Thursday, January 28, 2010

Whatever Happened to Nationalism?

I wait at least a week before posting anew in my blog. But this morning's headline "VP Reinstatement Bill Passed" was simply too much! The legislature-parliament, also known euphemistically as the Constituent Assembly, has endorsed a bill "paving the way for the reactivation of duties and responsibilities of Parmananda Jha as the country's Vice President". This gentleman's authority as VP was "deactivated" last August through a Supreme Court order because he took his oath of office in the Hindi language which was not in line with the existing (Interim) Constitution.

It was indeed a sight to behold at the swearing-in last year of the first President and VP of "Republican" Nepal. The President, after his own searing-in by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, administered the VP oath to Mr. Jha in pure Nepali. Mr. Jha, standing resplendent there in his Indian outfit, did a simultaneous translation worthy of any UN General Assembly translator, and took his oath in Hindi.

Jha is a madhesi, from the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum Party, and also an ex-SC justice who left under a cloud of scandal. His mother tongue may be Maithali but certainly not Hindi, which is one of the major official languages of India. It took numerous street agitations and the SC ruling to remove this treasonous man from the high office of VP. Now the CA is trying to reinstate him. Could it be just a coincidence that the Indian Foreign Minister and the Indian Chief of Army Staff just concluded their official visits to Nepal?

If the Nepalis in Madhesh (the southern belt of Nepal adjacent to India) consider themselves Nepali first, they had better come to their senses, and soon. If their allegiance is first to the Hindi language, and by inference to India, then a few million more Indian citizens should make no difference to our mighty neighbour. In juxtapose, our President is also from the Madhesh. He took his oath in Nepali and he has never been seen in public except in "labeta suruwal and Nepali cap" - the true national dress for Nepali men. Madhesh, compare and learn your lesson.

Monday, January 25, 2010

As India Celebrates its 61st Republic Day...

Ambassador Sood, in his Republic Day message, has underlined "the special, civilizational and fraternal" relationship which Nepal shares with India. Let's take him up on this declaration. We do have close cultural and economic ties. Hinduism is another link between the two countries, no matter how shrilly India harps on its secularism. Almost half a million Nepalis serve in the Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army; and many more Nepalis find employment south of the border. Our land-locked status makes Calcutta the closest port and we are surrounded on three sides by India. We receive the larges amount of development assistance also from India. Indian tourists also constitute the largest number of foreign tourists. Oh yes, there is no doubt of the "special" Nepal/India relationship.

But as India celebrates 26th January as the date decided upon by the 1930 Indian National Congress to mark complete self-rule, it would be appropriate also for it to keep in mind that self-rule is something that all its neighbours also appreciate. As the regional power in South Asia, the Indian government often forgets how it must have felt to be ruled by others. Whether one likes it or not, the political destiny of Nepal since the middle of the 20th century has been formulated in Delhi. King Tribhuvan took asylum in the Indian Embassy and flew to Delhi from where the Rana regime was taken down. Much more recently, the 12-point agreement between the seven political parties and the Maoists was reached in New Delhi, facilitated by the Indian government.

Readers may take the above two examples as benevolent political help from the Indian government at the request of Nepali political leaders. King Tribhuvan and 1950 was certainly that. The 12-point agreement in 2005 was not. India (and this term refers to the government of India not its people) cuddled the Maoist leaders during their insurgency, providing them safe haven, and this after branding them "Terrorists". Occasionally, it arrested a few of the second-rung leaders to salve its conscience. But by the end of 2005, it had decided to dislodge the monarchy - the only Nepali institution that was and remains truly nationalist. So it provided its "good offices" for the Maoists to come talk to the other Nepali political parties and form the clique that unconstitutionally removed the monarchy. In the process, the clique also made Nepal secular and declared it federal.

All of the above is an old tale, know to all. Anti-Indian feelings always simmer below the surface here in Nepal. Years ago, it took an Indian film star's apparently misquoted statement to start riots here. The "special" relationship between the two countries is unequal, no doubt. That may be expected given the disparity in size and economic and military strength. But when one country dictates the political destiny of another, that is unacceptable. This phenomenon has a name - "neo-colonialism". If India is to live its claim to be the largest democracy in the world, let it also behave democratically with its neighbours. During the past two years, 400,000 Indians in the border area have received Nepali citizenship. The Nepali border has been encroached upon by India in numerous places. Indian political leaders, especially of the communist variety, treat Nepal as a last-stand Marxist experiment. The Indian Ambassador is viewed by many as the de facto Governor General of India in Nepal.

