I have grown up,
As I can see today,
I have grown up.
The hills standing in the same place,
The rivers flowing in the same way,
The clouds thunder, it rains the same way.
Still I am different,
Yes friend, I have grown up.
I am not a child now
And should not be so.
But friend I am worried.
The days passing, nights skidding
Are the dreams of childhood,
coming true or being slowly forgotten?
The sun never forgets to rise and set
The plate like moon comes every month,
The guavas never fail to yield the fruit.
Crores of litres of water flown since my childhood
Still the river is never dry
Friend, why my destination so far?
When my hands have grown so long
My footsteps spaced so wide,
Still my dreams have come no nearer.
Those innocent promises made in early years,
Are they to be buried by the fresh ones?
O friend, I am afraid
Whether before concluding my life,
I’ll have to remember the dreams and
Curse my youth for ignoring them.
I am afraid of the skeleton of the old age
Who is burdened to lament for the wasted days.
Friend I have grown up
But my destination so far.
Turbulence is something that has been characterizing the human history ever since we have been aware of it. Regression after advancement, turmoil after stability, war after peace, all have presented themselves in cycles even as the momentum of positive change has maintained itself in some parts of the world while the opposite has been true in the others. Of late, many countries have seen the cycles of authoritarianism after democracy, economic bust after boom, bloody conflicts after peaceful periods repeat themselves, albeit with variable characteristics, duration and intensity.
A tale of the past thus barely proceeds smoothly. Listing the events chronologically can be one thing, but recalling the history while exploring the implication of the past events to the present world is quite an arduous task. That demands a degree of disregard to the objectivity and the arbitrary impartiality both of which are often thought to be necessary for a 'proper' work on history. When it comes to the question of the recent past, the controversies can be rarely avoided. And controversies are something that characterize the turbulent moments in the history. The account of the recent past is thus the blend of the perceptions and the arguments of the author in the issues that inevitably divide people in different poles.
In case of Nepal, these observations apply without exception. Turbulence has been reaching the extreme every few years for the last few decades. Even when viewed in the context of the similarly turbulent developments in the world, a relative excess of this virtue can be clearly felt in Nepal. Ever since the phantom stability of the Panchayat era what we have been observing is the back and forth movement of the national politics between the relatively better and worse positions in terms of the interest of the people.
What are we destined for then? Can we ever break the cycle of a momentary progress and sustained setback? Do we have to sacrifice repeatedly for the momentum of positive change that is eventually lost when nobody is aware of it? Can we ever restrain the turbulence so that it does not decompensate our institutions?
A serious consideration of these questions prompts us to examine the trends in the past carefully, and most importantly, as objectively as possible with due attention given to the subjects of the events. That is exactly where we need the literature from as variable the angles and the implied affiliations as possible. That would help the coming generation to evaluate properly the events and the trends of our times.
This is not history proper. Nor is it a memoir. This is a collection of essays on topics that are loosely interrelated. As it relates mostly with the past events of Nepal, its neighbors and the world, the history comes every now and then in the text to follow. That is, however, short of justifying for this work to be called history as the essential features of a work on history like objectivity, coherence and the chronological presentation of the events are scant if not absent from the book.
I am not sure if the readers also feel that way, but I have a peculiar feeling while reading an interesting and thought-provoking work of others, famous or not. I wish as many people as possible read the work. I have been even mailing such brilliant articles to few of my companions. That is indeed one of the efficient way of learning in the new age. The information and the opinions no longer come only in an organized way as in a mainstream media outlet or a book. The vital information in crucial matters may come as a small piece of news in a disadvantaged column of a newspaper or a magazine or a website that few people around us visit or know about the existence. Arguably it is not easy to predict who will come across such vital piece of information or opinion and when.
Few people may be in a position to observe and reveal things that are beyond accessibility to most of us. Few others may have the expertise to dissect the issues that are enough to confuse most of us. It thus becomes crucial for us to share our ideas, inventions, revelations, opinions and most importantly, the analyses in the issues that are confusing enough when looked at alone.
This is why a lot of quotes and references appear in the book. I am deeply indebted to all of the referred sources even as I try my best to do justice to all of them by referring to them in the given context. Creating eagerness in the readers about the personalities that have so deeply influenced me is indeed the other intention of the work.
Now coming to this blend of the facts with the opinions, substantiated claims with the unsubstantiated ones, I have read quite few other works with this. How rational this way of writing will turn out to be in this case remains to be seen though my optimism in the matter has made me write all this.
It was in July 2008 when I started blogging. I was excited to have something like a website in my name. I kept writing and posting the articles. Eventually I realized the difficulty in finding and reading so many articles in a single blog. Then I started creating new blogs with articles of particular category in each of them. Soon there were a blog each for poetry, fiction, history, memoirs, photos and most prominently, one voluminous blog for the downloaded articles, most of them coming from wikipedia.org. The prototype blog got the articles on contemporary issues.
With modest interaction through the feedbacks by few readers, I found the job of blogging quite meaningful one. Now almost a year has passed since I started blogging and I have got about ten of my blogs some of which are still to be visited by the others. However, increasingly I have realized that the materials have to come out printed if they are to be made accessible to the bulk of readers. A handy book can not thus be substituted by an online store of articles from where it can be downloaded but can not be read without the help of a computer.
I wrote the chapters of this book over a span of two months uploading the new chapters to the blog every now and then. Though I initially had no plans of doing so, I began to experiment new things in subsequent chapters. Most significantly, I included the fiction and poetry in the text as and when I saw they fitted the context. Even an interview and few essays written elsewhere get the space in the chapters. I am now eager for the feedback on this way of writing even as I am convinced of the relevance of doing so.
I doubt if I'll ever again be able to create the poetry that I have used in the chapters to follow. Most of them were written in the lecture hall when some boring lecture of the not-so-interesting professors were being delivered. The peculiar emotional state of those moments combined with the need for an excuse to divert attention from the dull daily routine of the period contributed on creation of those valuable poems.
As the immediate stimulus for writing the crucial chapters, I should thank the trio of P.M. Blaikie, John Cameron and John D. Seddon for their valuable work 'Nepal in Crisis'. Special thanks for few others whose works contributed one way or the other in inducing me to write and providing valuable references once I started actually writing. Few in the list include: Noam Chomsky and his website www.chomsky.info , Prof. Chaitanya Mishra and his valuable book Capitalism and Nepal and other impressive articles, Arundhati Roy and her frequent articles in Outlook weekly. Narayan Dhakal and his novel Durviksha, Manjushree Thapa and her insightful novel The Tutor of History similarly deserve gratitude.
The works of Amartya Sen, Samuel P. Huntington and Thomas Friedman have been similarly helpful in elucidating the evolution of the contemporary world. The contribution of wikipedia.org was tremendous especially in searching the history: the collapse of USSR and the aftermath and every other past event. Invaluable contribution of Tom Engelhardt, his blog aep.typepad.com and Tomdispatch and its contributors can not be expressed in words. Two magazines Frontline fortnightly Published by N Ram from Chennai and Himal Southasian monthly published by Kanak Mani Dixit from Kathmandu require special mention for their insightful articles helping to keep me accustomed to the contemporary developments. Other magazines and newspapers, films and documentaries have been variably useful.
It would be extremely ungrateful not to mention two towering personalities of history and the role they have played in my way of understanding history through their works. Jawaharlal Nehru for his epochal work Glimpses of World History deserves special gratitude even as his Biography was the other way of telling the tale of the past. B.P. Koirala deserves special mention for his invaluable work Atma Brittanta, one of his many biographical works that tell the true history of Nepal.
Finally the enormous technical support of my Brother Indra in making me able to blog was dwarfed by the importance of the intellectual intercourse we had through many blogs of each of us through which we shared and debated about innumerable issues. The support of other family members and few friends like Arjun and Mallik was also acknowledgeable.
A DISCOURSE THAT WE DESERVE
The dark night,
INTEGRATION AND DEPENDENCE
The Wider Perspective
THE AFTERMATH OF THE FALL OF COMMUNISM
THE PRECEDENCES: HOWTHE WORLD FARED LONG BEFORE WE WERE BORN
THE COLD WAR THAT WE MISSED (After missing the World Wars)
THE WORLD IN THE SEVENTIES
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE GREAT FALL
Locating Nepal in the Bizarre World
NEPAL IN THE MESS
THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE ‘PERIPHERY’ STATUS
NEPAL'S STAGNATION: IN PERPETUITY
A CONFLICT THAT WAS INEVITABLE
THE ELECTIONS: THEIR CONTRIBUTION TO DEMOCRACY
THE STRATEGIC IMPLICATIONS OF THE CONFLICT
The World that had evolved
The Quest for Justice
The lessons from the Agent Orange
Nepal in The New Century
THE ONSET OF THE INTENSE CONFLICT
HUMAN RIGHTS DURING THE CONFLICT: AN EXAMPLE
MANY DIMENSIONS OF THE CONFLICT
THE PLATEAU AND THE DESCENT OF THE CONFLICT
THE MARATHON JOURNEY OF THE 12 POINTS
THE ONSET AND PROGRESSION
THE INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
The daily lives of people
The political chaos
The storm of ethnic uprisings
THE CA POLLS
THE RUN-UP TO THE ELECTIONS: THE HURDLES THAT NEARLY SABOTAGED THE POLLS
THE FORMAL AND VISIBLE DUELS
THE FINAL PREPARATIONS FOR THE POLLS
THE PRE-POLL ALLIANCES
THE SHOWDOWN AND THE RESULTS
THE CULTURAL EVOLUTION, NOT REVOLUTION
The Consumerist Chaos
The Miracle of Foreign Employment in Nepal.
HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE CHANGING WORLD
THE POST-SLUMP WORLD
HOW THE TURMOIL SET ITS FOOT
THE REACTION TO THE TURMOIL
THE PARADIGM SHIFT
LOOKING BACK TO AMERICA
The Prospective World
Bush ! Your Highness
ISRAELI MISADVENTURE: CAN IT STOP THE MARCH OF HISTORY?
NEPAL'S JOURNEY TOWARDS CHAOS
It has been long since I attempted to write something about the economic realities around me. I have often noticed some important yet neglected issues pertaining to the economic life of the society in face of the more appealing political issues. Indeed our attention has been long drawn by issues of more immediate significance rather than those of remote significance that fail to create the visible urgency. In the end, however, this attitude of us, from common folks to the political leadership, is going to prove counterproductive to the health and viability itself of the system in which we live.
Having been essentially deprived of any opportunity to study the subject of Economics formally, I often regret for having chosen the natural sciences against the social sciences from early on. At the moment however, my enthusiasm was enough to venture in the supposedly alien subject with help of the little knowledge I had about the economic issues. The motivation from the realization of the subtle and definitive role that the economy played in the social life was an important factor in the regard. Could I write something meaningful on the issue in a language comprehensible to the concerned? That formed a real challenge for me.
I had been observing the sporadic economic developments in relation with the respective political developments in Nepal for long. The mere observation without an order was going to yield little meaningful. The isolated study of the economic virtues of Nepal was also going to have little significance in this world with complexly interconnected political economies of the states. All this made writing something in the economic issue a quite demanding task. I could not, however resist the urge to write something after reading few books that helped in alleviating my disorientation to the alien field of economics.
The book 'Capitalism and Nepal' by Prof. Chaitanya Mishra written in Nepali formed a valuable pretext to study other works on economics. The evolution of Capitalism over the centuries and the latest version of it, the relatively invisible economic imperialism, with a tendency towards monopolistic economy and invisibly authoritarian political institutions has been explored well in the book. The collection of important works of the scholars in social sciences including Prof Mishra and Hari Roka published by Social Science Baha as 'The Sociological Studies in Context of Nepal' formed another invaluable work in the field with articles on diverse issues of social importance.
Many books dealing with the political and economic aspects of our social life have provoked me to read further on the subject and write something. Few of them will be referred in the text to follow. Innumerable articles in magazines as well as the news items appearing in print or electronic media have been giving important feedbacks on issues of question. Two magazines requiring special mention are the 'Frontline' fortnightly published from Chennai and the 'Himal Southasian' monthly published from Kathmandu. The importance of the online resources of information and the prominent views can not be, of course, overemphasized. The invaluable contribution of Tom Engraldt, his blog American Empire Project and the contributors of Tomdispatch in providing alternative to the mainstream media was enormous in making me accustomed to the radically changed context in the aftermath of global financial turmoil.
As mentioned later, the immediate stimulus for writing this book was the book Nepal in Crisis by Blaikie et al. Initially it was intended to extrapolate the significance of the arguments given by the authors to examine the developments in Nepal since the book was compiled three decades back. I was startled to find how little had changed in Nepal over the long period in terms of the foundations of economy evolved and adapted to new geo-political realities.
Unlike the book written after devoted research for years, I had nothing more than some arbitrary observations made over a decade or so. That made any of my work susceptible to flaws resulting from the invariable distortions in the observations as well as the lack of expertise in the subject of economics to rectify them. This risk of creating a work with negative value made me reluctant in proceeding even after I started writing the initial chapters impulsively.
The way I enjoyed writing combined with my eagerness to accept the pitfalls in my capability to write objectively in issues as complex as this one, constituted an important drive to keep writing. As adaptation, I devoted more time and space to the issues apparently beyond the direct concern for Nepal and its economy. Arguably, this contributed to the incoherence of the presentation in the work with dominance of the political issues that even I find to be less than reasonable occasionally. But this risk of producing an incoherent account of the critical issue was, I thought, worth taking; given the paucity of literature in the field. So long as I am aware not to mislead the readers deliberately, the inaccuracies resulting from my lack of expertise can be well debated, accepted and even rectified as necessary. After all, controversies are something that can not be expected to avoid even by a writer of good expertise.
The inherent urge to write on the issues I deal in the book comes from my frustrating experience at not getting enough materials on topics of intense interest in the past. On the collapse of the Soviet Union and the recession of communism, for example, there was practically no material with objective explanation of the demise in my access, while I could easily read the illustrative fictional accounts of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Red Revolution in China without difficulty. The appeal of the communist ideology was always there, but in the later years, I came to know that the USSR no longer exists and the PRC has made U-turn in economic policies. But why? While the communists in my contact only elaborated how this creed of communism is invincible after obvious downfall of this evil of capitalism, there was no explanation for the opposite developments. As most of the other states in the world, the arrival and departure of the giant communist states had impacted Nepal also. The communists have now been dominating the political arena in Nepal for decades: but to what end? What can be the long term implications of this for us? Will they try to preserve the communist legacy or transform themselves into 'reformed' communists with little to do with the name?
For this reason, I have devoted relatively more space to the collapse of USSR though I focus more to the consequences and the aftermath than the details of the collapse. Though I may be the least qualified columnist to summarize the histories of states like Russia and China, I have dared to do so in face of the need to follow them after the great fall. The account given on the topics, however subjective, will prove interesting for any beginner of world history and bemusing to one who is already aware of the developments.
Despite the euphoria in the aftermath of the end of cold war, the proposition about the end of history has now been proved to be ill-conceived. Capitalism has seen both good and bad days in different parts of the world till the recent global misfortune that has swept across political boundaries. The ever-increasing scope of the conflicts has crippled the efforts of many societies to move forward. With repeatedly failed attempts at controlling these, an overwhelming sense of insecurity mingled with confusion and mistrust to the institutions has prevailed over the large part of the world. The attempts at containing the problems from the top have often proved counterproductive perpetuating the disaster with the infamous GWOT ( Global War On Terror) as the prime example.
The utter failure of the conventional propositions, promoted by the mainstream media, to elucidate meaningfully the implications of these vexed issues, has been more than prominent by now. Rather, due to their role in distorting the realities in order to save the institutions from embarrassments, a crucial role has been being played by the 'unconventional' subjects over all these decades. I have been impressed by the commendable intellectual insight of few of these 'rebels' like Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy and Tom Engelhardt.
It would have been literally impossible to write all these pages without the immense help of Nehru's book Glimpses of World History in comprehending the dynamics of the world history. The book discards the concept of studying history as the chronological details of the events in the past as 'neutral and indifferent' observer. The subjectivity and the measured partiality that he uses in telling the lucid story of the evolving human beings gives an altogether new dimension to the study of history. He makes the reader practically travel through the rough terrains of the past, making him aware, at the same time, of the present in which he lives. This helps in comprehending the past as the inseparable extension of the present with definite implications for now, which in turn, has got similar implications for the future.
Nehru's tale of the human history helps us understand why the concept of 'end of the history' was
floated in the nineties. Indeed the creed named 'post-modernism' has now long occupied the
minds of intellectuals and
litterateurs in both parts of the globe: bright and dark. They have been forcefully projecting the history as the unsubstantiated and bizarre account of the past with little or no credibility and a type of nuisance to be dismissed. That is indeed what is being done by the majority of the young people: exploit any opportunity to earn wealth, consume it for the comfort, dream for a wealthier future. Those who have to worry throughout their lives to make both ends meet are obviously deprived of any opportunity of worrying about issues as remote as the history that are not even distantly related to their issues of concern. The drive of the post-modernists has thus been quite successful in depriving the history the share of concern and examination that it justifiably deserves.
The other inference that can be drawn from the book is that it is good not to depend on the isolated historical account of any single state or unit if important conclusions are to be drawn. The importance of considering the background in evaluating the events in the past as well as that of the circumstances in evaluating the deeds of a leader is similarly illustrated. Indeed it is the interaction among the people grouped and divided variably that constitutes the body of history: the wars, the reconciliations, the conflicts, the compromises, the advances, the regressions, all inter-related yet meaning different for different people. Thus the same event will be perceived variably by different people at the same time as well in the future while studying it as the history. Does this mean the absolute irrelevance of studying history as our meaningful precedent as claimed by the post-modernists? I will argue contrary to this presumption: it is practically impossible to find consensus of everyone in any issue whatsoever, now, in the past or in the future. No wonder then that the controversies will linger in any discourse about the past event or account of any leader in the past.
What is our responsibility then? Should we try to alleviate these discrepancies or accept them and then take a side? I am definitively in favor of the latter.
As it has turned out, the overwhelming political issues have dominated the economic ones in this work also. Despite the initial attempts at focusing the latter, eventually the former has crept to gain dominance. That may be because the hiccups and the setbacks in the politics in Nepal have so often thrown the economic issues out of prominence. Our leadership has to focus so much in gaining and retaining the power that they have little privilege to ponder over the economic woes of the people. The sequence of the national events is thus overwhelmingly dominated by this virtue of politics. Economy can be explored, at best, as one of the grave but less prominent casualties of the political disasters that often keep crippling the lives of the people.
A threshold of political stability is essential before a meaningful discourse on the economic issues can draw the attention of the intellectuals first and then the people. That is indeed taking place for many decades in the developed countries. Their focus on betterment of the lives of the people by optimizing the economic policies have seen the metamorphosis on the political discourse itself that is radically different from the one in our part of the world.
The dark part of the world is, however, deprived of this privilege as the political turmoil haunts it every now and then if not a bloody conflict. The people have to first consider the likelihood of deterioration of the living conditions before hoping for the betterment in their lives. In the extreme of this scenario, they need constant attention as how to secure their lives and property, frequently with the abysmal option of fleeing the country as the only one feasible. A discussion about the daily lives of the people thus encompasses all these things, many of which are utterly unpleasant even to observe, let alone experience.
It is thus no wonder that the pendulum movement of Nepal between the extremes of relative progress and absolute setback in the political domain has dominated this book. While it comes to the role played by different subjects of some of which I am frankly critical, the arguments will persist indefinitely and I enjoy not to be among the 'moderate' or 'balanced' analysts. I hope with the availability of the accounts both praising and criticizing the subjects, the future generation will be able to assess properly the historical role played by them. I am always in favor of exploring and exposing the deep-seated ailments in the system and the subjects so that their ignorance, blunders, misdeeds, illusions and the myopic visions can be traced. That is indeed the first step in helping the new generation not to repeat them and thus the vicious cycle.
