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.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

By-Elections: Maoists win 3 seats, remaining 3 won by UML, NC, MJF

The Maoists have done it again! They have taken 50% of the by-election seats. They won in Rolpa, taking the seat vacated by PM Prachanda. Amazingly, they also won in Kanchanpur, taking the seat vacated by Nepali Congress leader Sher Bdr Deuba. For those of us taken aback by the Maoists victory a year ago and who have not seen the current Maoist-led government achieve much, if anything, the continued success of the Maoist Party raises a number of questions:

1. Are the other parties simply too disorganized and clue-less to offer a viable challenge to the Maoists?
2. Is the Maoist party election mechanism just too strong to be overcome?
3. Do the people who voted for the Maoists realize what a communist party is? Have they assessed the success, or lack thereof, of the current government?

These 6 seats were to provide the limus test as to whether the other parties, and especially the so-called opposition NC, had learnt their lessons well from April 2009. They have failed abysmally, proving beyond doubt that they are incapable of learning anything.

If there is to be a "democratic front" to challenge the Maoists, NC - with its current leadership and organization - does not have the vision or ability to lead it. Those who want to partner NC to form this alliance are living in a fool's paradise. The time has come for serious thought on the forming of a democratic alliance. Otherwise, let us resign ourselves to a People's Democratic Republic of Nepal. Amen.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hindutwa Challenged

Published in People's Review, Thu 2 April 2009
Posted in, 4 April 2009

Hindutwa Challenged

By Birat Simha

As the campaigning for the Indian parliamentary elections heats up, Varun Gandhi, a 28-years old candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been taken into custody under the National Security Act. His misdeed: making fiery speeches supposedly inciting communal disharmony. That this has happened in the alleged largest functioning democracy in the world is remarkable; that the protagonist is a scion of the Gandhi clan, son of Menaka and the late Sanjay Gandhi and nephew of the Indian Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi, adds another angle to the story.

Freedom of speech is a basic pillar of democracy. What the young Gandhi exercised was this freedom. In the recently concluded American presidential elections, strong words were exchanged among of the candidates. Radio show hosts were criticized for inflammatory and racist remarks. But no one was hustled into prison. The reason, of course, is that none of these remarks threatened the national security of the United States. That Varun Gandhi's remarks may have threatened the national security of India indicates the fragility of the Indian strain of democracy.

India has made spectacular gains recently in the economic sector. It is also a country where at least a quarter of its billion plus population is mired in abject poverty. Social indicators, especially those on health, do not reflect the political lead that India tries to take in the sub-continent. As a more telling illustration, the Gandhi family - that of Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi (not Mahatma Gandhi) - has become almost the "royal family" of India. That the oldest political party of India, the Congress, is currently headed by a woman of Italian birth says much for the awesome clout of the Gandhi name. Sonia just happened to be the wife of the pilot-turned-politician, the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who in turn may never have had to give up flying if his younger brother, Sanjay Gandhi, had not died in an aircraft mishap. Varun Gandhi is the son of this very same Sanjay.

Varun Gandhi's arrest has its political overtones. The BJP is challenging the Congress to lead the next government of India, which will almost surely be a coalition government. BJP has gained its fame, and has actually ruled India once, as a pro-Hindu party. It is today trying to downplay its Hindu origins to court non-Hindu votes. Varun Gandhi's speeches should not have come as a surprise to anyone. "Theocracy", something that most people believe ended when the Pope lost political power, is alive and well. The numerous Islamic states testify to this, as does the state of Israel. In this state of affairs, Hinduism is unique in that it does not accept converts. So with other religions on a conversion spree, Hindus will gradually have the least adherents. That the BJP should try to downplay its pro-Hindu roots and is almost disowning Varun Gandhi today illustrates this inherent hesitation among Hindus to stand up for Hinduism, that most tolerant of religion which is now facing extinction because of that very tolerance.

Another case in point: about three years ago, Nepal - then the only Hindu kingdom on earth - was declared secular by a motley crew of polticians, without so much as a peep from the people. While the Maoists have been logically blamed for this, the real culprits were the proselytizing grpups from Western donor countries who have made Nepal their conversion laboratory. While its Hindu population, comprising about 65% of the total, remained silent - or perhaps, tolerant! - Nepal lost its Hindu identity with a simple government ordnance.

Therefore, for Varun Gandhi to exercise his right to freedom of speech in the cause of Hindutwa is novel and laudatory. That his country is so insecure that it cannot allow him this freedom is a separate matter. All Hindus, especially those who have remained silent and docile so far, must view this imcident as a young Hindu stalwart's fight for his freedom, his beliefs and his religion!

The time has come for Hindus to stand for their rights and beliefs. This is not an exhortation to violence. Peaceful action is best. The symbol of universal peace, Gautam Buddha, was born a Hindu. Let us not be afraid, however, to fight if that is the only resort left us by our opponents. Let us not forget the Mahabharata and the Bhagvad Geeta when Lord Krishna himself, incarnation of Vishnu, went to battle to defend justice and righteousness.#