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.