How do I begin then? This account of the recent past of Nepal with short glance at the recent past of the neighborhood and the world will serve the purpose of throwing some light at things that we have observed yet neglected.
A DISCOURSE THAT WE DESERVE
The dark night,
The dark night,
Does it threaten you?
In the gloomy weather,
Dark night is no longer a threat.
So many dark days in the order to follow,
The dew drops percolating,
Through the fog of awesome thickness,
The sun hiding for ages.
Are you frightened with the chilly winter?
So many snowy springs in our doorsteps.
Wings of the birds frozen,
Buds of flowers dropping down,
Are you horrified with the deserted garden?
No, my friend,
Abandoned dwellings are more horrible,
Dry taps are never worse
When the streams are drying up.
Lunatics and dumbs are never guilty
Mentally retarded are not idiots
When the healthy ones are mute,
When the alive figures surrender to death,
In the dark chapter of the history,
Our names will be noted with the battered letters.
Scarcely visible in the dark,
Friend! I can spot you,
You can’t escape from here,
You can’t escape from history,
My friend, you are caught
In the dark night.
What if I ask a few odd and unusual questions about the evolution of political economy in Nepal? The questions can well be asked but the answers will be quite difficult and challenging. This justifies a serious discourse on which we can give our opinions on the complicated issues like this, infer something, and argue with others with invariably different opinions from ours. In this work, we proceed to explore how Nepal is entangled in the historical mess of politics and economy, by virtue both of its isolation from and proximity to the larger world. In Nepal, the version of history presented to the people has been nearly absolutely dominated by the political developments of questionable credibility. The attention to the economic realities governing the people's daily lives has been definitively bleak thus making it quite difficult to discern the historical trend. To touch this topic of the evolution of Nepali economy is thus quite challenging. To ignore this in order to escape from the difficulties has been our practice for long. The paucity of the literature in the field thus may be accounted for by this reason at least partially. (No wonder then that the stimulation to write these pages was provided by a small book based on research by foreign scholars.)
At this time of historical transition of Nepal, however, we cannot avoid asking ourselves few uncomfortable questions whose answers can potentially pour water in our optimism about construction of a new and prosperous Nepal without radical change in the course she is taking.
After completing the book Nepal in Crisis by Blaikie et al, a strange thought struck my mind: is this the history book that I desperately searched for so long in vain? This book, despite its tiny size, has been as helpful to understand the economic history of Nepal as was the 'Atma Brittanta' by BP Koirala for the political history of Nepal, or the 'Glimpses of World History' by Nehru for the politico-economic history of the world. The update added twenty years after publishing the book was also equally illustrative and objective making it easier to gauze the developments over the period from a critical point of view. After all the jumbo history books with detailed accounts of the masochistic monarchs or the insanity of the Rana autocrats elucidate little in terms of the history of common folks. Even while limiting their field research in the West-central Nepal only, the conclusions are well valid for the other parts and the nation as a whole; and I guess, with particular variations, to other states with similar geo-political realities.
The central theme of the work in Nepal in Crisis is the perennial stagnation in the rural as well as the national economy as a result of specific historical and geo-political realities; well beyond the amenability to be mended by the usual measures like the foreign aid for development or the official rhetoric of development. The ensuing adaptations to the stagnation and the underdevelopment ultimately helped to sustain the political machine that was pervasively coercive and exploitative to the people. This was exemplified by the 'pacifying effect' of the non-agricultural incomes like the remittances that eased the lives of the people without any attempt to alter the foundations of the stagnant economy, eventually helping the repressive regime to sustain itself. This further promoted the dependence of the population to the 'other source' to make both the ends meet thus perpetuating the cycle.
The question after three decades now is: have we arrested or even decelerated this cycle by virtue of two major people's uprisings? Are we even aware of the inexcusable role of the sustainable economy for the political advancements? Even though the dependency theory then given in the book can be well debated now in context of Nepal and other similar states, the insight of the arguments in the book forms a dependable foundation on which we can build the discourse on evolution of Nepali political economy over the period.
INTEGRATION AND DEPENDENCE
The intricacies of the integration and dependence of the economies of different states make it quite difficult to study the political economy of any state in isolation. That forces us to make a cursory examination of the evolution of political economies in the world, and particularly in the neighborhood. This makes the job of exploring the historical trend of these virtues in any state like Nepal vulnerable to a degree of incoherence resulting from the domination of the developments in the more significant neighbors, like India and China in Nepal's case.
Given a more than a half-century long history of the communist movement in Nepal and wide influence of the various communist parties in Nepal's politics, though not so much in economy, I begin this text with a peek at the past of the world communism. The overwhelming influence of the bilateral and multilateral 'donor' institutions in policy making and the compulsion of any government, communist or non-communist, to follow them gives a new dimension to our study. Even while the largest communist state had been already dismantled and the global wave of LPG was being vigorously promoted by the victors of the cold war, the Structural Readjustment Program had seen bad days in Nepal giving way to violent leftist insurgency.
Thus the communism is not the mere 'thing of the past' in case of Nepal unlike the other countries. Though not usually practiced, the discourse on pitfalls of the orthodox communist states in the past may be the only way of ensuring the viability of the socialistic policies of the communist parties today. In this book, however, we are more concerned with the implications of the policies of all the parties: the rightists, the leftists, and the reformed leftists with policies at par with the rightists, in the economy of the country.
In his book Capitalism and Nepal, Prof. Mishra confronts the assessment of the communist parties in Nepal that Nepal is still essentially a semi-feudal and semi colonial state. He argues that this was the reality of decades back while now the economy has developed or evolved itself into essentially a capitalistic one. I am not sure of the current position of the various communist parties on the question now that the book was published well over five years back. The significance of the debate, however, remains. Even while the rhetoric of the largest communist party in Nepal is the transformation of Nepal into a socialist state through a transitional capitalist stage, the direction of the policies adopted so far is in contrary to that. The assimilation of the communist leaders and cadres into the consumerist culture the moment they reach close enough to power can act decisively on keeping their rhetoric as such with lassaiz-faire in practice.
The study of the political economy of Nepal, whether retrospective or prospective, is going to give major attention to the creed of communism and its implications in Nepal. The violent maoist insurgency of the recent past will consume relatively more space in this work as the major determinant of the course of our recent history. Interestingly enough, the world communism was seeing its worst days with burgeoning capitalism when the mass disenchantment to the 'liberal democratic' governance in Nepal was creating a mass sympathy for the rebels though that was to transfer itself into horror as the insurgency deepened.
Before entering the specifics of the turbulent past decades of Nepal, I feel it prudent to give an overview of the great transition of the early nineties in the world politics along with the brief account of the cold war era.
The Wider Perspective
THE AFTERMATH OF THE FALL OF COMMUNISM
The enigma surrounding the collapse of the communist states in late twentieth century keeps fascinating many of our generation who could not experience first hand the cold war and its eventual end; thus having to depend upon the historical accounts on these crucial issues. Prominently in the communist discourses worldwide today, the issue of the collapse or the surrender of the communist states to the market economy has been the issue of taboo rather than the genuine stimulant for introspection to forward the agenda in the changed context. This has resulted in huge loss of credibility of the intellectual propositions of the mainstream communist movements worldwide that have fallen to their knees but not eliminated. The rival camps of the variably described genres like the post-structuralist theories have now long occupied the vacuum thus created for the intellectual discourse effectively sidelining the Marxist discourse.
The forceful evolution of the discourses and conflicts founded on non-class attributes like ethnicity has long drawn the attention by now, of the intellectuals and establishments worldwide. The proposition about the inevitability of the confrontation between the people divided by these more deep-rooted affiliations eventually leading to the clashes of so called 'civilizations' has been one widely debated and controversial. The need to avoid the potentially inflammable consequences of promoting a singular identity has been similarly argued widely. Not to mention, some notable pre-slump propositions about the dynamics and the problems of the global order have had a degree of detachment from the economic component of these issues. This is evident on the representative works of two scholars: The Clash of Civilizations by Huntington and Identity and Violence by Sen. On the other extreme, the euphoric proclamations about the universal development and prosperity through unhindered market economy has been grandiosely proclaimed by Freedman in his work The World is Flat, giving the central role in the discourse to the economic front.
The onset and persistence of the global economic slump is, however, going to have a major impact in all these discourses while potentially challenging the super power status of the traditional super-power and diluting or even challenging the grandiosity of the propositions that come from within that. This never negates the significance of the discourses that enjoyed credibility during the pre-slump years. Indeed they will form the base line from which the new discourses will arise and also help to analyze the extent to which any discourse is vulnerable to be skewed in the given context. The near-mania so aptly justified by T. Freedman in The World is Flat will especially serve as the extreme case of vulnerability of conventional assessments and analyses founded on the trust to the players of the great game, to the incorrigible flaws. What follows now is thus the need for rejuvenation of the discourse while getting rid of our obsessions about one creed or the other that lead to the severe flaws in analysis.
The developments in the last two decades since the collapse of the USSR have seen changes both predicted and unpredicted at the outset. The recession and disappearance of the global tide of communism has not resulted in uniform outcome in the various parts of the world. The conclusions drawn from the analyses of the state of affairs, which prioritize different domains, are thus bound to diverge widely. Until the onset of the slump, for example, sharing the platform of free market in an increasingly shrinking world meant one thing for the developed industrial economies, which enjoyed an expanding and dynamic production mechanism enabling them to sustain their prosperity. For the poorly industrialized economies with rudimentary and stagnant productive bases, it proved to be the opposite: a worsening or reversing productive capacity with the forced 'consumer' status. One who prioritizes the former in analyzing the impact of the market economy will thus conclude nearly opposite of the other who prioritizes the latter. The drainage of the natural and human resources in face of the 'flattening' world and the conflicts attached to the latter have dragged the populace of these 'consumer states' into further misery. All these developments might have escaped the attention, albeit deliberately, of the mainstream media, but they have been creeping their way to prominence all along.
What about the fate of the tentatively flattened world whose momentum of flattening has been suddenly arrested by the slump? What can this mean for the part of the world that has lagged in the process of flattening and is now facing an overwhelmingly diverse array of problems?
THE PRECEDENCES: HOW THE WORLD FARED LONG BEFORE WE WERE BORN
As Nehru argues in his book Glimpses of World History, the dominance of the world by Europeans and their cousin Americans came long after the dominance by the Eastern races over the span of centuries. But whenever it came, this new dominance had crushing strength backed by the England-centered industrial revolution. The main characteristic of this dominance was the extreme exploitation of the people worldwide through the lethally suppressive mechanisms of the empires. Ironically enough, the gross barbarism of the European rulers during the period starkly manifested by the slavery (though it was the mere extreme of the spectrum) is barely likened to the sporadic barbaric practices of the other races. The prosperity brought about by the industrial revolution and thus the power with it was utilized to compel the majority of the people to struggle for mere survival, thus maintaining the gradient of the wealth and the resources and sustaining the mechanism for exploitation. The response to this development came as the revolts of the workers guided by the Marxist proposition that assured them of their ultimate victory theoretically ensured by the inherent contradictions in the capitalism that compromised its viability for long. In practice, however, it was the tsarist Russia battered by the first world war where the prediction really materialized, followed latter by the inclusion of other east European states in USSR and much later by the communist revolution in China. The other advanced capitalist states like the US and the Western Europe could sustain the challenge well and even prospered. The other consequence of the self-destructive confrontation of the ambivalent socialist-democrats with the 'orthodox' communists was the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe.
In essence, the industrial revolution and its consequences represented an ostensible threat to the feudal mode of production and social life giving birth to this new virtue called capitalism. Ideally, capitalism was supposed to 'liberate' people from the audacity of feudalism that promoted the interest of 'minority' at the cost of that of the majority. Feudalism was also supposed to have long hindered the 'progress of human beings' through its priority in subsistence of the human beings rather than for accumulation of the wealth that was now made possible to an unprecedented extent by the advance of capitalism. The majority of the people who could barely fare other than serving the invariably egoist rulers were now able to 'innovate' to earn something from an enterprise they were now supposedly free to choose. And that was supposed to underlie the unprecedented progress and advancements of the human race.
What followed in reality was, however, fundamentally different from the theoretical assumptions. The transformation of the peasants, tenants, slaves and the like to the industrial laborers was the only way to sustain the burgeoning industries. It also proved to be boon for those who had capital enough to invest for the giant machines; most of which was firmly within the grip of the minority who were, in fact, the previous feudal lords and the accomplishes of the state mechanisms. For the majority of the people the newly found opportunity for 'innovation' turned out to be to sell the labor with provisions more adverse than those of old days of feudalism; to mention one: the capitalist investor who had replaced the feudal lord was now free from the responsibility of ensuring the subsistence of the worker and his family. He was free not to purchase the labor from the laborer whenever the benefit won't outweigh the incentives to be given hanging the dagger of unemployment beside the throat of the worker.
The working conditions for the laborers were thus growing to worse from bad as each new scientific advance with machine of hugely improved efficiency favored the investor vis-à-vis the worker. The exponential growth in the production of the commodities could no way avoid manifesting itself as the imperial crush by the industrialized states, of the territories that lagged well behind the European epicenter of industrialization. The barbarism that followed in the name of 'liberating' these 'backward' territories was terrible. This led to the inevitable hierarchy of the states ensuring a different meaning of the advancing capitalism at each level of the hierarchy.
This was thus practically impossible for the workers not to develop into a class and resist the force that crushed them so mercilessly. Even though we see a number of flaws now in the Marxist creed prognosticating the capitalism and communism, that was the best medicine that could potentially heal the wounds of battered working class in the circumstances of early twentieth century. Why the versions of Marxism ultimately failed to make the predictions come true can be the other matter of discussion. But the optimism that this creed instilled in the dismal lives of millions of workers worldwide was the only thing that could start the process of healing the wounds of the labor class, that had grown to enormous size by that time.
Now, long after victory of the capitalist camp over the communist camp, we are often prompted to judge the historical role of communism focusing on the atrocities committed by the clique of rulers of the communist states of USSR and PRC. However, when we judge the two virtues of capitalism and communism considering the centuries preceding the onset of communism; and the process through which the feudalism had eventually given way to capitalism, the conclusions will be quite different.
THE COLD WAR THAT WE MISSED (After missing the World Wars)
The bizarre occurrences of the late eighties and early nineties that culminated into the collapse of the USSR make it simple to infer that it was simply not feasible for a state the size of it and the characteristics to sustain any more; the leader be Gorbachev or any other. Same inference applies to the rise of reformist rival of Mao soon after his death. The circumstances of the thirties, however, when the Great Depression was throwing the venom of privation through its deadly fangs, were different. While the USSR was at a comfortable distance from the crisis, the lethal shadow of Japanese empire was helping the Chinese communist party to consolidate itself amid the destitution and devastation. Even more so, the circumstances of the collapse of the tsarist Russia in the fall out of the first world war and the civil war that followed few years after Lenin over took the helms, could afford nothing better than a consolidated USSR.
Over the eight decades that intervened between the rise and fall of USSR, the discourse about the ideal politico-economic model for welfare of majority of people has undergone a major metamorphosis. Especially the later decades of the period remained dismally traumatic for the communist camp. The communists that had arrived as the liberator of the exploited and downtrodden departed with the opposite impression. Over the period, the concept of the communist party being the consolidated organization of the most motivated masses had evolved into one that with extra-ordinary consolidation of power and privileges to a small group of leaders, even so to a single leader. The personality cult that thus ensued proved disastrous to the cause of the masses.
Not that the capitalist camp had the perfectly smooth sail over the period or that it kept battling for the welfare of the majority. The jerks and shocks that the camp experienced, however, made this camp more flexible and diverse in variable circumstances, unlike in the rival camp, helping it negotiate through every hurdle. In the communist camp however, it was the incessant rivalry between the all-powerful leader and his challenger, whether contemporary or potential successor that transpired each moment. This chain of events that had disfigured the Soviet communism was extremely swift in making the Chinese communists also follow the trend. This led to the radical reversal of the policies of Mao-tsetung immediately after his death, making the Chinese communism essentially a one-lifetime affair in its strict sense.
The vitality of the communist regimes had thus been badly compromised by the failure of the rulers to establish any mechanism for the accountability of the executive leader or any effective way of changing the leader in case he bungled in the job. This made a communist regime not fundamentally different from any other authoritarian regime like the monarchy. The constant rivalry between the executive leader and his prospective alternatives effectively prevented the former from realizing how well he had worked for the welfare of the people. The rhetoric of the proletariat authoritarianism increasingly evolved as mere authoritarianism diverging away from the interests of the proletariat masses. The make shift provisions to avoid all these things being seen outside led to an ostensible repression of the people’s right to communicate. The official state media full of the sycophants of the executives made them feel that they had done the best job in the world. This virtual absence of the accountability of the leader with unlimited powers and privileges was thus sure to head towards a crisis and that was what followed both in USSR and PRC.
The other miniature communist states like North Korea and Cuba, which still exist, were manifested even worse with this ailment of poor accountability of the life-long rulers.
THE WORLD IN THE SEVENTIES
When the book Nepal in Crisis was written in the seventies or the research was being done for the book, the communism in China was ageing with the worsening health of Mao-tsetung, with the repercussions of the cultural revolution ready to threaten the viability of the erstwhile Mao-led regime. The conflict between the communists states of USSR and China had had a close escape from a major confrontation leading to reconciliation between PRC and US. The strains within the state of USSR had been persistently growing even as the Bolshevik party was organizing its grand 26th convention euphemizing all its failures and erosions with carefully selected words in the documents.
In India still a decade was to follow before a radical reversal of the socialist policies adopted by Nehru in the independent India was to take place. The decade had begun with the successful partition of the state of Pakistan after intervention of the Indian troops to give birth to new state of Bangladesh. In the political front it was the devastating emergency rule, the gift from the impulsive daughter of Nehru, that dominated the later part of the decade. The aftermath with trouncing of the congress and Indira Gandhi were to have remote implications for the future of India. With the growth rate of GDP often mocked as the 'Hindu Growth Rate' around 3-4% , India was struggling to catch up with the world in which the newly reformed economic policy in China was beginning to show miraculous initial results. The era of coalition politics was signaling its rise amidst the rise of right-wing Hindu extremism.
Oceans away, the VAE had been recuperating from the humiliating loss in the Vietnamese front even while launching its veiled offensives in Latin America and elsewhere where the resistance was not strong enough to keep them away. The monarch in Iran that had been sustaining itself with the blessings of the VAE was over thrown in 1979 that followed the hostage crisis in which 52 American diplomats were locked in Tehran for 444 days. A servile ally in the Persia had been transformed into an enemy that could later endure a decade-long war with Iraq which was not in bad terms with the Americans. In the climax of their myopia, the Russian communists had dared to 'liberate' Afghanistan by moving troops to support their proxy rulers in Kabul. The executives of the VAE were swift enough to sense this as the opportunity to settle the score with the only rival that had dared to challenge them in the history. The synchronization of this strategic interest of the VAE and the need of the Zia regime in Pakistan to some legitimacy to rule created the shock waves that were enough to crumble the foundation of the USSR.
Those were the days when the seeds of the menacing phenomenon called terrorism were being carefully sown by what has been termed by Pervez Hoodbhoy as the 'illegitimate union between the US under Reagan and Pakistan under Zia'. The religious fanaticism nurtured in the young muslims all over the world to motivate them to fight against the 'infidel' Russians yielded the outcome well in the eighties. However, the VAE was not going to make a right summing up two wrongs. As soon as the Russians were defeated in the Afghan front even the illusive legitimacy of the union between the west and the religious extremists had evaporated. Also, the executives of the VAE had no ability to foresee the kind of developments that are now taking place, with Pakistan inches away from being overrun by the Taliban. Given the century-long well being of the VAE and its resilience to defeats like the one in Vietnam, nobody could then imagine this search for elusive Bin Laden would lead the US-led NATO forces to failure in Afghanistan where the communist had been trounced.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE GREAT FALL
What followed the collapse of USSR was thus the transformation of a bipolar world order into the unipolar one as the capitalist camp enjoyed the victory in the eight decade long rivalry that was at instances hair-distance away from a major and devastating confrontation. Our concern now is: how did this major political transformation impact the lives of the billions of people who found themselves in the new circumstances but not inherently better and without further challenge? What was to happen with the trust the destitute people had in the system of communism? Did capitalism reorient itself to include the interests of the have-nots in its single-point agenda of promoting the interest of the individual vis-à-vis the state?