Why this sorry state of affairs? The tone above may seem to blame India. Disregard the tone. It is Nepali political leaders who allow Indian hegemony over Nepal. Out of pure self-interest, political and financial, they have swallowed nationalism and embraced lackeyism. And these leaders come from the full spectrum of political parties. The last three years have clearly shown that our leaders do not care a whit for the Nepali people. The name of the game is to stay in power. These power-crazed megalomaniacs play the game endlessly.

To end the above random, almost rambling you might say, thoughts, there is one thing though that must be kept in mind. It is not smart to mouth anti-Indian slogans and berate India at every opportunity. Nepal does not have that luxury. Rather, we must assure India that its interests will not be ignored by Nepal, except when those interests clash directly with Nepal's. India, in turn, really must not try and bully its smaller neighbours like kids in a school yard.

Happy Republic Day to the people of India!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Republican Nepal Celebrates Birthday of King Prithivi Narayan Shah

After a break of three years, the 288th birthday of the founder of Nepal - King Prithivi Narayan Shah - was celebrated this Monday all over the country. This is the way things work in this beleaguered country of ours. Traditions are indiscriminately discarded in the name of the fabled "New Nepal". Then, after second thoughts, the powers that be realize their foolishness and sneak back in what was never meant to have been thrown away. So it was with "Prithivi Jayanti". This King created Nepal in 1769, consolidating a varied group of small principalities in the region. His birth anniversary was always a national holiday, celebrated as a Day of Unity. After Nepal became a secular republic, basically at the whim of the leaders of the three largest political parties, the founder of Nepal was ostracized as just another "feudal" and the national holiday was scrapped. It remains scrapped; the birth anniversary was observed sans holiday. That is all right. We have far too many forced-holidays as it is, due to the never-ending "bandhs".

Before the new constitution to be (perhaps) drafted by the Constituent Assembly can say anything about it, Nepal has been declared a "Federal Democratic Republic". Voices for a referendum on the monarchy, secularism and federalism are heard; but they are few, far-between and have no semblance of sustained organization. This year's celebration of Prithivi Jayanti, however, gives cause for some thought. Not optimism yet, just thought. The republicans - the revolutionary kind as well as the clueless kind - have been blaming Nepal's backwardness on the 240 years rule of the Shah dynasty. Right off, 104 years of those 240 can be taken off - the Rana oligarchy ruled Nepal for that period. Of the remaining 136 years, one only has to scrutinise history to see that most of the kings were enthroned as minors. The country was ruled by powerful prime ministers from clans such as the Thapas and Pande's. Except for Prithivi Narayan Shah himself, perhaps only King Tribhuvan and the kings that followed him did a bit of real "ruling", i.e. until 1990 when the monarchy became purely constitutional anyway. Including 2005-2006, it all boils down to 30-40 years of actual rule by the Shah dynasty. The political parties have been running this country for almost 20 years already.

Over the past few years, the monarchy has received a lot of "bad press", to put it mildly. But one thing it has never been accused of is being anti-nationalist. Had the monarchy had less regard for Nepali nationalism and the sovereignty of this country, it is doubtful that the republican forces would have received such decisive impetus from foreign quarters in their efforts to dislodge this institution. The argument here is not for a "ruling" monarchy such as that of, say, Saudi Arabia or some of the other oily non-democratic countries supported by the US. A constitutional, or even ceremonial, monarchy will be a symbol of national unity. And national unity is disintegrating all around us right now. The Maoists have "proclaimed" (symbolically only, they say) 13 federal states based on ethnic groups. Others have different formulas for a federal configuration. It is fashionable now to think of ourselves first by our ethnic heritage, to denigrate the traditional labeta suruwal men's outfit and put down the Nepali language. A "New Nepal" does not mean you destroy everything good in the Nepal that is. Marxist dialectics is passe' and obsolete; but we Nepalis don't realise this.

Let us therefore take the reinstatement of Prithivi Jayanti celebrations as an indication that (a) Nepal's unity must not be compromised; (b)past mistakes can and must be corrected; and (c) the Monarchy can contribute to the cohesiveness and sovereignty of Nepal.