neighbours look promisimg as aid-givers. Let us not live in a fool's paradise. Millions, even billions, of donor dollars may pour into Nepal; but as long as those dollars line the pockets of a corrupt government and further bolster the dominance of the economic elite, nothing will change.

So, "MAY DAY!"

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nepal Army versus Nepal Government

Two glaringly annoying headlines face me today: "Government intent on taking action against Chief of Army Staff" and "Army trashes coup rumours".

Why is the Nepal Army (NA) presenting such a chicken-hearted front? The government asked the COAS for explanation on three issues. The COAS gave perfectly well-reasoned valid explanation. If the Maoists still want to sack him, isn't it time the NA dared them to? Let the rumours fly and scare the daylights out of those who would dismantle the only remaining institution in Nepal preventing a fledgling democracy from turning into a one-party communist dictatorship. Isn't there something in the oath that NA personnel take saying they will lay down their lives for the sovereignty of the nation? Has this been conveniently forgotten by some of these bribe-bloated generals?

If Lt. Gen. Khadka has sided with the Maoists and stabbed the NA in the back, why is he still strutting around instead of being court martialled? It is time for the NA to draw the famous "laxman rekha". "Mess with us and you will get it" - this should be the motto, not "trashing rumours", for heaven's sake.

Doesn't anyone have a backbone in this beleaguered country?

Friday, April 24, 2009

3 Years of Democracy in "New Nepal"

24 April marks the third anniversary of Jana Andolan II, the much vaunted "people's revolution" of 2006. Republica (how obvious can one be?), in its inaugural issue, trumpets "Triumph of People Power". In marked contrast, the Kathmandu Post which bills itself as Nepal's Largest Selling English Daily does not even mention that today is Democracy Day, being observed with a national holiday. So not all believe that people's power was what created JA II.

In a nutshell, on 24 April 2006, the then-King stepped back from his autocratic rule making way for the re-convening of the National Parliament. The anti-King movement had been spearheaded by seven political parties, led by the Nepali Congress (NC) and the United Marxist-Leninist party (UML). In November 2005, under the auspices of the Indian Government, the Maoists who were then still fighting against the government sat down for talks in Delhi with the seven party alliance (SPA). The resulting 12-points agreement effectively brought the Maoists into the SPA as an eighth political force. In a truely communist tactical move, a hard-core communist rebel movement joined efforts towards a multi-party democracy.

The initial call for an end tp an end to autocratic rule by the King snowballed into a anti-monarchy movement. instigated by SPA, Maoists and arguably (only because there is no hard proof) by the Indian Government. Every player had his/her own axe to grind. GP Koirala, the NC president aspired to be the first president of Republic Nepal, and his ambition had no bounds. The Maoists, almost by definition, were not going to support - at least overtly - the monarchy. Unfortunately, India felt put upon when the King pressed for China to have observer status in SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation). It all came to a head on that fateful day 3 years ago when thousands of people took to the streets chanting anti-King slogans. Monarchy had become democracy's bugaboo. And alas, the monarchists had only themselves to blame for this utter failure in reflecting how monarchy and democracy were both needed for the sovereignty, unity and future of Nepal.

The people who came out into the streets have now been deified as the instruments of "people power". It is too late to count how many of those were Maoist cadres, how many were paid by the SPA, and how many were out just to watch the fun.

We observe Democracy Day today in a country whch has pre=maturely been classified as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. Whether we are to be federal or not depends on the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly. We have become a republic in the most undemocratic fashion possible, sans referendum and at the whim of the triumvirate leaders of the Maoists, NC and UML parties. The term "new Nepal" is almost unheard these days. Seems we are relegated to the same old Nepal where the people are shepherded around like sheep. Democratic sheep??!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

THINKING ALOUD: Mulling By-Election Results By S. Khanal

Like the proverbial water-in-the-glass situation, the results of the by-elections held in six constituencies can be interpreted as half-full or half-empty depending on the beholder’s political leaning.

Although the Maoists bagged one more seat than it had won during last year’s CA election (the Maoists, NC and the Forum had won two seats each in the six that were contested recently), the fact that the Maoists’ had the advantage of incumbency must not be minimized in any objective assessment.