The challenges faced by the post-USSR Russia and the post-Mao China were quite different as was their capability to cope with the change. The triumph of the absolutely anti-USSR deeds of Yeltsin over the cautious approach of Gorbachev was decisive in heading the still giant state of Russia to the direction she did. This led to the complete dismantling of the ruling machinery of the erstwhile USSR forcing the state of Russia to assemble from the rubbles. In china, however, it was only the gradual but firm shift away from Mao's policies with the political machinery of the communist state intact, that Deng Xia-o-ping drove through the transformation. The cocktail of a liberal economy with the authoritarian political system later turned out to be most fertile for the spectacular growth of economy in China. The persistent growth of the Chinese economy that has only slowed after onset of the economic slump has been dominating the dynamics of the world economy with increasing trade deficits of the industrialized states like the US with China. For Russia, however, it took the persistent rise in the price of the petroleum during the surge years and the authoritarian leadership of Putin to spring her back to the stage of world powers. Not to mention, the Russians suffered a lot during the intervening years of political and economic chaos characterized by the loot of the state property.
What all this meant for the people other than Chinese and Russians? Huntington summarizes this change as the paradigm shift from the dynamic interaction of and conflicts among the ideologies to those of and among the identity traits. The communist ideology suddenly ceased to be reasonable alternative of the capitalism, which was consolidating its position with each passing moment. This put an end to the practical significance of the century-long debate on which one of the two systems worked better in favor of the majority of the people. This considerably weakened the position of, and demoralized the communists of dozens of other states forcing many of them to follow the reformist course.
In the meantime, what was transpiring inside the triumphant capitalist camp? Did they behave responsibly in the changed context? To everyone's dismay, it was only recently exposed that the executives of the only existing pole of the global order bungled their job badly in these two decades. This has been evident both in the economic and the political fronts. The vicious cycle of endless wars and conflicts engineered by supposedly reckless handling (though many feel it to be deliberate act instead) of the sensitive issues by the executives of the Veiled American Empire (VAE) has come out of the veils to expose itself to the world lately. This was complemented by their counterparts in the economy who governed a magical money-making venture named Wall Street creating and distributing a massive amount of wealth that never existed in reality. This attitude now labeled as the 'corporate greed' ( earlier named the 'great innovation of the globalized world' ) helped the economies bloat to an extent so as to numb the senses of all ordinary people who rallied behind the investment bankers. After two decades of its unchallenged career, capitalism has finally make the workers realize who they really are vis-à-vis the corporate executives who still enjoy the impunity for their misdeeds. The inference that capitalism will eventually help every rational being to enter the 'middle class' thus alleviating poverty has now come into scrutiny.
A story on the consequences of 'the great fall' in a tiny village in Nepal
The sun was setting in the west as usual. But for Kabita there was something new and unpleasant. As the villagers kept heading back to their dwellings with their cattle and goats, the sun cast a deep pink glow in the western clouds. It would have pleased her to watch this amazing scene reflected in the pond as she used to imagine a second sky to exist below the water level, with its own silent and peaceful world. Today she was reluctant to watch her own image in the pond bending forwards.
Not wishing to go home early, she sat on the rock beside the pond and watched the darkening sky aimlessly. Many of her childhood fantasies about the mysteries of the nature were related to the sky: she used to imagine reaching the sky by placing a ladder over the mountain-top that was the highest point visible from her home yet unconquerable for her. She used to even dream of going to the sky for a picnic with the cooking utensils inverted! Later when she was able to scale other mountains similar to that one, she realized how ridiculous her idea about reaching the sky had been. She was practically in contact with the sky as seen from her home but the nature of the sky had become further elusive and away from her grasp. This was exactly what she was now feeling about the life, after so many years and with so important implication for her day to day life. What hurt her the most was the fact that how bluntly she had misunderstood the realities of this life. Now after so many days of confusion, she was sure she had to make a hard choice and most shockingly, the ideology that she cherished so much till then could barely come in her defence. Indeed this was further deepening the conflict within.
The dusk brought an uneasy silence and she was forced to drag her feet towards the home as she anticipated what would face her there. She ruminated what it would be like if the dawn never came again, just if the earth stopped spinning in its axis because of some unusual happening that occurs only once in the imaginable time span.
What she disliked the most from her childhood was the asymmetry in the role to be played by different categories of people and the way the others dealt with them. She was well aware of the discontent that her mother harboured with her married life. After many aborted attempts at rebellion, she had practically surrendered to the ‘welfare of their family’ that had inadvertently grown in size as the three children were born. She was also assured of the irreversibility of the knot once tied, even now in the given set of social circumstances. This awareness had made her quite alert even during her teenage years when she used to watch other village girls being sent to their new home.
Everything had changed or at least it appeared so when this new thing called the communism had entered the village. When she was twelve or thirteen, suddenly there were rumours about the presence of the ‘atheist goons’ meeting secretly in the jungles and the terraces in the outskirts of the villages. When they dared to meet openly after some major event in Kathmandu, they were quite a different lot. They talked about abolishing all forms of coercions, oppressions and exploitations based on the cast, gender, economic status or whatsoever. They had the simple ways of living and talked in simple language understood by everyone in the village. Soon many of the village youths joined them openly and it was no longer a taboo to become a communist.
The pace with which the communists built their organizations in the village was amazing. They appeared to have answer to every question the young minds could ask. Those were the years when her trust on the god and the religion was beginning to flutter. This combined with the communist promotion of atheism was decisive in making her an atheist and this changed her outlook of her life a lot. A new sense of confidence emanated from the conviction that she was a part of a larger effort to change this world for better.
They were never told exactly how, but all of those involved in the organizations of the communists were convinced that the contributions made by all of them would one day sum up to bring an altogether different world, after ‘liberation’ through a grand revolution.
It was during one of the usual ‘classes’ that were frequently delivered by someone higher in the party hierarchy. This time the audience were the members of the student wing of the party in the local high school. She was the tenth grader and thus the one of the leaders of the students. In the later part of the session the teacher asked an awkward question: was marriage an indispensable part of life? If or if not, why? This problem appeared simple enough; yet as everybody pondered over it, it became increasingly difficult to answer. It was usual for many of the students to get married even while in the school and the question was far from irrelevant.
Now she does not remember exactly what the others answered, but she answered it so finely that the teacher appreciated it wholeheartedly as all the other students looked at her with envy. That answer was one of the reasons for which she was rapidly elevated in the ranks of the organization.
She had planned big for her holidays after the SLC exams. First thing she did was reading the book ‘Mother’ by Gorky. The party had allotted the task of establishing the student units in three of the neighbouring villages for her during the period. The household tasks came next in the priority.
It was a month of February when she had gone for grazing the cattle in the fields that were opened after harvesting the wheat. She spotted increased activity in front of her home from the distance but could not make out exactly what it was. Everything was in order when she was back home but soon she was invited by one of her sister-in-laws of neighbourhood for a secret talk. A proposal had been floated by a boy’s family from next village to her parents for her marriage. The parents, not much sceptic about her involvement in political activities, never imagined she would dare to disobey them in vital matters and as was usual, had given word to the boy’s family after examining what her prospective life would be in the new home.
It was like the sky falling. She regretted for not expecting this scenario that now looked so obvious. Like the initial blackout on being asked about the indispensability of the marriage, her mind was desperate for a new ‘life-saving’ idea. Marriage was the last thing she would wish right then as that would practically put her journey to the sacred destination to the end. Even otherwise, she dreamed of being educated in the college like few others in the village that was scores better than getting married right then and being trapped in household mess.
The party then emerged as the saviour when the local unit decided in favour of avoiding the marriage. After two days she escaped from the home with one of the comrades to live in his relative’s home in a faraway village. They returned after the news had travelled to the to-be-groom’s village and the marriage was aborted. This brought a lot of shame and embarrassment to her family as the villagers termed the act of eloping with a young man as her ‘marriage’. But as the party had enough influence in all aspects of the village including the social life, she was accepted back in her family.
Thinking all this made her dizzy and she felt relieved nobody was there to see her face at that moment, that must have been expressing so much disgust. She had silently slipped into her room in the dark and now sat in the floor like the disgruntled queen of the fairy tales, exhausted after a quarrel with the king. She had faced many turbulent times in the past but all of them paled now in comparison of the current mess of events.
Seven long years had passed since the episode of the spurious marriage. The one to face the greatest setback during the period was the communist party now divided in many factions and chipped away by the rightist parties. Most of the devoted leaders of the ‘rising’ age were now away from active politics, many of them in odd businesses while most others working hard in the Gulf countries to make up for the lost years and to fulfill the family responsibilities. The party organizations were still there but in terms of vitality there was nothing compared to those old days of dreams. The current batch of leaders also talked about the struggle and the invincibility of the movement. The destination of the proletariat revolution had not changed but it had come no nearer by the efforts over the period, instead she felt, it was receding further in the future.
The erosion in the vitality of the party was capitalized by the new bunch of thugs in the village who reminded her of the old days before the dream of a better world was born. There was once again the boom in the sale of alcohol and the gambling became the renewed addiction among the working age populace. Smoking hashish was no longer a crime and even the sophisticated injectable drugs had befriended the youth. There was no organized effort to straighten a crook who battered his wife while intoxicated. The women and the girls who had begun to make their voices herd through united efforts once again regressed to being the property of the men in the family. Demanding a ‘decent’ dowry became once again acceptable.
Her mood grew darker and darker in the dark room as everybody in the home began to be frankly worried as she failed to turn up that evening. To avoid further speculation, she lit the lantern to indicate that she was there and every one in the home was relieved.
Her youngest sister entered the room with the same innocent look as ever. But she could now read something pitiable in her expression: how little she knows about this skewed world. Her satisfaction with the world will last so long as she fails to discover the real world.
As expected, there was the gathering in the evening with one of her cousin brothers as the additional member. After much lacklustre, finally a proposal had finally been made for her by a boy from another village. Her age was now exceptionally beyond the usual age of marriage and this could be arguably the last proposal from a bachelor. The matter would be more difficult once her younger sister got married. This was why everybody was dead serious in the matter and all of them understood this though nobody spoke in direct terms about the situation. Indeed it was beyond explanation, so obvious.
She was not in a position to refuse the proposal. Whether she accepted it was the question even she was not sure about. All the towering personalities whom she had vowed to follow were lying in the rubble now, not in a position even to share her grief; let alone alleviate it. The path that she unequivocally believed led to the better and brighter world appeared to terminate now abruptly with nobody by her side to advise her about the alternative routes.
Learning from the previous experience, the precaution was now taken: her nod was awaited before giving the decision to the boy. This was the purpose of this gathering. She felt almost suffocated by the dead end to which she was now obviously heading. Her silence was interpreted as the approval and finally the deal was set to be sealed.
I don’t know if any new twist comes in the story as during the spurious marriage to change the course. This time I’ll make sure I follow this story up once I am there in the village.
Locating Nepal in the Bizarre World
NEPAL IN THE MESS
How all this matters for us? Can we trouble ourselves with the issues of the ‘other’ world while we are ourselves overwhelmed with the domestic problems worsening each passing moment? Does exploring the history of the communism and its epochal rivalry with capitalism help us anyway in negotiating forward through our own troubles? Does the latest twist in the life cycle of giant system of capitalism, the global economic slump, have any significance for us? Even while most of the communist parties in Nepal perceive (at least till the recent past they have been doing so) Nepal to be in semi-feudal and semi-colonial stage, still to be transformed into proper capitalist state, how are we to face the crisis that has relatively discriminated us from engulfing till now, but is not sure to do so in the future? At a time when the foundations of Nepal as a state have been shaken in a scale never seen before, and we are heading to more chaos and anarchy and worse statelessness, what are we supposed to do?
The discourse on the questions as crucial as these keeps the gravity that I can’t claim to have done justice to by arguing through all these pages. As always, the arguments about all issues that matter for our daily lives will keep rising. Many such will have the significance by virtue of their impacts in the way the respective institutions alter their course for the better. The others will be significant by their lack of existence to the vigor so as to impact the way institutions fare. This work is intended to stimulate the intellectual circle for the discourse on the issues as complicated as these and not definitely to guide anybody about how to gauze the history or to make arguments about the issues as vexed as the rivalry of the two camps of the cold war.
To make a comfortable entry to the mess of Nepali history I will once again take help of the book Nepal in Crisis and will revolve around the central theme of the book for some time. This will help me to consolidate my argument in favor of the significant predictability of the three decade-old work and how the factors then deemed responsible for bleak living conditions for Nepalis still work in tandem. (A related article about how the factor of burgeoning foreign employment has impacted the rural life in Nepal has been included in this same blog.)
The authors of Nepal in Crisis argue that the main factor behind the stagnation of the economy in rural areas in particular and in Nepal in general is the phenomenon by which the further peripheries were created eventually in the peripheries themselves created by the uneven development of capitalism in the different parts of the world. (The arguments that I forward now may well have no relation with the work in Nepal in Crisis or supplement them or even contradict the arguments in the book) We have already examined the reason why the England centered industrial revolution was unable to flourish without the existence of this very uneven pattern in terms of the production and consumption and the privileged investors and the under-privileged workers. The fierce resistance of the capitalism to the residua of the feudalism in Europe was in contrast to the strategy of sustaining feudalism in the annexed land where this particular arrangement benefited the empires. About the industrialization of India during the occupation by the English, Nehru recalls the paradoxical impact of the WWI when the British Empire was compelled to develop infrastructure in India for the strategic reasons.
The creation of the hierarchy of the peripheries with a degree of dependence to the centre was thus central to the advancement of capitalism dating back to the early days of its struggle with feudalism. It was arguably impossible for capitalism to advance without the discrimination of the people and territories in terms of the power, privilege and opportunities. It is other factor that, the communism, which promised to provide the ideal alternative to this inherently exploitative and coercive system; performed badly in practice making itself unsustainable. This never negates the rationale of exploring the ills of capitalism in our attempt to explore the misery of the people in the world with the system.
In case of Nepal, the reluctance of the advancing British to complete annexation of Nepal in favor of allowing the formal political autonomy can be explained by the merits of the subtle form of this economic imperialism. The prototype of feudal governance that was in Nepal then was well suited to the ‘capitalist’ English who got even the military aid from the Nepali rulers to suppress the Mutiny of 1857, in addition to incessant flow of natural resources from the Terai belt. The dynamics of the political developments at that time was thus the failure to transform from feudalism to capitalism in terms of Nepal while it was flourishing capitalism in terms of the British. As the vast market of the finished product and the source of the raw materials, any capitalist advancement in India was also far from favorable for the English; exceptionally compelled to establish industries in India during the WWI. India was thus the essential periphery for the advancing European capitalism. Nepal on the other hand had its misery multiplied by the presence of the Rana despots well connected to the occupiers of the giant neighbor. This made Nepal the periphery of the Indian Periphery of the English empire. The rural areas of Nepal were thus the periphery of the ‘periphery of the periphery’. Further hierarchies of socio-economic powers and privileges existed even inside this small entity of a Nepali village. Thus the fate of the most under-privileged people of a Nepali villager was dependent, though distantly and invisibly, upon the deeds of the rulers of the English empire who were at the top though innumerable steps up in the hierarchy.
Though this generalization may be more of theoretical value than practical one, this is highly illustrative of how capitalism has been working over the centuries: fighting feudalism somewhere while embracing it somewhere else; promoting equity and liberty in one society while propping a discriminatory and despotic regimes at others. Right way or wrong, the ultimate result had to be the reinforcement of the hierarchy not a challenge to it. (This might have been a strength of capitalism vis-à-vis communism contributing to its longevity.) The commissions of the Veiled American Empire (VAE) after dismantling of the British Empire after WWII illustrate this factor more starkly; to give one example: the spree of establishing lethally suppressive police states in the Latin America to safeguard the vested interest of the US. The human misery resulting from all these acts barely got any attention of the official history and the mainstream media in the world precisely because they occurred in the peripheries several steps away from the centre in the hierarchy.
Observing this bizarre world from this periphery of the peripheries, we feel oddly cheated while reading the luminous accounts of the world written by the scholars from the bright world who diagnose the ills of this world and prognosticate the world with all the emphasis to the centre.
This is why we badly need a serious account of how we fared in the past and how to fare best in the future; one based on analysis of the fate of the peripheries that has now persisted for centuries.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE ‘PERIPHERY’ STATUS
IT will be absurd to understand the territories labeled periphery as the static entities amenable only to the manipulation from up. Indeed the history of all these territories is the account of the struggles that were against this humiliating status, though not always understood in those terms. The dismal living conditions with their roots in this status were variably diagnosed to have originated from some arbitrary backwardness of the non-white races or other absurd hypotheses like this. The attention has been barely drawn to the real cause, this task being greatly helped by the overwhelming influence of the mainstream media in forming the people’s attitudes on issues like this.
Not to mention that, this factor is not the only and absolute cause of the backwardness and underdevelopment in our part of the world. The extreme under-emphasis to this factor in analyzing these issues is what I object to primarily. Not also that, capitalism has uniformly spoilt the lives of people other than Europeans and Americans. The extent to which the millions of people have entered to the ‘middle class’ status from poverty in the states like India with previously guarded economies cannot be ignored. What needs attention is, however, the tendency of this spurt in number of middle class people to create further peripheries by no provision to safe guard the interests of the other unfortunate millions.
The central characteristic of the developments in the last two decades was the unprecedented integration of the nation states into a global system of capitalism. In Freedman’s terms it was the ‘flattening of the world’ or setting uniform criteria for competition for every person in this world irrespective of the cast, creed or nationality. This obviously brought the centers and peripheries side-by-side at least through the color television sets. What did it turn out to prove for the have-nots?
Here we’ll link the arguments from the book Nepal in Crisis. Did the integration of underdeveloped and stagnant economies like that of Nepal to the world through the membership of WTO give them any momentum or dynamicity that was so direly needed? The stagnant and crumbling productive bases explored in the early seventies in the book should have undergone a radical change, if they were to compete in the world that had newly opened up. The initiatives for this change had, of course, to come from within the Nepali leadership. As every other underdeveloped state, Nepal turned out to be no exception to have an inherently inept leadership with terrible myopia. The invention of the mechanisms like the Off-shoring the industries and Outsourcing the labor greatly benefited the investors in the industrialized world while helping few economies like the Chinese, Indian and Taiwanese to prosper faster than ever. To other rudimentary economies like that of Nepal, however, this trend converted into the consumer status irreversibly.
For few decades or so, the major economies in the world bloated quite fast if not have grown; with heavy inter-dependence to one another. Did it ever make our concept of center and periphery obsolete? The pomp and luxury of the lives in the developed world was only a TV screen away from the most under-privileged. In reality, however, it was further increasing the distance between the center and the periphery while masquerading as the universal dispenser of prosperity. The lucrative job opportunities at the center with the potentially bright life style prospects kept draining the most able human resources from the periphery to the center. The supposedly flat world turned out to be like a cone with the developed countries at the apex, which automatically attracted the brightest minds throughout the world. The underdeveloped countries in the periphery, which invested their scarce resources to produce the manpower, were thus stripped from their right to claim the outcome of the investment, thanks to the broken barriers in the flat world.
Thus with extraordinary integration of the nations and the people who were supposed to have equal stakes but actually had extreme variability, it was natural for the equation to be vulnerable to heading the wrong way. The unapparent center had thus enormous responsibility of sustaining the system with caution. To the extreme displeasure of everyone, the way the economic and the political executives at the center had been bungling their job was exposed only recently. The reckless mishandling of the political issues by the semi-sane administration of G. Bush was all that was required to unleash the wave of devastating wars and conflicts in the every other corner of the world. Not surprisingly, the economic house of cards bloated by the innovations of the investment bankers collapsed just before the Bush administration was to depart from the stage.
Ironically, the economies that were relatively slow in integrating themselves into the larger system, like that of Nepal turned out to be relatively immune from the havoc of economic down fall, at least in the beginning. But we have also little to celebrate since it was merely our failure to take advantage of the years of economic boom that has saved us from this. This relative advantage is not going to offer us any olive branch that would help us transform our ‘consumer’ and ‘periphery’ status and that is what is most significant.
NEPAL'S STAGNATION: IN PERPETUITY
Since the research was done for the book Nepal in Crisis, over three decades of time has elapsed. I will argue that, now, despite two major uprisings against the prevailing institutions, the outcomes were entirely political with little prospect of the stagnant economy being churned significantly. The dominance of the commerce as the only feasible option for the investors rather than production has been especially persistent over the period. The misguided attempts at 'developing' the nation without altering the status of the economy met with repeated failures on part of the politicians leading to decline of the people's trust in the new system. This has resulted into a pervasive mistrust to the politicians and politics itself.
Taking first the uprising of 1990, the triumph of the popular will was in itself a great and positive development. There was the potential of changing the state machinery that was entirely corrupt and inept. What turned out into reality was, however, not even distantly related to this.
Despite the high expectations and optimism of the people, the experience of Multi-Party Democracy (MPD) with Nepali Congress (NC) in power made it clear within few years that the change of '90 had been a mere transfer of authority from the monarch to a handful of non-palace aristocrats. Not that any changes didn't take place in the state institutions, but they were far below the popular expectations and this eventually sowed the seeds of frustration that were only to avalanche with time.
Taking one example of beaurocracy that was blown in size during the Panchayat years to 'pacify the educated youth by luring to high posts' and to draw the foreign aids by showing the mechanisms to spend them, as explored in the book Nepal in Crisis. With dismally low industrialization, entry to the beaurocracy or the 'Sarkari Jagir' formed an important way of earning money as well as reputation. The redundancy and corruption that crippled beaurocracy was the first thing to be eliminated if the new system were to make people perceive any change from the previous system. In reality, however, the party leaders and the workers who were impoverished during the Panchayat era were lustily eying those lucrative posts as finally it was their turn to earn something after the struggle they endured. This could do nothing but multiply the grievances of people who had to spend more in bribing the government officials of the new system.
Practically, this was bound to happen in absence of the opportunities for employment of the young who were increasingly better educated and aware of advancement of the life styles in other countries. This tendency to seek bribes from the people in return for the official duties and embezzlement of the public property whenever possible, was no longer limited to the administrative posts of the government. Whoever got the opportunity to do so was prompt enough not to let it go. In its uglier forms this attitude reached the extent of malnourishing the low rank persons of the armed forces since their seniors siphoned the money allotted for their rations to their pockets. To earn, thus became the single point agenda of those whoever were in a position to do so, making the unscrupulous loot of the state property a regularity rather than an exception. Where was the salient work ethics needed for a dynamic economy to evolve in these circumstances? The qualification to get a job and to rise higher in the ranks increasingly turned towards appeasing the 'decisive person' by means that were often unscrupulous.
The global spurt of consumerism after the collapse of the communist states was accompanied by the dynamic and growing economies in the developed world. In countries like Nepal, however, its advancement was disproportionately fast to the worsening economy. The political leaders who had fought so long for the 'change' were now suddenly dazed by the pomp and luxury that was possible in life in this same world. This only worsened the corrupt state machinery making accountability an enemy of the 'new' system. To give one example of extreme loot of the state property worse than during the Panchayat era: we will take the state bus company. Established with help of the Japanese government and famed as 'Sajha Bus' this had been a well-functioning and profitable enterprise during the Panchayat years. Within few years of democracy, however, it had turned out to become the most lucrative opportunity for the politicians to recruit the cadres who would then compete to drain the state property through the job. It took not even a decade for this emaciated enterprise to collapse. The state carrier of the aircraft has suffered even worse fate even though it has been being propped up till now despite the losses resulting from those invisible drainages.
All these regressive tendencies were enough to cause the mass disenchantment to the prevailing political system. A sense of deep gloom and frustration pervaded the youth who were devoid of any or enough links to be in a position to drain the wealth from the state.
All this made Nepal a ramshackle state with no one really and decisively worried about the political and even more so, the economic future of the country. As politics itself began to symbolize unethical practices, the stances taken by the people about the changes that could be brought through the reforms or peaceful agitations first began to flutter and later reversed. This made the politics the job of the oligarchy pervasively manifested by ineptitude, corruption, nepotism and myopia.
At the end of the first decade of the democratic exercise, the political stagnation was about to catch the stagnation of economy. People had experienced the governments led by all possible options in the parliament. The hung parliament that resulted from the second parliamentary elections after '90 gave rise to the especially disgusting practices in the parliament that made the system practically stink. The global wave of neo-liberalization had already arrived in Nepal as the Structural Readjustment Program so that the corrupt politicians could fetch money from WB, IMF or ADB in terms ostensibly unfavorable for the Nepali taxpayers and the under-privileged who needed the cushion of social security by the state.
Nepal's politics had finally turned out into a lake in which the waters were stagnant but rising in levels due to a rise in temperature. Arguably it was not possible to run the state for decades with the status quo as during the Panchayat Era since there had been a radical rise in the awareness of the people. Still, the remorse was against the lack of opportunity to 'progress' financially in the usual terms rather than to the disastrous over-all downfall of the state economy that made many aware people angry towards the state and the system. One way or the other, the state oligarchy was suffering from the increasing loss of credibility. The tact and will power to overcome the phenomenon of economic stagnation that had been non-existent for so many decades preceding the system was thus natural not to be present with the leadership.
A CONFLICT THAT WAS INEVITABLE
Given the extent to which the grievances of the people had been unchanged or multiplied with the peaceful movement, that too after a whole decade, the ground was increasingly becoming fertile for a radical alternative. The adventurism of the Maoists, though termed by many as ill-thought venture directed against the global tide away from communism, was something remotely comparable to the rise of Bolshevism in the ramshackle state of tsarist Russia. The most prominent difference between the two was, however, that the pervasive disenchantment of people in case of the former was created by a peaceful period after a peaceful movement unlike the war in the latter.
Though this indirect justification of a devastating conflict is sure to draw huge criticism, I advise the readers to go through a valuable work on the precipices of the conflict that will help to elucidate how people's emotions had been traumatized by the bleak economic opportunities compounded by political impotency making a violent solution not unlikely. That work is the 'Durviksha' by a Nepali scholar Narayan Dhakal in which he explores the evolution of the ordinary people's misfortune to the violent period through the democratic practice starting from the late Panchayat years. Perhaps this is the best fictional account of the immediate history of Nepal that finely builds the story with unwavering attention to the economic virtues that subtly but definitely guide the lives of people leading to a consequence of larger implication. This is in contrast to the much-hyped contemporary work of Narayan Wagle, the Palpasa Café that makes a mess out of a serious subject matter like the conflict to make a bizarre account of how much the people suffered but not why; as if to exploit the conflict to make a readable fiction with lucid language and style.
The consequences that later followed will have to be analyzed in a different section later. Here we will focus on the economic realities of the late nineties that favored the rise of a violent leftist force vis-à-vis the traditional non-violent political parties. We have already discussed a lot about the virtues of the erstwhile political machinery ruling the country. Whatever the intention, the attempt of the donors to integrate Nepal to the global economic system through the Structural Readjustment Program proved counter-productive to the interest of those who were already remote from the state's attention. The fiscal accountability so firmly emphasized by each donor could but only worsen over the period.
Turning once again to the observations of the authors of Nepal in Crisis made during the Panchayat era, the sole objective of the economic activities of the majority of the people was still subsistence even as an oligarchy attempted at sporadic industrialization in favorable areas like Biratnagar, Kathmandu, Birgunj or Bhairahawa. This industrialization was disproportionately below the extent reasonable to the growing working age population. The state enterprises that had been serving the people of regions as remote as Karnali during the Panchayat era despite the fiscal costs on the government were dismantled one after another as each was bound to run at loss and eventually go bankrupt for reasons that we have already explored. The remaining enterprises making exceptional profit or avoiding the loss proved to be the target of the 'liberal' multilateral institutions which were there now to guide policymakers in Nepal as how to navigate in this 'flat' world by privatizing everything but the infamy of politics.
Coming to this dictum called 'Privatization' of the state property that is said to be an essential component of the liberalization, there are some confusing precedences. Even if we make a guarded comparison of some states that opened their economies up almost simultaneously, the results will be starkly different. For this we can take the example of the two state transport enterprises of Nepal and India, both of which 'opened' their economies in the early nineties. The importance of the public transport is crucial in any of the fast-evolving societies of today's world. Going by the theory of the LPG pundits, opening up of the sector for private investment should make it easier, cheaper and of better quality for the people to travel. By implication this should make the state involvement in this sector, like in any other sectors, unnecessary and inefficient potentially hampering the atmosphere conducive for competition.
Like many other industrialized 'capitalist' countries, India was able to maintain an efficient public transport system with state ownership. The private enterprises in the sector could supplement the service but not compete or threaten it. In Nepal, however, the state transport enterprise, the Sajha bus was so badly drained by the beneficiaries of the democracy and liberalization that it was no longer viable as an enterprise. This left the people at the mercy of the private investors who created a monopolistic system so as to make maximum profit with minimum investment and in short time. The poor quality of the service provided aside, the road itself has been, even till now, taken hostage by the unscrupulous bus owners who can do anything to make their point and to safeguard their petty interests. This has made traveling in the roads of Nepal a challenge that cannot often be met.
The state carrier of the aircrafts has also got a comparable history though still propped up in extremely fragile state. While the counterpart flag carriers of India and Thailand were profiting the state more with each passing year, the NAC had to beg for support from the state coffers for mere survival. Was that the neo-liberal policies gave different outcomes in different context? Or was that the extent to which the states resisted to the pressure to privatization that saved the people-friendly state enterprises from the onslaught of privatization?
One way or the other these subtle economic fallouts that did not directly agitate the people politically were sure to add to the gloom of the people and their distrust to the system and the state machinery. The overwhelming inference of the people about the decade long parliamentary system was that it was a system that served the oligarchy in the name of the majority that is periodically forced to elect a group from the oligarchy.
In the meantime the leadership was deafened by the cacophony of the parliamentary activities with incessant duels between and within parties for the power and privilege. That made them aware of their wrongdoings only when the decadence of the system had reached the irreversible stage.
THE ELECTIONS: THEIR CONTRIBUTION TO DEMOCRACY
The periodic elections are supposed to be the back bone of a democratic institution. They have served well in the last few centuries to make many states work well and progress a lot. Though the critics now point to the tendency of the ultra-industrialized world to move towards an authoritarian governance guided by the interests of the corporate investors, the role of elections as such can not be over-emphasized in any circumstance. The main factor favoring the longevity of the capitalist mode of governance has been supposed to be its respect for democratic practice in contrast to its communist rival that mocks democracy as the plot to undermine the interests of the proletariat. This might be a reason why the most despotic regimes in this world also prefer to organize a game named election with the results pre-determined.
Like any other virtue, the elections also keep quite different meaning in different contexts. There is a fantastic account of how elections were conducted and perceived in Nepal during the years of democratic practice in the novel 'Tutor of History' by Manjushree Thapa. The rampant frauds by the candidates supplemented by the violence make an impression to the peace-loving folks that the elections are as such to be despised. And with that the system too.
So, it were the periodic and supposedly free and fair election that made the MPD fundamentally different from its predecessor Panchayat regime. Ideally they should have brought to the power the party that really worked for the interest of the people. And that work was going to be to revitalize a chronically sluggish economy through appropriate measures. That could then be followed by a period of reasonable development. The moment any party failed in the task, it was supposed to be replaced by a better alternative. But in reality, each of the parties and the leadership turned out to be as impotent as the other even at comprehending the gravity of the situation, let alone face it with determination. The misery of the people resulting from the economic stagnation was now compounded by an intractable political stagnation in which the political parties kept flexing muscles with each other to gain the power.
Coming to the economic front, it has been illustrated well in the book Nepal in Crisis with enough evidence that the isolated acts like building a road were far from enough for over all development of the productive base of the region and thus the economy. Electrifying the villages, building roads, establishing educational and health institutions, improving the literacy rate, all these formed important election promises and although with some lag, were being done to appease the voters if not as a part of responsibility. All these contributed in making the lives of people better. But what was needed for the vitality of the system was the agenda that appealed the young minds, that made them worth living for. With all the sacrifices devoted for the change, the impact in the people's lives had to be qualitative, not quantitative.
The poorly managed population pressure with the pervasive perception among the people that all parties are equally impotent created an irony in which the people who had voted for the political parties in the elections began to find sympathy to the armed insurgents inside them. This was particularly true for the people of the regions that had been persistently neglected by the state for long. Though most of the educated unemployed youths did not join the insurgency themselves, their bitter contempt for the erstwhile ruling mechanism tempted them to sympathize the violent guerillas who were ready even to sacrifice their lives for the good of the larger world.
It was this evolution of the people's sentiments that did not come to the attention of the rulers before it was too late. The act of firing few police posts by archaic firearms was really not going to challenge the state anyway. But it was that subtle and silent insinuation of the agenda of the Maoists in the people's minds that was going to really matter.
The short lived democratic practice in Nepal has been variably euphemized to have contributed in the over-all progress of the people and the advancements in the infrastructure and other foundations of nation-building. This relatively peaceful period is often contrasted with the devastating years of insurgency concluding the venture of the Maoists to have been an anachronistic attempt to hinder the progress led by the other forces. The examples like relatively better press freedom and increased interaction of the people, especially young ones to the larger world are often mentioned. The emphasis on education had been steadily increasing and the literacy rate was improving. The number of students that traveled abroad for studies and potentially to settle there itself was increased dramatically. The electricity was reaching more and more villages. New roads were being constructed even through hostile mountainous terrains. All the positive developments of the period should also be taken into account while evaluating the period.
What was missing during the period, however, kept more meaning at the decisive moment. The increasing bulk of the young people, only a part of which could be imbibed by the party-state machinery, was getting increasingly frustrated. The distribution of the opportunities was similarly patchy with creation of a hierarchy of the peripheries with those at the lowest step suffering from the extreme negligence by the state.
At its formal beginning, the maoist insurgency was taken more as a hollow threat of a few politicians disgruntled by their failure to rise high in the parliamentary system. In the echelons of the power and in the security agencies it was more like an unpleasant joke mocking a guerilla warfare that was foreseeably not feasible. It was after the insurgency began to gain momentum that every one was taken by surprise though still not able to comprehend the gravity of the situation fully. The obscenity of the petty parliamentary activities had then reached the peak keeping the political parties engaged in the struggles to make and break the coalitions. Those who had suppressed the people's movement brutally had finally reached to the executive post of the country stepping in the shoulders of the parties that had led the movement.
With the political parties engaged in spitting venom at each other for one scandal after another of the corruption and embezzlement, the system itself was heading towards the cemetery. This was accelerated by the rise of two extremist forces whose increasing influence wedged the system in between. By this time, the monarchy that had been supposedly contained in the background was raising its head after the gruesome palace massacre by an anonymous actor. With the firm support of the erstwhile RNA behind it, its importance could not but keep increasing as the armed insurgency began to gain momentum. The stage was heading for final confrontation between the two real forces even when the 'middlemen' kept fidgeting aimlessly to prove their worth. Finally during the semi-sane administration of an impulsive leader, the parliament, the foundation of the MPD was handed over to the palace reaffirming the impotency of the 'non-extremist' forces.
It was pretty easy to push the country to the confrontation of insurmountable magnitude. All that was needed was a provocation to the army that had stayed dormant ever since the Anglo-Nepal war two centuries ago. And that the Maoists did efficiently by attacking the army after a stint of blown police posts and murdered police personnel. That became the reason more than enough to make the army run amok. The state was practically transformed to one with military supremacy even while the perennially impotent civilian leadership kept reaffirming their role in mobilizing the armed forces.
The outcomes were then not different from those that occur in any part of the world suffering from a conflict. The soft targets of both the sides were the civilians who could be easily alleged to have spied for the rival side. First killing the unarmed suspect and later labeling him as the insurgent or the spy became an ordinary phenomenon. In the extreme of their ideological insanity, the Maoists reached the extent of tiding a teacher to a tree-trunk, shooting him to death on the chest and leaving him for exhibition as the proud symbol of the barbarity. The people who had a degree of sympathy for the rebels in the beginning found themselves gasping with the terror now that the rebels had grown in capability to draw the army to the battle field. The conflict and the devastation that it brought obsessed the people's minds as the chilling news of the casualties kept flowing one after another. People's eyes were glued to the TV screens that broadcasted the gruesome scenes of rotting corpses of people like them scattered in the terraces. Everywhere there was death, there was maiming, there was destruction and the humanity was being butchered by the armed rivals as both kept paying lip service to the bright ideas like human rights.
The hide-and-seek game of the cease-fires and the renewed conflict could only worsen the melancholy that pervaded the minds of the people who had either lost one or few of their family members or were constantly apprehensive of losing them. A comprehensive analysis of the conflict with discreet attention to the dynamics of the war is well beyond the scope of the author as well as this work. Now we will proceed to the topic of interest for this work: the ups and downs of the economy during the period.
The insurgents had made the cliché of the communist era their guiding principle: You can not build a new thing without demolishing the old one. Demolition of the infrastructure became their main job as each of the building, road, means of communication, electricity, or anything that served the people was in some way favoring the state, their opponent. Even the books of archaeological importance kept in the libraries constituted the prime enemy of the 'new' world that was to be borne from the process. There was thus no alternative to burning the books that can not be made to exist now even if we are ready to spend billions of rupees.
This gave a jolt to the perennially stagnant economy, but to the negative direction; as the scant resources that the state could mobilize had to be siphoned to the armed forces while impoverishing the people. Most of the activities that constituted 'development' during the usual times were suddenly arrested. The local governments were unable even to spend whatever little they got from up. The only venture that flourished during the period was that of the barbed wires and the landmines that kept expanding their scopes throughout the period.
The households in the periphery that could barely feed themselves were now forced to feed and shelter the insurgents, who often coaxed the people to do so even by threatening them of physical harm if they refused. Those who could not endure the strife in the focus of the conflict were forced to move to the more secure locations abandoning their land and shelter increasing the pressure to the urban clusters in the district headquarters as well as in the capital city. The villages that were previously abuzz with the grievances of the unemployed young men were transformed into those with only the old, children and the disabled. The young men who were not employed in the armed forces and not destined to fight against them were forced to leave the country for any employment that they could get. As a result, the land whose fertility had been declining for long due to the deforestation and erosions was now altogether untilled leaving more and more people at the mercy of the imported grains to sustain their lives.
This setback suffered by the agriculture corresponded with the grievances of the commerce and industries that were even more sinister. The rebels had finally crept all the way to the urban industrial centres from the rural hinterlands, where their war had originated. This made the relatively wealthy entrepreneurs the soft targets for 'voluntary donations' refusal to which could mean sacrificing the life. The bandhs and strikes were becoming increasingly rampant heralding an age of regular strikes in Nepal that used to be sporadic prior to that.
During the peak years of the conflict, it was barely affordable to give any attention to the worsening economy, neither for the people nor for the state machinery. Politics itself needed all the attention as it had been like the cluster bomb that had been blown once but leaving each of the clusters ready to explode at any time. The concept of the 'development' itself that the people had learned to exchange with the votes during the years of MPD appeared a thing of remote past now that the concept of 'survival' far important than that had captured all their imagination. The things like catching up with the fast-evolving world receded further away in the hierarchy of the priorities.