Specifically, while they maintained their hold on Rolpa-2, where Prachanda had successfully contested last year, as well as in Kaski-1, where Dev Gurung had similarly emerged victorious, they just managed to secure the top position in Kanchanpur-4, which had been claimed last year by NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba, by a small difference.

Besides, the margin of the Maoist victory in the two constituencies first named was considerably less spectacular than it had been last year, indicating a clear slippage of sorts in popular support.

NC’s Shekhar Koirala this time barely managed to wrest Morang-7 from the Forum, earlier handsomely won by Chairman Upendra Yadav. Last time around, he had lost badly to the Forum. Though a victory is a victory, it is to be noted that a great deal of importance had been attached to the Morang-7 contest not least by NC boss Girija Prasad Koirala who lent his full political prestige and actually participated in the voting.

The real blow for the NC was in Dhanusha-5 where its candidate came third, and the UML on top, doubtless, in part at least, because Dr Chandra Mohan Yadav, a political novice and son of President Ram Baran Yadav who had swept the polls during last year’s election, was nominated as NC’s candidate.

Clearly, NC once again indulged in dynastic politics and paid a heavy price for it, as its strength in the CA has now dropped by one (as has that of the Forum). Thus, one may be excused for wondering when, if ever, the NC will learn!

Plainly, UML’s victory in Dhanusha-5 is all the sweeter in that its candidate Raghubir Mahaseth who had come in second last year defeated Krishna Yadav of the TMDP, led by Mahanta Thakur. The UML was in fact the only major party which had not won an election in any one of the six contested constituencies, last year. In that sense, too, the UML did well, as compared to its performance in the contested electoral battles, in 2008.

On a more general level, the voter turnout was considerably lower than it was last year, although some may argue that it is reasonable to expect a lower turnout in a by-election than in general election where more is at stake. On the other hand, it can also be said that since more attention can be paid by all concerned parties on a handful of seats than where hundreds are at stake, it is not necessary that voter turnout should, ipso facto, be lower in a by-election than in a general election.

It would thus be a useful exercise for all to attempt to objectively establish the reasons for the drop in voter interest after Nepal has been declared a federal republic.

So, in sum, what do the by elections’ results indicate? To my mind, it suggests that despite the Maoists’ securing one more seat in the CA than it had, this addition is not all that meaningful given that it has been leading the coalition government for the past nine months, benefiting from all the advantages of incumbency, saturation news coverage on a daily basis and the dissemination of perks and patronage executed with a political motivation.

While both the NC and the Forum have, numerically, suffered to the same extent, in proportionate terms, however, the loss for the Forum is more severe since its total in the CA is far below that of the NC, in absolute terms.

On the other hand, the NC’s defeat in Dhanusha-5 can safely be attributed to its pig-headedness in insisting that an absolute political neophyte, Dr Ram Baran Yadav’s son, should be nominated as NC’s official candidate over the heads of others with a record of political work and service to the party.

It is not very clear, at this stage, what if any contribution Sher Bahadur Deuba made towards the defeat of the NC candidate from a constituency that he had won last year. Would greater attention by him, and other NC heavyweights, to the Kanchanpur-4 constituency and its official candidate Yagraj Joshi have made a difference, in view of the fact that the margin of votes between him and the victor is not all that wide?

The UML, as already indicated, has done quite credibly snatching a seat from what was considered a traditional NC stronghold. Is this only a flash in the electoral pan or does it represent a steady political come-back – as was hinted at by the impressive manner in which its recent general convention in Butwal was conducted?

Also worthy of some focused thought is whether its student wing’s spectacular victory in recent student union elections over the NC and the Maoists is might also be a precursor of better days ahead for the UML.

While it was only the Maoists and the UML that gained a seat each in the by-elections, it would seem that the UML’s attractions are manifest more in intellectual and youth circles than perhaps in the general peasantry or less-educated sector.

On a separate plane, I maintain it is quite reasonable to wonder whether the Maoists’ PLA’s dismal failure to make an impression in the Fifth National Games, made possible by its controversial last-minute inclusion by fiat, does not also have political ramifications.

Its failure to bag even a single gold medal in football, volleyball, athletics, badminton, karate and taewondo in the national competition is certainly not an encouraging indicator of the Maoists’ ability to compete on a level playing ground.