THE STRATEGIC IMPLICATIONS OF THE CONFLICT
In the book Nepal in Crisis, the authors bring forward an important point to notice: the pattern of eagerness of the two giant neighbors of Nepal in road construction in Nepal roughly corresponded with their strategic interest. The status of Nepal as the periphery of Indian capitalism was in itself of strategic implication as that contributed to the India's trade surplus with Nepal. Now we will proceed to explore the analogies and contradictions of the evolutions then and during the insurgency.
In the first decade of the new century, the might of the VAE (Veiled American Empire) was at its extreme sparing none of the major developments of the world from its influence. The role of the southern neighbor could, nonetheless, only increase as matters went to worse from bad in Nepal. As the security forces kept dismantling one barrier after another in encroaching civil liberties and mocking the concept itself of human rights, the major donors with strategic interest in Nepal could only keep increasing the aid. China, which had firm traditional links with the monarch now in the helms of power, could not but compete with the other major donors India and US.
This factor of foreign support, both moral and logistic, made the destination of the Maoists of overthrowing the regime violently practically impossible. Their topographical knowledge of the hostile terrains and the adaptation in those made it extremely difficult for the army-led security forces to eliminate them or even halting their advance. This strategic reality made the war a game with no end at sight that could only keep multiplying the casualties further worsening the misery of the people.
Why was the foreign assistance to the country during the period only multiplying the grievances of people? For the Americans, the insurgency had to be crushed by hook or crook; whatever the human cost of the act. A casualty of few thousands over a year or so was simply acceptable to them when weighed against the terrible possibility of the communist guerillas overrunning a state. They reached the extent of making their ambassador inspect the arsenals in army barracks. That was indeed far more humane than what they had been doing throughout the Latin America in the previous decades and the paradox resulting from their rhetoric to preservation of human rights has been a regularity rather than exception.
For the Indian establishment, which was often suspected to have sheltered the maoist leaders in its territory in the early days of insurgency, there were now reasons to be well anxious about the developments in Nepal. The propagating creed of violent left-wing militarism was sure to overflow to the Indian territory if not checked in time in Nepal. As such, the naxalite movement had been their headache for long and now the insurgencies in the two countries could easily collaborate and they even proclaimed to do so by creating CCOMPOSA or something like that. The traditional strategic interests aside, Nepal's slide into a chaotic and failed state was sure to further strain the not-so-good dynamics of India's relations with the neighbors. India was thus ready to exploit any means from assisting the army to backing the negotiations to dampen the intensity of conflict in Nepal.
To China, as always, reaffirming the stance on 'One China Policy' with oppression of occasional outbursts of the Tibetan refugees in Kathmandu was the ground enough for keeping the relations cordial. Whether the regime intended to fight the rebels or massacre the civilians mattered little for the Chinese. Unlike the Americans they did not even bother to pay lip service to human rights and talked in the usual straight terms that they will refuse to change the policy of co-operation depending on who happens to be in the power.
The role played and the concern shown by few European countries to the deteriorating status of civil liberties and human rights during the period was, however, significant. Their unwavered emphasis on the need to peace negotiations turned out to be valuable in the critical moments later when the circumstances had radically changed. To the dismay of the security forces and the Nepali establishment they often pointed the odd realities pressing them for better respect to human rights.
The World that had evolved
THE WORLD IN THE NEW CENTURY
We have already had a brief look at the state of affairs in the world in the seventies. The decade turned out to be bloody in many parts of the world though that was not a new thing to happen. So had the earlier decades been and so was the next one to follow. The 6-day war between Israel and Arab states had left the whole Arab world thoroughly traumatized in 1967. Two Asian giants of China and India had had a major shuffle in the border dispute in the early sixties. The establishment of the UN and its role in ceremonial matters apart, the rule of power still dominated the stages worldwide.
What followed the decade of seventies was also not much different though the focuses of intense conflicts and human misery kept shifting from one place to the other. Now we will proceed for a brief entry to the mess of world politics in the first decade of the new century. Here it will be customary to examine first the pre-slump years of the new century which coincided with the years of conflict in Nepal that we are exploring in relation to the dynamics of world politics.
Beginning with the closest neighbor, these have been the years of paradoxical mania in India. The proper term for this emotional state in medical sciences is 'hypomania' in which there is irrelevant sense of pleasure but the subject has not lost the contact with reality unlike in mania proper. The concepts like India shining, the poors being eventually replaced by the 'progressive' middle classes, etc. were exciting the minds of the young and educated people who could themselves realize the dream of a decent life, even while the unseen majority of population away from the media attention was suffering from worsening misery resulting from communal strife, intractable poverty, persistent negligence by the state amidst the ballooning population. The clumsy culture in which, a reputed media house broadcasted a minor scandal related to a celebrity for weeks altogether making people feel as if that were the only matter worth considering, helped a lot in presenting the skewed picture of the society to the people. Given the overwhelming role of media in shaping people's attitudes, this contributed a lot in creating the state of hypomania so dominant among the Indians.
This sense of euphoria was aptly represented in the work of a young Indian historian Guha: India After Gandhi. A discourse that followed shortly after publication of the book is worth mentioning here. Arundhati Roy is a writer known well for her unconventional stances in almost all issues of national importance and fierce criticisms of 'usual' responses approving the official versions in controversial issues. Guha then bitterly criticized Roy for using the term 'fascism' repeatedly in reference to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the aftermath of 2002 Gujrat pogroms. He argued that, the very notion of an established party like BJP being a fascist party was negated by the fact that they smoothly let the congress rule the country after their defeat in the 2004 parliamentary elections.
This discourse, though seemingly ordinary, represents two rival trends when it comes to analyzing the course of history. Guha's interpretation was that even though the occasional outbursts of the disturbed religious harmony resulted in loss of lives and property, that mattered less in determining what destiny the nation will reach when compared to the positive deeds of the same parties and the leaders. His overwhelming sense of optimism about the future of the country comes from this ability to see the 'positive' aspects of the state and party machinery that are often overshadowed by their disruptive deeds. Despite the setbacks he sees the overall direction taken by the country to be towards a better future.
For Roy, however, justifying the barbaric acts of the 'legitimate' people and parties to sustain the fragile dreams of a better future was to deceive the generation to come by presenting an animated picture of the ugly and inhuman society. Whatever deserved condemnation due to its notoriety should be condemned irrespective of who committed it. Euphemizing the acts of promoting communal hatred meant for political gains were sure to lead to doomed future in which the intellectual exceptions like herself would be bitterly hated instead of the culprits who enjoy the social acceptance and even admiration. Roy's bitter exchanges with the Indian 'middle class' through the occasional articles published in a magazine in the topics like the verdict to hang Afjhal Guru, or the Mumbai attacks of this November were significant in illustrating the friction between these rival versions of the contemporary history of India.
The hypomania justified by Guha and many others was not, however, without a reason at all. The Indian economy had been auspiciously opened to the world in the early nineties by Manmohan Singh as finance minister who turned up being elected to PM for at least a term in the new decade. The jerky shift from the 'Hindu' growth rate to a double-digit growth in GDP was made possible only by this reversal of policy. With the economic might had come the political and strategic importance and the recognition as a power worth 'consideration' in the world stage.
The world itself had changed a lot since the early nineties and the opening up of the Indian economy had merely coincided with the global wave of economic liberalization. With its policies properly aligned to that of the larger world with unprecedented integration, India was able to gain a lot in the economic front. But was that enough to justify the euphoria while the medieval barbarity kept manifesting in the political front and there was the chance of such attitudes being institutionalized? Can the extreme disparity among the beneficiaries of the liberalization be ignored? While Guha et al focused on the former realities, Roy et al focused on the later.
INTERVIEW WITH AN INDIAN POLITICIAN
Q. Yes, Mr. X, who would you like to thank the most for your victory?
A: Of course, our brave cadres, who made it possible. Also to all the people who voted for me.
Q.: Analysts say, your victory comes at a cost of upset communal harmony and institutionalization of violence as a political tool. What do you think?
A: What do you mean by communal harmony? You answer first.
Q.: …. That is in its usual meaning.
A: What usual meaning does it have? The so called educated few tried to equate this with unhindered attack by intruders to our sacred values by forced conversion, despite marriages and defamation. If you mean this along with no retaliation from people a communal harmony, then we will eradicate it soon. Again what do you mean by institutionalization of violence? Throughout the history they have been using violence to forward their agenda and recently the intensity has increased. Can you cut diamond with aluminium knife? No, similarly counter violence will erupt one day or the other if people are made victim of indiscriminate violence for long.
Q.: In the past, the violence has been treated as, more or less, a law and order problem by the security forces, especially the police have tried hard to have the violence. But this time they were not only spectators, but were found to be assisting the perpetrators of massacres on /…………… Do you justify this role of state agencies?
A: You know, there is no scarcity of people eager to fish in the murky waters. The allegations that the police took one side or the other one is hoax, though isolated incidents of imperfect dealing of situation could have been there. Why do you think all this violence occurred? This is because people could bear no more of exploitation and retaliated spontaneously. One day or the other it was bound to happen. You can’t imagine a peaceful society till the rogue elements remain within it.
Q.: Are you advocating for the use of violence against such elements, apparently the muslim minority in our case?
A: Not to anybody in particular. Anybody who intends to weaken the foundation of our sacred religion will face storm retaliation from people and that is it.
Q.: For the profoundness of the violence, it seems to be well planned to cause maximum fatalities and destruction of property. It is said that your party had a major role in mobilizing the unemployed youth in the act and innumerable instances of rapes, burning alive and mutilation are coming out. None of them appear to have been brought to book in the present context and your election campaign is said to have given crucial responsibilities to the same youths. How do you justify the heinous crimes of someone who claims to protect the religions values?
A: As in the every other unrest I can’t rule out few aberrations from the people. If you watch closely, the other side must have committed even more acts of rape and likewise….
Q.: What do you mean by the other side? You are now the elected leader of the state and still hesitate to acknowledge the minorities as people?
A: No, no. Don’t take it otherwise. So far as the fatalities and destruction are concerned, that was bound to happen once as people had withstood a lot and it had finally reached the boiling point.
Q.: Repeatedly you are referring to people as the main force driving the vitriolic campaign. But for us, journalist of ordinary intellect, people from both the sides appear to be the victim of a well orchestrated violence that they disliked the most. They were dragged to it and many of them lost everything in no time. How can you claim that it was the retaliation by people?
A: Simple answer- See the election result. Why would they vote for us if they were so unhappy with the state of affairs? One more thing, people can’t afford to be always combative. But when the moment comes, they never fail to be so.
Q.: Your victory is believed to be the result of wide spread horror and aggressive policy of your youth wing to polarize the society along the communal lines. Many intellectuals have equated this polarization as a lethal poisoning of a multicultural yet harmonious society…………..
A: All nonsense. It is these very intellectuals who intend to poison our noble way of living by justifying acts of the intruders. They will keep barking for their lives and nobody will listen to them.
Q.: Finally you seem to justify the violence unlike many leaders from your own party. Do you think the face of politics has changed for ever after this successful experiment with violence? What is your vision for future? Will you hesitate to take help of violence to get crowned again?
A: You seem to have been emotional again. But as a politician, we have to accept some odd realities, you can’t clap with one hand you can’t renounce the use of violence till the danger of offense against you remains. Once they abandon their propaganda politics to erode our values, there will be no need for retaliation and thus violence. By its very nature, counter violence can’t exist without violence and we intend to create a situation in future when peace will prevail after the root of violence is dealt with.
What really transpires in the lives of the ordinary Chinese people now is only slightly less enigmatic to the outer world than was during the seventies. Unlike the Indian establishment that has promoted the burgeoning media, which forcefully propagates the image of India, though distorted, the Chinese establishment has been cautious in preserving the machinery for keeping the media in check. The realities of the people there have to be still captured in invisible cameras and there are a few quite good documentaries made that way.
Few political issues preoccupying the minds of the Chinese state in the new decade are, however, quite obvious. The friction within Tibet about the ethnic suppression with its climax during the pre-Olympic months of 2008 drew the wrath of the state that was prompt enough in clamping the rebellion violently. The moral support offered by the states and leaders worldwide to the chief of government-in-exile of Tibet, Dalai Lama keeps infuriating the Chinese repeatedly. The other thorny issue has been the seasonal shift to and away from the stance of independence in Taiwan depending upon who reaches to the power. The border disputes with India have refused to be resolved even after supposedly sincere attempts of both the sides to resolve them.
The strategic bottle necks in the dynamics of China-West relations like the lack of transparency in allocation of the defense budget have now persisted for decades. The establishment of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) appears to have been the only tangible act of forming meaningful alliance in the post-cold war period. How this organization fares in the future in case an overt conflict of interest between either of its member (that prominently includes Russia) with any of the US ally is to be seen.
Coming to the socio-cultural issues, the Cultural Revolution has now been like a dark spot in the history that is receding further away in the incorrigible past as the new generation born in the post-Mao era is dominating the stage, from politics to economy. A new culture with the pervasive influence of consumerism is evolving with the events like the beauty pageants being held regularly. The One Child Policy enforced by the state has been lately alleged to have promoted social ills like kidnapping and trafficking of the children and the skewed sex ratio.
These political and cultural issues apart, the dominant development in the Chinese economy over the two decades has been its near-miraculous growth of GDP that has sustained itself throughout the period. The diversion of the ample land in the state's possession to the entities named SEZ ( special economic zones) in the eighties with the unlimited favors to the investors was enough to lure the investment in a wide range of export-oriented production activities. The tremendously cheap labor of China when combined with the investment and expertise of the investors from the west through the process of off-shoring created a circumstance in which no other state in the world could compete with China in terms of the commodities produced per unit cost. This meant a growing trade surplus of China with almost all the countries that it traded with; soaring its foreign exchange reserves.
This factor of economic advancement has had the major influence in the way the people lived their own lives and perceived the world around them. In this world governed by the might of the constituent powers, this economic strength on which the military strength is founded has become crucial. Represented well in the extravagance in the organization of the last Olympic games, the eagerness of the Chinese to show the world what they had really achieved over the period was easy to understand.
The costs that the Chinese had to pay for this economic advancement have been similarly enormous. Favoring the investors vis-à-vis the worker (creation of SEZ in the extreme of this phenomenon) was bound to deteriorate the condition of a huge proportion of the population. The workers with little skill or expertise like the coal-workers have had little option other than working in extremely dismal working conditions. With the sprouting of the private-owned coal-mines with little or no provision for safety of the workers, the worker had altogether lost the social security mechanism of the communist era. The propagators of the new wave of liberalization, the newly arisen investors, could thus count the number of dead or trapped after the increasingly more frequent disasters, but had practically no obligation to improve the working conditions by investing more for safety of the workers. The disparity in the opportunities in the cities and in the villages and the resultant mass migration creating clogged urban conglomerates has been the other phenomenon worth worrying about.
The depletion of the natural resources like the drinking water and the ominously rising pollution with the rivers converted into the carriers of toxic industrial wastes has been the other major problem not amenable to reversal or even containment at affordable costs. In this term, the states trading with China with a huge trade deficit, paying their currencies for the commodities may well be in advantage in the long run.
Arvind Adiga in his Booker-winner novel The White Tiger contrasts two worlds existing under the same system: the bright and the dark ones. The bright one is represented by the cities along the coastal regions where the wealth and the luxury keep multiplying. The dark one, on the other hand, is represented by the dwellings around the rivers where the grievances resulting from the poverty and ill-health keep multiplying. The latter is where the majority of the population live in a country like India.
This phenomenon has grown to formidable extent in China with the asymmetric boom of the economic activities in the eastern coastal cities while the people in the western and in-land areas remain relatively neglected. This must be why the Chinese government had to publicize the figure of 74,000 social protests across China in 2004. As noted by Francesco Sisci in an article in Asia Times, 66% of all total bank deposits belong to 10% of the population, with 20% of the population holding 80% of total deposits. Peasants, the majority of China's population, make under US$300 a year, while people in Shanghai, the richest city in China, earn over $4,000 a year.  China's coastal region, home to some 300 million people, produces about 70% of China's GDP. If we compare these numbers, it becomes clear that we are talking about the same group: 20% of the population amounts to about 260 million people, roughly the population of the coastal region, and the ten percent holding 66% of total deposits are the 130 million affluent people living in eastern coastal cities. The rest of the country has been left behind.
The efficiency with which the Chinese establishment deals with this disparity will thus determine how rough or smooth the journey will be in the future for China.
(Here I include a recent article on the issue.)
The Tragedy of Pakistan: The lesson to the World
In these days of duels and elusive consensuses, a stark exception is emerging. This is the assertion of the state of Pakistan as the most dangerous one in the world with the potential to threaten the world security. The obsession of the western and particularly the US media with the threat posed by the Pakistani culture media of the terrorism to their security in the foreseeable future has been particularly prominent. The accelerated loss of grip of the Pakistani state agencies to swathes of the Pakistani territory compounded by the formidable resurgence of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan has posed a major challenge to the worldwide effort to combat terrorism. Never before had a nuclear power of Pakistan’s size and might been so vulnerable to being overwhelmed by the extremists. The inexplicably unpleasant consequences of such an event have now been of major concern.
In a major realignment of the axis of the US allies, the inclusion of the India through the recent civilian nuclear deal and a host of other activities have had a major impact in the dynamics of inter-state relations in the region as well as the world. Pakistan’s act of increasing proximity with China thus appears barely surprising. The persistent drift of the Indian ruling elites towards the Israeli state away from the Palestinian cause has been as significant as that towards the sole super-power of the post USSR world, the US. The increasing perception of the elites and the middle classes in the west as well the new allies like India has been that the terrorism, especially the muslim extremism is evolving as the common enemy of all of them, threatening not only the physical security but also the ‘western values’ of modernization and civilization.
The state efforts to curb terrorism or at least apparently to do so, have thus got the overwhelming support among the people whose opinion really matters in decision-making. This support has frequently reached the hysterical extent when grave human right violations have been justified as the mere collateral damages. The wave of the ‘wars on terror’ has thus propagated throughout the world in the last decade with violent origin in the aftermath of the 9/11 event.
Where has this wave of the combative ‘anti-terrorism’ led the world? Has it made the world any safer place than it was pre-9/11? Has this, as planned, achieved any success in alleviating even a fraction of the threat to the pluralistic, democratic and liberal institutions posed by the monolithic, authoritarian and extremist forces? To the utter dislike of many, the answers to these questions are hardly affirmative as the events keep unfolding. Thus emerges the most crucial yet enigmatic question of our generation: how do we save ourselves or at least significantly alleviate the risk of the annihilation of this world by terrorism? The desperate attempts of the states worldwide to answer this question have been accompanied by enormous efforts in terms of the resources and the manpower spent.
Given all this, however, the radical extremism, muslim or otherwise, is now in a steep incline, not even in plateau, let alone the decline as intended. The multitudes of conflicts ranging from a trivial row between two clans to the inter-state conflicts resulting from the consequences of the climate change now seem to shake the institutions worldwide. The ongoing course of the events is far from leading to a better destination. What I opine is that it is impossible to cure these crippling ailments without properly diagnosing them. This is exactly where the role of the undistorted history comes.
I wonder if the so called post-modern creed of the literature and the culture attacks the relevance of studying history in proper terms for this particular reason. But I am being increasingly convinced by the arguments of the neo-Marxists that this propaganda machine was invented to tame the increasingly furious people of the third world in order to avoid their potential reprisal against the atrocities of the western empires committed in the recent past. The proud proclamations of the early nineties that the history was dead with the ultimate conquest of the ‘liberal democracy and the free market capitalism’, stand now seriously challenged. The orthodox communist states could not re-establish themselves after the free fall thus closing a chapter of the major international conflict, as the capitalistic camp was now relatively unchallenged. But that never meant that the seeds of the new conflicts potentially worse than that were not being sown at the same time.
This is with this preamble that I intend to forward the story of Pakistan. The partition of India was not an overnight event and the English policy of ‘divide and rule’ had done its job long enough to nurture the communal hatred to the extent of making it practically impossible for no partition to occur. Countless people were thus killed and displaced with their gory stories never told. Now with the English gone, India and Pakistan were free to pursue their own course and so did they. The wars like that of 1971 kept occurring to keep the relations embittered while giving the army of each country a crucial role. This role of the army over-reached a terrible extent in Pakistan frequently ending the supremacy of the civilian government.
Even with all this, the religious extremism and the militancy was not a major problem till an important development was to take place. This was when the myopia of the Soviet rulers compelled them to invade Afghanistan. Justified or not, this formed an important excuse for the capitalistic pole led by US to attack the Soviets exactly where it hurt. And how was this executed? General Zia-ul-haq had then just executed the elected prime minister Bhutto after ousting him to lead a nation that had seen the intermittent democratic rehearsals. Something was direly needed for Zia to legitimize his ruthless regime miles away from accountability and good governance. There could be no other such tool than the religious fundamentalism that could appeal the masses on behalf of a despotic ruler. This exactly corresponded with the interest of the Americans who were swift enough to read the swing in the mass sentiments in the muslim world after the ‘infidel’ soviets dared to invade the ‘muslim’ land of Afghanistan. Thus born the Jihad, with the holy aim of liberating Afghanistan from the infidels, with unlimited support of the dollars and the weapons from the Americans, and the training and logistics from the Pakistani state all coordinated by ISI. This attracted unlimited number of young muslims throughout the world thus creating a force that was later to challenge the world order though the Americans then intended to throw them as soon as their use was over.
We can now only imagine what would have happened had the US not befriended the cobra to save itself from krait. It is now useless to project the longevity of the USSR in that case as this keeps little meaning. What we can now hardly ignore is the fate of the world left to the mercy of the cobra that the US reared, ensured that it possessed the lethal venom and then set it free as soon as the krait was dead. That cobra is now greedily eying the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan and the Americans are calculating what exactly will be the threat of such an event to their security as their diplomats keep cajoling the authorities in Pakistan to clear the ‘fundamentalist’ elements from ISI who once served them so loyally.
Thanks to their status as the super-power, the Americans could avoid a range of uncomfortable questions. Due to the hood-hood laws brought about by Zia with the blessing of the US, innumerable girls and women had to be stoned to death for alleged adulteration after being raped as they could not produce four respected muslim adults as the witnesses. Countless others had to be executed for promoting the girl education or the ‘infidel’ culture with the music, etc. While the Americans kept preaching their version of the justice and democracy, the ‘western values’ elsewhere, the liberal Pakistani intellectuals had to anticipate a death threat before denouncing an act of medieval barbarity. More sinister than this, the cumulative effect of all these events was the irreversible damage done to the moderate and tolerant fabric of the Pakistani society as a whole. The army and the intelligence agency so deeply infiltrated by the ‘saviours of the Islam’, any civilian government was practically incapable of reversing the trend even when it intended so. Facilitated by the gross ineptitude of the state to provide education and employment, the extremist ideology propagated day and night as the only viable option for many youth was to join the extremist camp.
All this was never outside the field of vision of the super-power. In Afghanistan, the Taliban was able even to capture the state power before establishing a barbaric judicial system in the lawless land ‘liberated’ by the Americans. The religious extremism was thus one of the many ailments crippling certain part of the world with no major and direct threat to the security and well being of the ‘people’ meaning essentially the westerners. This could be practically ignored as the masses in the third world were accustomed to living with the problems with magnitude greater than this like the grinding poverty. But there comes the fateful date of 9/11 and everything changes all of a sudden. The religious extremists suddenly pose a threat to the world security as the ‘people’ also prove to be vulnerable to the crusade.
What did they do then? A finger was gangrenous but it was difficult to determine which one. In their conventional way, they chopped the hand. That was the initial story of the Afghan and the Iraq war when the military triumph of the US and NATO was cherished and the trumpet of re-established democracies blown. But the history had no intention of ceasing to march whenever a favourable point for somebody was reached. The gangrene spread in the other healthy parts of the body and they followed the same strategy of mutilation. This was, however, not feasible for long and the series of setbacks befell on the ‘war on terror’. The disfigured world now stands with many parts gangrenous while many other bleeding from the mutilations. The nucleus of the gangrene has been the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan while the bleeding persists in the battered territory of Iraq.
The obsession of the executives of the western powers with the idea that victory will eventually come through this mutilation strategy appears to be still rising. The recent blanket demolition of the Gazan lives and property by the Israeli army illustrates this vividly. The much touted slogan of ‘change’ of the in-coming US president Obama could not hide its practical meaning when he re-spoke the stale words of Bush era: the Israelis have the right to self-defend from the Hamas rockets. It was thus justifiable to massacre 1300 innocent Palestinians in the supposed attempt to kill a few Hamas leaders.
It is to be seen if the sweet words and pleasant assurances of Obama will turn out to justify the worldwide euphoria surrounding his triumph in the election. But the lives of the millions of people bearing the brunt of the vicious cycle of the gangrene and mutilation set by the US have little to expect. The missile attacks across the Pak-Afghan border by the US military in Afghanistan have already done a lot to provide the new recruits for the extremists by killing the civilians including the children. The same phenomenon has been behind the resurgence of the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, yet the commanders there seem to be adamant not to learn anything from the experience.
Going by the trend the confrontation between the state and non-state terror will intensify in the days ahead paralyzing more and more territories. More lethal and precise weapons will develop, more intense intelligence will be established and more resources will be spent for combating the ‘terror’. How would this impact the ever deteriorating scenario of world security? The realistic prediction is that the self-perpetuating cycle of the indiscriminate violence in the name of countering the terror threat will only disfigure the already battered world further.
We can only imagine now what the future has in its conception to deliver. Gross pessimism is the least preferable attribute at the moment though it seems to rule the minds of people worldwide, recently precipitated by the financial turmoil. The catastrophic outcomes of the climate change and the emerging conflicts are bound to further aggravate the matters. The number of the young unemployed and dismissed workers is reaching the record high. The practically lost food security in the third world countries in attempted liberalization of the economies has added the insult to the injury.
The world has witnessed the moments more turbulent than this one. What makes us frown this time is the realization that how little we have progressed in making this world a safer and better place to live with all the inventions and innovations. The Americans might have been the most innovative people in the field of science producing majority of the Nobel winners in Physics and Chemistry, but their political bosses have done more to create disasters with the scientific tools than to make any constructive use of them. The smart bombs, the cluster bombs, the time-delayed bombs, the cruise missiles, the super-sonic jets, all the inventions have been used to massacre the terrorised civilians while the real terrorists keep breeding making the use of charred bodies of the children. Pakistan has been the worst-hit target of this at the moment while many other states share the grievances, though to a lesser extent.
A STORY FROM PAKISTAN
The Elusive Quest for Justice
Somewhere in the hinterland of Pakistan, there was a girl who exceptionally got the opportunity to get education in a city. When she went back to home in the village this time, her intentional disregard for the burqa, created the furor among the elite villagers. Her advocacy for education for other girls made the situation inflammable. She was adamant on her stance and would face the village elites with eye-to-eye contact, that puzzled the other girls and women who could not even imagine this. This extreme absurdity of the girl along with her growing influence became the big headache for the elites whose hegemony was unchallenged for decades.
The village was about to adapt with the eccentricity of the girl when a militant hailing from the region came home after many years. As soon as he heard about the girl, he gave no second thought and gave his verdict: she should be stoned to death right now. But the village youths had still brighter ideas regarding how to deal with her. Finally everything was planned well.
The other evening, the ‘city-dweller’ girl was teaching a group of girl children how to write Urdu alphabets.
“Just let the other children go. Then we will execute.” A boy murmured to others in a group of six boys after peering inside the room through the window. “It will get darker also by then. It will be better”. Somebody answered. “In the name of allah, we should teach the lesson to the other girls as well. No need to wait anymore. We are obeying the order of almighty to eliminate the infidels”. The militant spoke in a decisive voice and stepped forward.
After entering the room, he ordered all of the children to go out, who hurried as they saw the lethal weapon lying across his back.
“How dare you disobey the god? You were brainwashed by infidels on the city and came here to spoil the young minds. They are killing our people all over the world and you come to this village as their agent, for this immoral act, no punishment will be enough, still we are going to try one. Would you like to be shot or otherwise?” the militant almost shouted these words in half Urdu and half Arabic while pointing the rifle to her.
This all occurred so swiftly and unexpectedly that the girl was confused. Was this the reality? A man who was never seen in the village earlier was now threatening her life. She took a long breath as if to assimilate the significance of developments.
“How exactly am I disobeying the god?” She asked in trembling voice “and who are you to judge this?”
“Your damned teaching of the young girls with the propaganda education of the infidels is bound to ruin our sacred culture and religion. They have taught you to altercate with the village elders. I am here to enforce the holy laws of our shari’at court. Would you like to bear the ugly death right now or after one hour?” he once again pointed the rifle to her forehead.
“There is no law in this ruined land and you can shot me if you want. But what you are doing is in the blatant violation of the Allah’s teachings and he will never forgive you.” She tried to be more composed and raised her voice. “Your barbaric acts will be ultimately judged by the almighty and you will suffer for inhuman injustice that you are cultivating. Killing one will never deter our determination for justice……”
“Enough, Enough”. The militant banged his foot twice in the floor, speaking in English this time. “You deserve a death worse than shooting and that will teach you how to fight for your damned justice”.
He then signaled with hands to other boys, four of whom entered, caught the girl in hand and began dragging. He came out of the room, fired twice in the air to remind the villagers not to interfere on the matter. In the dark, the fainting shrieks of the girls were heard. Otherwise, the silence and thus peace prevailed in the village.
The other day, the girl was at her home but barely alive as the group of six had raped and assaulted her throughout the night taking care not to kill her outright. She had been given a lifeline: if she can perfectly contain this news by shutting her mouth, she won’t be killed. But this was impossible for the rebellious girl. She would rather die than suffering this humiliation quitly.
On the fifth day, a group of heavily armed militants arrived in the village and an important announcement was made: Everybody in the village should turn up on the ground of local mosque the next day at 12:00 noon for a special event.
In the ground the other day, a turbaned man stood on a makeshift stage with machine gun led militants on his either side. Then he began his fierce speech that was somehow a new occurrence to that village. “With grace of the almighty, today we have come here to perform a sacred task, the task, indispensible to maintain the morality and the ethics. We should punish those who trespass the rule of god without mercy so that nobody will dare to do so again. What can be such a punishment? The adulterers who defame the glory of married life, who challenge the omnipresence of the almighty and who threaten to break the sacred laws are to be punished that way.”
The speech was interrupted by shrill crying of the girl who was rapped in a red-line-on-white cloth, being dragged by three militants.
“In name of the sacred almighty”, the speech continued, “ we are going to teach a lesson to all the adulterers this way.” The preacher took a stone from a bag kept under the table and so did all the others militants. He then threw the stone to the girl who appeared to be tied inside the cloth. That followed a series of stones one after another. The villagers stood almost frozen as the girl first yelled violently and finally everything became fainter and fainter till few militants fired in air in celebration.
(I constructed the plot of this story from a recent news story from Pakistan in which a girl was stoned to death for ‘adulteration’ after being gang-raped. To create the final seen I have taken help from the movie ‘The Kite runner’ based on Khaled Hosseini’s novel which vividly depicts the life in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. For the social background I was offered some help by the documentary ‘Swara: A Bridge Over Troubled Water’ directed by Samar Minallah. This film explores the age old tradition in Pakistan in which a bloody dispute between two families is settled by getting the daughter of the murderer to any of the family member of the victim. This innocent girl then incurs the wrath of her new family and suffers a tragic fate for whole life.)
As the former seat of the longest running communist regime, the tumult through which the state of Russia has gone through over these two decades has a special significance. From the miserable exit of Gorbachev in 1991 from the helms of the crumbling USSR to the graceful exit of Putin from the presidency of the Russia after two admirable terms in 2008, this state has navigated through the troubled waters for so often. The triumph of the staunch anti-USSR leader Yeltsin in the nineties was diagonally opposite to the consolidation of the power by Lenin in the rubbles of the tsarist Russia in the second decade of the twentieth century. What did this radical reversal of governing policies impact the lives of ordinary Russians? We will elaborate this issue after brief examination of the renewed status of contemporary Russia in the world stage.
The resurgence of Russia in the world stage was aptly symbolized by the recent Russian assault of Georgia after being provoked by the western-backed Georgian authority. Only a decade back, it was presumably tough to imagine that any state in the world would bombard an ally of the US without a bit of reservation or hesitation. This time around, however, the US-led NATO was also in a position able to only condemn the attack verbally or vaguely threaten Russia with 'not too offensive' words. Even though the act of recognizing the independence of the rebel states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was not welcomed by the friends of Russia like China, the overall impact of the conflict in the dynamics of world politics was in favor of Russia et al. The symbolic message of the outcome of the conflict was still more clear and impressive.
This status of Russia, however, was not granted overnight by the goodwill of the victors of the cold war for abandoning the communist mode of governance that they had tried to demolish with so much effort. The relentless attack to the strategic interest of Russia through the expansion of NATO and the eventual encircling of Russia with the US-friendly states has characterized the dynamics of Russia-West relationship in these two decades. This was thus reasonable for a state like Georgia to expect the kind of retaliation from Russia that followed the attempt of the Georgian troops to tame the rebel provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. For Russia, however, it mattered little what was to justly or reasonably follow. What really mattered was what could feasibly follow given the enormous setback the country had suffered with the unconditional victory of the rivals during the precipitous downfall of the USSR.
It will be prudent to examine the Yeltsin era of the nineties as the background for the evolutions in the new decade. The Yeltsin's acts like shelling the parliament building in 1993 eliminating the opponents in a single act of devastation would have been a pretext for a major offensive by the west, had the subject been anybody other than himself. Given the extent to which Yeltsin had contributed in pushing USSR beyond existence instead of a renewed and reformed Soviet Russia as attempted by Gorbachev, it was literally not possible for the west not to practically welcome Yeltsin's 'great massacre'. The rise of the oligarchs at the cost of impoverishing the majority of Russian people who savored the state property and their eventual backing of the Yeltsin regime formed a vicious cycle that was to produce miraculous results later in the 1996 elections for the president.
The ill-planned, poorly managed, and reckless process of privatization of the state properties guided by the IMF and the western economists was sure to devastate the lives of millions who were cushioned by the state spending in public welfare during the existence of USSR. With all of Yeltsin's attention in retaining the power, the only viable option to do so was to appease those who were swift enough to sense the opportunity on broken treasury trove of Soviet Russia. That left the ordinary Russians in a hostile world surrounded by hunger and misery even as the GDP halved over the decade of nineties. The deteriorating health indicators with the skyrocketing number of HIV-AIDS were none of the concern for the Oligarch preoccupied with capturing one lucrative state enterprise after another.
All this had contributed to near-zero popularity of Yeltsin at the beginning of the campaign for the 1996 elections. But to the great relief of Yeltsin et al, this gift of the new system named election proved to be miraculous. With aggressive brainwashing of the people with the help of newly invented 'free' media owned by the tycoons who were now gifted with the most valuable state assets in exchange for the favor, Yeltsin was eventually able to secure 35% of votes in the first round. In the run off elections, however, Yeltsin was able to secure nearly 54% votes after giving an important post to Alexander Lebed who had stood third in the first round. And that was enough to trounce the candidate of the Communist Party of Russian Federation Zuganov despite his great grass roots organization in the fallout of a disastrous first term of Yeltsin.
The last decade of the last century thus brought insult to the injury for the Russians who had suffered a lot under the outgoing communist regime. The popular support for the communist party candidate was to the extent of garnering 40.3% of votes in the runoff presidential elections held on 3 July 1996 against the Yeltsin's winning 53.8%. This illustrates how badly the euphoria of emerging into a 'new and open' society had waned after one term of Yeltsin.
In the dawn of the new century, however, Russia was destined to have a leader chosen by Yeltsin yet much dissimilar to him: Vladimir Putin, a little-known former KGB insider. Complemented by the soaring prices of the petroleum during the pre-slump years of economic spurt, Putin's attempts at strengthening the economy met with remarkable success. During Putin's eight years in office, industry grew by 76%, investments increased by 125%, and agricultural production and construction increased as well. Real incomes more than doubled and the average monthly salary increased sevenfold from $80 to $540. From 2000 to 2006 the volume of consumer credit increased 45 times and the middle class grew from 8 million to 55 million. The number of people living below the poverty line decreased from 30% in 2000 to 14% in 2008. A number of large-scale reforms in retirement (2002), banking (2001–2004), tax (2000–2003), the monetization of benefits (2005) and others have taken place.
Russian economy since the end of the Soviet Union
5. THE VAE
that can hide a mountain
in an ocean of nothing.
that can keep the secrets,
which would otherwise explode.
That can change the black into white
Yes, those veils,
that can convert days into nights,
that can change the criminals to caretakers.
Yes, in the age of veils,
the innocents can be dragged to slaughter houses,
the weak can be smothered .
And the poor can be strangled.
Yes, behind the curtains,
away from the range of communication,
naked body of children,
battered bodies of adults
are buried by the persons in combat.
While at the centre of communication,
in front of beaming cameras,
bright bodies of the naked models shine.
As if every other task in the world is completed.
And you have to just sit and watch,
‘Whose chests are more attractive?’
You need a constant attention
which brand of lipstick is most fashionable?
Yes in this age full of veils,
our TV screens will decide
what we need to see and what not to .
A fact has to be censored ,
but a rumor has to be just evaluated.
Yes, before hitting the market,
powerful hands will work out ,
‘What, how and when to be informed?’
Yes in the age of veils,
half truths and lies have to dominate the truths.
In protection of the veils,
Innumerable machine guns and missiles,
billions of dollars
Still the outline of the face behind the veils,
can’t elude the keen observer.
And if he fails to ignore what he sees,
he can be lawfully tortured or eliminated,
for sake of the veils,
that are so crucial to prop this world up.
Still the protectors of the veils are afraid.
To hide the flush of shame and anxiety,
They are adding another layer to their veil,
This time manufactured by a multinational corporation.
I am tempted to refer the name of Noam Chomsky before commenting anything about the entity named United States. Indeed this section will see more quotes than the other sections as the US is talked about more than any other state in the world. I once read about someone joking that there were two dates on which the misfortune befell on the US: one when the Japanese bombarded Pearl Harbor and the other date when Chomsky was born. At the beginning itself of this section on the odd acronym of VAE, I reproduce this observation of Chomsky from one of his articles:
It was outlined with admirable frankness in an important state paper of 1948 (PPS 23) written by one of the architects of the New World Order of the day, the head of the State Department Policy Planning Staff, the respected statesman and scholar George Kennan. In the course of assigning each region of the world its proper role within the overarching framework of American power, he observed that the basic policy goal is to maintain the "position of disparity" that separates our enormous wealth from the poverty of others; and to achieve that goal "We should cease to talk about vague and . . . unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization," recognizing that we must "deal in straight power concepts," not "hampered by idealistic slogans" about "altruism and world-benefaction”
'Dealing in straight power concepts': this is indeed what the executives of the US have been doing ever since we have been aware of the matters of international concern. The rhetoric of altruism and world-benefaction have lost their meaning, at least practically, and the recently out-gone administration of G. Bush has contributed a lot in rarefying the veil over the imperial ambitions of the US though I still prefer to use the term 'veiled' before the 'American Empire'.
The victory of the US-led camp over USSR at the end of the cold war had been a decisive factor in maintaining 'the position of disparity'. In the two decades that have followed, the disparity had no option but to increase as there was no rival to the US with matching political and military might. In a recent article, however, Tom Engraldt has impressively argued that the end of the cold war had effectively shown the path of grave to both of the super powers even though the US was able to temporarily delay the culmination that was to manifest itself later in the form of stormy financial crisis. Anyway, this hypothesis will be tested in the single decade to come.
The dynamics of the politics in the US in the new century was largely shaped by the unfortunate date of 9/11. Though the unsubstantiated claim of some people is that 9/11 was the inside job of the executives of VAE, here we will suppose the conventional explanation for the event to be true. The aggression shown by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the 9/11 with the devastating war on terror was the outcome of the enormous confidence that had been gained through the decades of military and economic superiority in the world. Ever since the humiliating defeat in the Vietnamese front, the US had been launching veiled offensives in different parts of the world with little resistance.
At the time Bush declared war on Afghanistan allegedly to capture the elusive Bin Laden, the VAE had practically no limitations in launching the offensive of that kind. Then Bush enjoyed the wide approval for his deeds among the American public obsessed suddenly with their security. The threat posed by the muslim extremists suddenly reached to the extent of justifying the blanket destruction of the lives and properties in the remote dwellings across the globe. Then few could imagine that the ill-conceived ventures would lead to the kind of quagmire the NATO forces have been trapped in Afghanistan today. Even fewer could have predicted the exit of Bush from the White House would be accompanied by the compliment of 'one of the worst presidents in American history' largely because of the way he handled the wars.
The first two thirds of this decade represented the 'boom before the gloom' for the VAE though it is still to be seen how well the empire comes out of the gloom caused by the financial storm. The mesmerizing account of the globalization in the book 'The World is Flat' by T. Friedman aptly represents the euphoria of the boom period. The boom years represented the triumph of the global wave of LPG against the remnants of the communist or the socialist elements with integration of more and more states in the US-led global order.
The irony of the new decade has been that while the Americans, the executives of the VAE as well the intellectuals, keep blowing the trumpet of democracy and liberty to justify their monomania for the war, their utterances are often perceived by the sufferers in the other corners of the world as the sadistic monologues. I am confused exactly where in this real world of wars perpetrated by the liberal democracy fits this brilliant assessment of Francis Fukuyama:
. Liberal democracy replaces the irrational desire to be recognised as greater than others with a rational desire to be recognised as equal. A world made up of liberal democracies, then, should have much less incentive for war, since all nations would reciprocally recognise one another’s legitimacy. And indeed, there is substantial empirical evidence from the past couple of hundred years that liberal democracies do not behave imperialistically toward one another, even if they are perfectly capable of going to war with states that are not democracies and do not share their fundamental values.
I am not aware if he has changed his conclusions made in his 1992 book 'The End of History and The Last Man' after observing the behavior of the liberal democracies in the years that followed. But his optimism about creating a stable and peaceful world with booming liberal democracies merely because it 'replaces the irrational desire to be recognized as greater than others with a rational desire to be recognized as equal' seems to utterly misfit in this real world with the real liberal democracies like the US. To promote liberal democracy as the universal value as intended, the first step would be an unambiguous and firm commitment of the established liberal democracies to the values. The act of promoting the monolithic and despotic regimes and even overthrowing the democratically elected governments to protect their interests has been the norm of the VAE. This inevitably makes the double standards in defining the entity called liberal democracy for the people divided into 'us' and 'them' as for every other purpose, apparent. If the liberal democracy is to bring the stability and prosperity uniformly as in the 'ideal' scenario, this inherent division between 'us' and 'them' is to be discarded first. That is not feasible, at least in our lifetime as mentioned frankly by George Kennan : the basic policy goal is to maintain the "position of disparity" that separates our enormous wealth from the poverty of others;
A RELATED ESSAY RELATING THE DEEDS OF VAE
Beyond Physics and Chemistry
The lessons from the Agent Orange
My interest in politics is often judged to be incompatible with my career in medicine by a good deal of my friends and well-wishers. Why dip hand in the filthy game of power and wealth? This is the frequent question with sincere advice to practice the sacred profession to save the lives. This is the only way of leading a decent life, they say. On the other extreme are the students affiliated to the student wings of political parties who advocate an active role of students in politics. The dominance of the disruptive attitudes over their ideological stances has been, however, a stain on the images of these organizations.
I maintain a somewhat middle pathway in this dispute though my fear is not of being labeled an extremist as I have enough of extremism in other issues. Many observations in the past few years have urged me to argue against the arbitrary dissociation of our professional roles from the social and thus political responsibilities. Here I will mention one.
Dioxin is a chemical used as a herbicide that causes defoliation or fall of leaves. It is also a stable carcinogen and can cause 28 lethal diseases. Being extremely stable and able to cross placenta it can harm the later generations too. This is exactly where the role of the science and the scientists ends and that of the politicians begin. The politicians of the most prosperous democracy of the world used 366 kg of such lethal chemical in a war orchestrated by themselves. That affected 4.2 million people out of a total population of 40 millions in Vietnam, killing 500,000 persons and the other 650,000 are already identified with several forms of physical and mental deformities that can be identified with dioxin. What could the poor scientists do? When the effect of this notorious Agent Orange came to be known, 5,000 US scientists, of whom 17 were Nobel Laureates and 129 were the members of the Academy of Sciences demanded withdrawal of chemical agents from the warfare. But it was their job to demand and the politician’s job was to continue the disastrous killing spree and thus nothing changed.
How does our profession advise us to react in such a circumstance? At most, we can avoid reading or hearing the news if we can’t cope with the emotions of ire, shame or fear. Otherwise enjoy the life with whatever we earn and live like the every other content gentle person in the neighborhood.
This has been a great paradox in the lives of the geniuses of the every other field. Those 17 Nobel Laureates of the US whose demands to stop poisoning the innocent civilians were rejected may be wondering: the breakthroughs that they achieved in different fields of science can well be used in the future to wipe the people out.
In this bloody political turf of power, prejudice and inhuman cruelty, where do we stand then? Can we really boycott all this by merely isolating ourselves from the politics? Can any of our efforts to resist against this insanity be significant? Or should we seek asylum with the aggressors to be secure under their umbrella soaked in the blood of speechless millions? Should we discover more precise and lethal methods and offer them in order to appease them? After all do we have any moral responsibility to such genocides committed as we condone?
The answers to these questions are obviously tough but it is not easy to escape them too. Conscience of a professional often gets hurt at the moments he thinks seriously about these issues.
Of course the US is not the only aggressor of the humanity though it leads the category till now. Innumerable power centers throughout the world, many of them puppet of the US, few of them opposing it and many others with apparently absent link with it are in the race. The challenges to the anti-establishment forces, especially those who have respect to human dignity, are tough worldwide.
I have no delusion of uprooting the current global and the state order with protests from the professionals. But the life other than the professional that we lead is also equally important. The world outside our offices also demands certain contributions from us. We may not be in a position to provide any direct relief to the victims of the brutality, but when it comes to the question of larger human conscience, our awareness of such acts and the contempt we have for such inhumane acts keeps meaning.
Nepal in The New Decade
THE ONSET OF THE INTENSE CONFLICT
At the beginning of the new century, Nepal was gripped by the insurgency but still not crippled as during the later years. The rebels were close to the threshold of decompensating the state even though the last parliamentary elections of the democratic honeymoon period had been just held without a major obstacle.
After the traumatic experience of the coalition politics, the people had finally given a simple majority to the NC in the parliamentary polls of 1999. Had the political leadership not been devoid of foresight and competence, that could have proved an opportunity potentially enough to rectify the anomalies of the parliamentary system. The experience with all the three possible leaders of NC as the prime ministers in succession, however, turned out to be quite disappointing. The stagnation in politics that had followed the same in the economy had reached the terrible extent with pervasive frustration among the people resulting from the perception that the political leadership simply lacked the competence to avert the looming crisis.
In this background came the gruesome palace massacre of 2001. Whoever was the executive of the pogrom, that led to the collapse of the one of the two pillars of parliamentary democracy in Nepal: the constitutional monarchy. Even though the Maoists then tried to interpret the change as the one in favor of early transition of Nepal to a Republic state, the contrary proved true in the due course of time: a consolidated monarchy with absolute power was what eventually followed. The impotency shown by the government of GP Koirala in dealing with the massacre as well the successive scandals of embezzlement of huge scale including one while purchasing a aircraft for the then RNAC made the government extremely unpopular.
The reluctance of the palace to mobilize the army against the Maoists in the aftermath of a major offensive of the latter in which about seventy police personnel were taken hostage precipitated the downfall of the Koirala regime that had endured the fierce protests of the opponents in the parliament including a month long obstruction of the parliamentary proceedings by the UML in response to the infamous 'Lauda Scandal'. That gave way to the Deuba government perceived by the people as the 'savior' at the moment of looming disaster. Indeed the one-point agenda of the Deuba administration was to bring the much needed peace in the country by negotiating with the rebels.
The truce and the negotiations that followed the swearing in of the new government brought an unprecedented optimism in the people. Arguably that was the last chance of avoiding an impending civil war. Deuba was expected to be and to some extent appeared also, the most competent prime minister since establishment of the democracy even though the insurgency had formally begun during his first term as a coalition leader in 1996. The Maoists had been similarly refusing to sit in dialogue with the Koirala –led government while agreed to cease fire and negotiations immediately after Deuba came to head the new government. All this made people trust in the process of the negotiation making both the government as well as the Maoists quite popular. The mass meetings of the Maoists during the period drew huge crowds. In reality, the people were ready to support any party if their aspirations of living peacefully were to be addressed. With bitter experience of the parliamentary democracy, they welcomed the agenda of the Maoists with eagerness so long as they were there to ask the people for their support and not to snatch whatever they had.
The situation of Nepal in the fall of 2001 was ironical. The promise of averting an impending political disaster made both the Maoists and the Deuba-led government hugely popular. It was theoretically possible to reform the stained parliamentary political system and regain the trust of the people. That would, however, leave the economic root causes of the insurgency described earlier as such. The economic woes of people had rather worsened over the period of five or six years since the beginning of the insurgency as the leadership had been increasingly obsessed with gaining or retaining the power. Helping the government settle the problem within the limits of the existing system was going to be a huge setback for the Maoists whose basis of gaining influence was demonizing it. To prove that the risk of armed insurgency was worth taking for actual betterment of the people, they had to prove the prevailing system to be inherently inept and impotent. They had thus to examine the options of sacrificing the popular support for their long term strategic goals or vice versa. The only excuse to abandon the dialogue table would now be a demand for dismantling of the prevailing system by writing a new constitution through the polls for constituent assembly. And that it exactly what they did.
For the political parties including the ruling NC, it would have been a life-saving achievement to settle the insurgency peacefully. But at what cost? The framework of multiparty democracy achieved through the movement of 1990 and documented in the constitution was what allowed them to play the game of ruling the people through periodic elections. Could they put this system and the constitution at risk by conceding the demand of a constituent assembly of the Maoists? That was where the process of dialogue hit the dead end. Even while it took quite some time for the people to decipher the symbolic language of politics, their aspirations for peace had descended second in the priority of both the negotiating sides after few rounds of talks.
The peace brought to the country by the Deuba government thus proved to be the silence before the storm. The Maoists were elated by the crowd that they had drawn and the recruitments that they had done to their army during the period. This contributed to their confidence to overrun a military barrack in a surprise attack and loot the arms and ammunitions drawing the army into the conflict. And that was what formally began the intense phase of the conflict in Nepal.
HUMAN RIGHTS DURING THE CONFLICT: AN EXAMPLE
(An uneasy silence prevails in the room,)
A: These human right activists are the most qualified for elimination. Where does their …sympathy go when we are killed? Do they think we have iron bodies? Enough is enough. So long as they keep on intentionally defaming us, no mercy towards them.
B. This is not the first time they are doing it. They are same as the bastard judges who feel great to free the terrorists who kill us.
A: By the way how did this all reach the media? The fools over there must have been seeking for some …stuff. This son of a bitch will keep hunting us even after his death.
C: That is what has puzzled all of us, sir. A so called prominent writer has written a long article on the issue.
A: What if these Impotents keep writing? We should teach the lessons to them as well. We risk our lives for their security and these … treat us like the damned enemies! What the hell are they going to do if we eliminate this weed too? What do you think inspector?
D: Sir, if you don’t mind, killing him right now will create a create a lot of trouble. His arrest didn’t go smoothly as planned and people saw it. It is already in the newspaper that he was abducted by the government forces………
A: (interrupts) What the hell is the meaning of emergency then? They keep breeding like the piglets due to this … laxity. They are planning to hit more district headquarters in the west and daily killing our boys with ambushes. Is this the way to fight a battle.
D: They even appealed the minister of home affairs. He is known to have assured them of cooperation.
A: Forget these damned politicians and their… politics. This all wouldnot have happened in their absence. The hellhole of multiparty democracy is behind all this. They sleep with … in five star hotels and order us to sacrifice our lives. This is all they want. We should teach the lesson to them as well. I will just see how the damned parasites can save this bastard. Just bring him in.
( A handcuffed and blindfolded person is escorted inside the room by one soldier.)
What the hell is your last wish before death.
E: ( trying to maintain the composure) Let peace prevail in this country and no more persons like me will have to die so untimely.
A: You seem to be a hardened terrorist not deterred by even the death. You prefer to die rather than disclosing the names and locations of your seniors.
E: I swear by the name of the god, sir. I have no links with them. It was the first time they called me to observe their ‘base teritorry’ to showcase their achievements there. I went there as a scholar and it has nothing to do with their ideology.
A: What about the damned article you wrote about human rights? All of us should be hanged for its violation. Is this not that you want?
E: Never sir, I was just discussing the violation of the human rights due to the conflict. I still maintain that anybody proven guilty for its violation should be brought to book.
A: (Bangs the table loudly.) Stop giving lectures now. We know how to deal with this damned human right and its activists. Where does your … sympathy go when we are massacred? What do the bloody politicians and judges do to save our life? Does your rotten mind ever think this way? No, you all have been the victim of the propaganda of the terrorists.
Take him out now!
( He is taken out by the same soldier.)
Now there are rumours about another ceasefire and the terrorists want to further consolidate their position. There is no alternative to acting swiftly. Inspector! You get one more day to extract something from this scholarly terrorist. There should be no hiccups tomorrow, ok?
Inferences from the above drama in real life:
1. Might is right.
2. You are either with us or with them, not in between.
3. One who fights is supreme to decide anything related to the war.
4. Human right is the propaganda tool to defame the armed forces, often on behalf of the enemies.
5. The security of the people comes as a mercy of the armed forces, not as the right for sustaining the institution financially and morally.
6. Let many innocents be butchered but a single culprit should not escape alive.
And the list is open.
MANY DIMENSIONS OF THE CONFLICT
The conflict had, finally, been the part of the everyday life of the people. Some fought from either side, some sent their family members to the war, most others simply watched the grotesque scenes of scattered bodies in terraces. The casualties kept soaring as every other encounter, real or proxy one kept taking its toll.
There was no question of the majority of people being ready to overthrow the prevailing regime violently despite its ineptitude and incompetence. The thought of the cost involved in such an attempt in terms of the lives and the property to be sacrificed was enough to send shivers through most of the opponents of the system. The persistent threat of drawing wrath of the security forces kept the sympathizers of the rebels in a difficult position. All this led the Maoists in an adverse situation in which they had to coax the people for shelter and food, even while reasserting that it were the very same people for whom they had been fighting.
The political parties that had ruled the country for over a decade had now been thrown to the background as the two extremist poles dominated the stage. The proxy civilian governments of the early Emergency period could do nothing but undermine the meaning itself of the civilian supremacy as the security forces kept operating autonomously followed by the approval of the civilian leadership. As in every other country with conflict where the civilian government falls in the shadow of the invisible military administration, the PPPs (Parliamentary Political Parties) developed the rifts within themselves. The impulsive decision of the then PM Deuba to dissolve the parliament and to go to the mid-term polls culminated in the split of his party NC. Given the influence of the rebels that had grown enormously since holding the last parliamentary polls, it was far from feasible to hold a reasonably fair election. After the supreme court gave the verdict against the reinstatement of the parliament, the election became the only lifeline of the Parliamentary democracy. The position of the PPPs had meanwhile deteriorated so much that even they could not believe any meaningful polling was possible at the moment and recommended the king to postpone the elections, something not clearly mentioned in the erstwhile constitution of 1990. That gave the important excuse for the monarch to formally step into the political stage. And that was what eventually followed.
The mockery of the concepts of the civil liberties and the human rights became one of the strategies to achieve the goals. Impunity to the gross violators of the human rights as in case of few of the visible acts of cold-blooded murders became regularity rather than exception. All that was needed was the carefully selected words of the spokesperson of the army while the Maoists often didn't bother to give explanation to such acts. The number of the 'disappeared' doubled in the day and quadrupled in the night as it would be scores easy to cover a murder of the unarmed civilian after taking him to some 'secure' place. The notoriety of the army in the regard was only occasionally exposed through some exceptionally sensational case in which the relatives could risk their own life in search of their missing relative.
All this contributed to the decisive role of the armed institutions of the country in any meaningful matter pertaining to the daily lives of the people. In its extreme, the security forces developed few mechanisms to keep reminding people of their mercy with which the people were able to sustain their life. Rather than the duty for having been remunerated by the people, the task of protecting people by the security forces was widely perceived as the act of mercy that could be ceased whenever deemed fit by the forces to do so. The ordinary people, especially the under-privileged ones from remote areas were treated as the nuisance providing the food and shelter to the rebels and thus making it difficult to eliminate them.
For the urban people and for those who had to travel along the highways, the machinery to remind this 'mercy' was the humiliating 'security check' that came every few kilometers. A fifth grade failure could easily intimidate a professor for petty offence of delaying to open the bag. The passengers were deliberately made to walk for kilometers in the heat of the noon in the dusty roads to reveal the contents of their bag even when they were quite heavy. This method had been the favorite of the top brass of the security forces as it could humiliate the huge number of people, many of them well placed in the civil responsibilities, making them aware of the constant mercy of the forces that had allowed them to survive in the war times. That would in turn, dissuade the public from confronting any act of barbarity that occasionally made way to the media.
The pitiable existence of the ordinary people in the war-time has got many dimensions. The everyday events were so overwhelmingly frustrating that it was impossible not to be preoccupied by the concern about one's security. Second in priority would be the means for livelihood that was almost universally impacted by the conflict. The abandoned lands in the rural areas, the deserted hotels in the tourist-areas, barricaded highways in the nights, scrapped annual fares during the festivals, all these contributed in snatching people of their means of sustaining life. In many areas this was compounded by the terrific 'donation' drive by the rebels where failure to donate specified amount 'voluntarily' could mean displacement from the land or even from life.
We have talked earlier also about the misfortune brought to the economy of the country by the conflict. At the middle of the insurgency, the King formally overtook the helms of power after failed attempts at governing through the proxy leaders of political parties. The first thing he emphasized while justifying the apparently new move of taking the executive position was cleansing the ruling machinery of the corruption and establishing accountability. His demand for candidacy from a person with 'clean image' for the post of Prime minister in a tender he had invited earlier had turned out to be mockery of governance itself after two of the Panchayat-Era PMs and the miraculous Deuba had miserably bungled the job.
THE PLATEAU AND THE DESCENT OF THE CONFLICT
For 3 to 4 years, neither side of the conflict could achieve its strategic goal making the war a potentially protracted affair. The Maoists successfully captured few district headquarters for a day or so. They miserably failed on the attacks on many other district headquarters when the government forces routed large number of them. The attacks at the smaller outposts in the periphery often gave mixed results even as the claims and counterclaims from the two sides often made it difficult to discern the reality.
Here I will refer to the account of one of the battles that had strategic implications for the overall dynamics of the conflict from an analytical article by Sam Cowan published on Sept 2008 issue of Himal Southasian. This was the attack by the Maoists to the RNA camp at Khara on 7th April 2005. This saw the largest no. of casualties in the maoist side throughout the entire conflict with the no. of killed insurgents at 250. The target of Khara in the Rukum district where the earlier attack in may 2002 was repulsed by the army with 150 insurgents dead, was fixed apparently by Prachanda, the supreme commander with the objective of 'opening the door to conquest'. That had been apparently the only option at hand for Prachanda after the royal coup of February 2005 and the culmination of his marathon rivalry with Baburam Bhattarai into demotion of Bhattarai to ordinary party member.
Given the clear advantage to the defending side with a higher location, strong fortifications, and definitely better fire-power, the mere numerical superiority of the rebels with probably better motivation to fight was far from enough to inflict any significant casualty, let alone overrunning the military post. The outcome: Prachanda's assessment about the conquest through the series of victorious assaults proved ill-conceived. By implication, there was no sole military solution to the stalemate. Not surprisingly, Bhattarai was soon in Delhi with KB Mahara to begin the process of negotiation with the political parties that was finally to evolve into a movement able to peacefully overthrow the monarchy. In a nutshell, the imminent split itself in the Maoists was eventually averted by the strategic loss of Khara as the stance of Bhattarai on negotiating with the political parties proved to be the only feasible alternative.
What had been contributing to the stagnation in the conflict in Nepal was the presence of three poles even though the political parties had been playing a vicarious role. The beginning of the polarization that formally started with the famous 12 point understanding between the Maoists and the political parties in Delhi thus formed an important milestone in breaking the deadlock. Favorably enough for the opponents the king had finally sidelined the proxy civilian rulers to sail the boat himself making the donors too uncomfortable with the status quo and sympathetic to the evolving opposition to the king.
The miserable attempts of the sycophants of the monarch at boosting the support for the royal regime and the popularity of the king led to the periodic 'felicitations' of the king in various part of the country. There he would listen to the innumerable complaints about the lack of development and insecurity and prominently nod to any of the requests or the favors sought by the people. Nodding with a smile was one thing, fulfilling the demands was other thing given the hostile situation resulting from the overwhelming influence of the insurgents. The frustration from this inability to live upto the words led the king into making few decisions one of which will be discussed here for its strategic implications, again with the help of the article by Cowan.
The construction of the road linking Surkhet to Jumla in the mid-western region had been stalled for over a decade. In the king's trip to the region, it was obvious for the request to complete the road to come prominently. Soon the king gave the executive order to continue building the road in the Kalikot section. For the purpose, a base of the army had to be located at Pili, a place that the spokesperson of the army would later admit to have been 'strategically unfavorable'. Exactly four months after the debacle in Khara, this strategic blunder of the Royal army gave the Maoists an ideal opportunity to revenge. They eventually summoned three brigades from distant locations to Pili and attacked the base on 7th August. The army, trapped in the low and steep sides of the Tila river had no option but to succumb to the 3000 strong rebels with the factor of surprise in their favor. With the no. of killed soldiers at 58, other 60 were taken prisoner and 115 turned up at Manma, the district headquarters.
This was followed by the one-sided cease-fire by the Maoists that the king didn't feel necessary to reciprocate. In the meantime, the collaboration between the rebels and the PPPs formally began and consolidated giving people the glimmer of hope for the first time after the deceptive peace during the first cease-fire between the Deuba-government and the rebels. It was now theoretically possible to corner the king by the alliance between the political parties and the Maoists. That was indeed going to dictate the course Nepal would take for the years to come, if not for decades. The new alliance was mutually beneficial as the Maoists gained the political legitimacy by their promise to return to the peaceful politics while the chronic allegation about the impotency of the PPPs was now diluted. The only looser in the game was the king who would have to loose even the ceremonial role within years to come.
THE MARATHON JOURNEY OF THE 12-POINT
The journey of the rebels and the PPPs seems pretty smooth now that the aftermath of the 12 point understanding culminated into the revolt that forced the monarchy to bury its ambitions. In the real time, however, the journey was pretty tough and illustrative of the dynamics through which any historical process has to pass. Had the opponents of the alliance, many of which were well within the parties, been able to sabotage the process with the result other than victory of the people's revolt, the way the alliance is now evaluated would have been entirely different. Had the monarchy been able to sustain itself in face of the protests as the despots in Myanmar have been, the same people who are now enjoying the outcomes of the successful revolt would be in the other side of the division.
The most vocal and most dangerous opponent to the alliance had been the emissary of the VAE, the infamous American ambassador Moriarty, widely despised in Nepal for his activities and speeches that were at par with a mean politician. The other prominent and loyal follower of the camp Moriarty led was the once-competent former PM Deuba whose speeches were frequently in border-line of sanity. This camp flayed tooth and nail any collaboration between the two sides as that was going to benefit the rebels whom they utterly despised for ideological reasons in case of Moriarty and the egoistic reason in case of Deuba.
With few such exceptions, however, the king had clarified what they deserved by luring to and then firing from power the parties like UML. Even the parties like UML with extreme myopia were thus able to assess what the 12 points meant for them: the only remaining way to redemption that will ensure them any political future. The GPK-led congress had been pretty sure from the beginning what the polarization meant for it. Backed by almost all the conflict-wary people as the long sought exit from the crippling stagnation in the national politics, the mere understanding between the two sides enjoyed the legitimacy and support that helped it overcome frequent turbulences it had to pass through.
This convergence of the two forces that fought against each other only few years back had got few prominent challenges. In the post-1990 years all of those politicians had shared the platform of parliamentary democracy before the Maoists defected. The distance between the two, that had grown over the decade that followed, was not an easy thing to erase. Fortunately the king had cornered the political parties to the extent that the distance had to be at least shortened so that some collaboration was possible. The compromise between the two thus dictated the terms of collaboration: the Maoists would shun violence and accept the competitive politics, the PPPs would revoke their affiliation to the constitutional monarchy that no longer existed supporting the demand of the Maoists for the republic. In theory, this was the backbone of the 12 points while in practice, the points of immediate significance like the declining chance of the violent overthrow of the regime by the Maoists and the meaningless role of the PPPs in national politics played the vital role.
After the collapse of the USSR, one of the communist parties of Nepal, the UML had grasped the non-authoritarian version of the communism under guidance of Madan Bhandari with the documented acceptance of multiparty democracy. In practice, that saw a huge crowd drawn to the party as it was possible to be a capitalist, even a feudal lord and still be a communist. For the leadership it vindicated a lifestyle not possible for an orthodox communist making it acceptable to earn wealth through the means often considered unscrupulous. All this made the party one of the lead polluters of the MPD before it was threatened by the erupting insurgency and the army-led counter-insurgency.
Given this bitter experience with the 'Reform' in the communist parties, the promise of the Maoists to reform themselves was sure to come under intense scrutiny of the people. The complementary promise of the PPPs to the republic was also in similar situation. Both sides had to walk in the tight rope even as the king was having his extravagant Africa trip to skip some evil spirit in Kathmandu.
Along with providing the opportunity to churn up the stagnant politics and a challenge to overcome the might of the monarchy, the 12 points also meant the vulnerability for both the sides. For the Maoists it might have turned out as the deception to the people in whose name they had sacrificed thousands of young people. They needed the constant attention to avoid any drift too much to the right. The political parties, on the other hand, had been nurturing the hatred to the deeds of the Maoists for long whom they were embracing now. Their support base in the right thus cautioned them not to drift too much to the left. Even while the iron fist of king Gyanendra kept the two sides glued until its debacle, the cracks resulting from this inherent conflict in their interests took not long to reveal themselves, as described in subsequent sections.
THE BACKGROUND OF THE APRIL UPRISING
By far the most important event in the life of people of my generation, who were not able to participate in the 1990 movement, was the revolt of April 2006. Even though the accomplishments of the revolt are now in the brink of lying in tatters, the developments over the three years that have followed since the revolt have taught quite a few good lessons to any student of the history.
Why do the people flock in the streets knowing well that they may not come home that evening? How are they convinced that the failure is not the more likely option? Why do they refuse to be discouraged by the disappointing experiences of the past when the accomplishments of similar revolts evaporated before turning to tangible benefits to ordinary people?
Narayan Dhakal dissects the irony of vanishing impact of the popular uprisings within days to months giving way to changes that are too superfluous to change the lives of people in his fictional work 'Durvikshya'. The story revolves around the life of a girl who loses her brother as a martyr in the movement of 1990 and soon discovers that the money allotted for the families of the martyrs had been embezzled by the leaders of the 'new' Nepal. After a complex yet plausible turn of events, she finds herself working in a cabin restaurant before being arrested by the army and tortured to aborting the fetus conceived by a boy who had joined the rebels. The only option available for her now: entry to the jungle. In the meantime, the photo of her martyr brother, on whose shoulders the civilian leaders stepped before reaching the summit of power, had been thrown to the sewage by a semi-civilian figure typical of the conflict period: the spy of the security forces.
The eruption of the conflict is thus directly related to the failure of the 'new' leadership to deliver the promises. After a decade, however, the conflict had exhausted people to the extent that they were ready to pay any price to see its closure. The armed resurgence had thus increased the burden to the people who already suffered under the stagnant parliamentary politics. The young people like the character in Durvikshya joined the rebels to revenge one or the other offence of the state, but eventually it turned out that no straight-forward uprooting of the enemy militarily was possible protracting the war. Even for them, after so much sacrifice some arrangement ending the violence was direly needed. The continued conflict was in favor of very few people: the king and the top brass of the army who could continue deciding how to spend the budget so long as the conflict was there. The other in the list was the VAE which could keep influencing the politics in Nepal so long as the situation remained fluid and could deprive the leftist rebels of any potential gain by keeping them beyond the mainstream.
Finally, as it only occasionally happens in any state on the world, the evolution of the people's determination to take the monarch and the security forces head on in a peaceful agitation took a definite shape.
THE ONSET AND PROGRESSION
Formally, it was just the announcement of general strike by the political parties that were supposedly discredited among the masses due to their deeds in the past. This prompted the ruling monarch to pretend nothing new had occurred for the first few days of the strike. At the end of the first four days, however, the striking side had made tangible gains of which it was not sure before announcing the strike. It was almost now-or-never for the parties to teach the lesson to the monarch. They eventually decided to prolong the strike indefinitely. What followed this was the relentless growth in the number and size of the protests making every corner of the country flooded with the cadres of the parties and common folks with flags.
It was long before the crushing strength of the revolt sent shivers through the royal regime. It was thus obvious for the monarch to repress the people brutally in order to scare them away from the streets. The threshold of the uprising within which the suppression worked, had however, already been crossed and the setback for the monarchy was obvious, later if not sooner. The costly alternative of this scenario would be a bloody crackdown, that too not fail-proof. Chronically disillusioned by the royal sycophants, the king was appalled by the extent to which he had infuriated the people with his deeds while pretending to be altruistic and savior at the moment of crisis.
Ever since the unilateral cease-fire by the Maoists and the signing of the 12 points, unprecedented optimism had dwelt in people about ending the conflict. Success of the revolt was thus the only way out of the decade long mess of bloody warfare. As the conflict had spared very few in the country, the proportion of people not interested in the new political prospect was definitely small. That contributed for the nationwide participation of the people in the protests.
With each passing day, the protests grew both in number and size as the news of martyrdom kept trickling down at the sensitive moments. The act of killing the protesters made the revolt an irreversible phenomenon. The parties were drawn to a position where they could afford further sacrifice but not the reversal from the stances or the compromise. This made the king make some desperate attempts even as he realized his status about which he had been misled for long. What followed was the brutal repression of the protesters along with the reporters covering the protests and the clinicians treating the injured a roadside.
The protests lasted for 19 days during which the political parties had been transformed from the crowd led by myopic and politically impotent leaders to the victors of the enviable peaceful struggle. The protests were halted after the king announced the reinstatement of the incumbent parliament.
THE INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
In its attempt at getting credit of the process that it had facilitated through the 12-point understanding, India created a mistake while sending an emissary with a planned settlement that was not acceptable to the agitating people. As such India was keen on providing the king with the opportunity of graceful exit if not the ceremonial role. The dynamics of the revolt inside Nepal had made the any of such an arrangement next to impossible.
Impressively enough the VAE beat India in sensing the prospective outcome of the revolt as it was one of the earliest states to congratulate Nepal after the agitation had really settled with the people having felt that finally they had won. In the new stage that was now evolving, the same stance of opposing the 12 points in favor of collaboration between the PPPs and the king would have been counter-productive. The swiftness of the congratulations was thus quite meaningful as the careful tact of 'adjustment' that the empires are accustomed to.
By watching the futility of its attempt to strike a deal mutually beneficial to the parties, the king and itself, India was finally compelled to accept the new outcome whole-heartedly. The matters could have turned out quite differently had the Hindu rightist government been there in Delhi instead of the secular coalition led by congress and with the communists as the constituents. In retrospect, thus the outcome of the 2004 elections in India had the definite impact in the evolution of politics in Nepal in the critical juncture of history. For one reason or the other, the role played by the Indian government and the leaders of the CPI(M) ever since the signing of the 12 points was enormous and positive given the historical trend of the Nepali politicians to look south when in trouble or confusion.
The Chinese, with the unwavering attention to what the change could mean for them, and a characteristic detachment from the question of despotism or democracy, eventually adjusted to the new reality. Their search for the real seat of power in the prospective republic of Nepal later led to the strengthening of their ties with the Maoists and even the regional parties based in Terai. It would have been no surprise, however, had the revolt been suppressed violently and the Chinese had increased their aid to the kingdom of Nepal in the simple ground: the reaffirmation of the support to 'one China' policy. The historically calm and stable relationship between China and Nepal has been the outcome of this ability of the Chinese to adjust to any change without even the lip service to attributes like democracy and good governance unlike their American counterparts.
The European countries, like Japan in the east, having buried their imperial ambitions long back, stood as the friend at odd times for Nepal. Even while the VAE had been inducing the royal regime to increase aggression against the Maoists at any cost, many of the EU countries had been reminding the issues of human rights and civil liberties. The prospect of ending the violence through peaceful agitation was the best possible yet least costly option. Although they had far less impact in Nepali politics than India, the VAE or China, their role had been constructive from earlier on and that continued as the uprising grew and culminated at success.
As described earlier, the destination of the PPPs and the Maoists was not the same even though they shared a portion of their journey from the 12 points through the April uprising. This fact was going to have major repercussions for the Nepali politics in many years to follow. At the moment of the supposed victory that was instantly celebrated by the PPPs and the people as such, the Maoists were alarmed by what had followed similar victory in 1990. Unlike then, now the factor of settling the conflict utilizing the accomplishments of the uprising made the matters more serious.
What the Maoists opted before settling the agitation was the further weakening the position of the king by prolonging the protests that had grown to tremendous size and determination for few more days even though more casualties were to be expected. That would have probably forced the king to flee outside the country thoroughly dismantling old foundation of Nepal as a state making it easy to start building a new one. That was indeed what they had been fighting for. More casualties would have further accelerated the process of erosion in the king's status making the victory inevitable.
The PPPs, however, were not ready to take that much risk once the king had agreed to reinstate the parliament through which the issues raised by the Maoists could now be arguably addressed. A radical change in the governing machinery was something they never intended, as the MPD had been comfortable enough for them in the past with the constitutional monarchy. Now that the king had bowed in front of people, it was possible to establish the republic through constitutional means as the election to the constituent assembly (CA) that had to be held anyhow. Uprooting the prevalent mode of governance was something like opting for two fishes in the lake instead of one at hand. The things could turn for better but with no guarantee that the opposite would not occur.
The leaders of the PPPs thus promptly decided to convert the protests of the last day of the agitation to the victory rallies. The Maoists obviously opposed the idea and appealed the people to continue to protest and continued the blockage of the roads for days to follow. It was this conflict of interest between the two constituents of the alliance that manifested as the two years long period of confusion and disillusionment that followed before the polls for the CA could be held.
The daily lives of the people
Unlike after 1990, it took pretty short time for the people to add the factor of caution this time in the optimism about the betterment of their lives. As the euphoria of the successful uprising eventually settled, the symptoms of the stagnation that had earlier led the nation to disaster appeared one after another. Even though the Maoists and the government eventually signed the CPA or the Comprehensive Peace Agreement formally ending the decade long insurgency, that was what was written in the papers and signed and the only smooth part of the journey.
Even though the first proposal passed by the reinstated parliament was to conduct the polls for the CA in order to write the new constitution, the reluctance of the Maoists to acknowledge the reinstatement of the parliament as the reasonable victory of the people created a problem from the outset. The second and prominent alarm presented itself as the deplorable brawl among the PPPs while forming the first government after the revolt. That reminded people of the honeymoon period of democratic practice when the race for gaining and retaining power had culminated in a disaster.
The first hurdle the ordinary people met after the success of the revolt was the lawlessness with a staggering rise in the petty crimes of theft and robbery in face of a thoroughly demoralized police force.
The second and intractably crippling attitude among the people was then in evolution: going to strike and the infamous Bandhs with demands as petty as the domestic duel. The highway traffic became the victim of this mass insanity forcing the people to think twice before planning to travel few hundred kilometers by road. The impotence of the police force in dealing with the anarchy and the acts of taking law in hand only worsened with time as the incidents of strike kept multiplying.
This anomalous attitude with the gross disregard to the rights of the others while protesting the same for self may be an issue of interest for the sociologists. The evolving perception has been that anything, whether relevant or not, can be gained forcibly through means as unscrupulous as obstruction of the vehicular movements. With no prospect of the meaningful intervention by the government agencies, the ordinary citizens are always at the losing end as their everyday lives are crippled.
That was what had been changed for worse. There were things that had changed for better too. The most prominent of them was cessation of the bloody warfare and resumption of that part of social life that was missing during the period of conflict. The relief from the coercive curfews in the district headquarters, the night-time traffic in the roads with renewed life of the highway towns, beginning of the construction works in the rural areas that had been totally stalled, were few such things. All these formed indeed the initial steps in healing the raw wounds of the conflict in the social life of people. Only people who were deprived of any relief were the keens of the missing people that would repeatedly come in the least of those disappeared during the conflict but would never 'appear' as expected.
The people thus experienced the betterment in the lives along with the growing lawlessness that would only worsen with time as the political parties would compete in taking law in hands through the unscrupulous youth wings. Those who saw their business being battered by the repeated and crippling strikes would often remember the 'old days of order' with a degree of regret for having brought this virtue called 'Loktantra'.
The political chaos
The developments of the two years that followed before the CA polls were held are typically illustrative of the challenges of the transitional period to any country. After reading the mass sentiment of the people during the uprising, it was next to impossible for the Maoists to return to the armed insurgency as such. Their entry to peaceful politics, however, was complicated by the fact that the PPPs salvaged the backbone of the old system by compromising with the incumbent king midway in the struggle. That compelled the Maoists to drag their feet, though reluctantly, to the reconciliation with the parties that were now in power.
One of the loathsome deeds of the GPK-led post-revolt government was its half-hearted approach to the issues, especially the sensitive ones. That middle-of-the-path approach, though apparently less risky, often gave the results that often conflicted with the interest of the people in the long run. It talked about punishing the guilty for suppressing the uprising and even constituted a commission, but deliberately avoided implementing the recommendations. It sacked the chiefs of the Police forces but avoided the action against the army chief. It talked high about transforming RNA to NA and stripping the incumbent king of the post of Commander-in-Chief of the army and boasted to have brought the army under the civilian control but dared to change nothing in the way the army worked. (As would be revealed later, most of the parties were ready to sacrifice the civilian control of the army in exchange for petty political gains.)
Theoretically, it was the victory of the agenda of the Maoists of writing new constitution through CA polls that had led to collapse of the negotiations during the Deuba regime in 2001. Indeed failure to hold the polls would amount to losing all the achievements of the uprising. This fact compelled all the forces in the country to commit themselves to holding the polls. That was, however, all in theory. The marathon journey now involved formulating an interim constitution, implementing the CPA that included the thorny issue of managing the weapons and the fighters of the maoists by making the proper mechanism. For that the Maoists had to be included in the interim parliament and the interim government.
The process met with hiccups every now and then. Locating the maoist fighters in the UN-supervised camps, keeping their weapons in the cantonments, formulating the interim constitution, the formation of the interim parliament and the government including the Maoists, all took place, albeit with significant delays at each step. The delays and the stagnation contributed a lot to the frustration of the people as entirely unanticipated developments kept taking place seizing the opportunity of the lost momentum of the major process.
The GP Koirala-led government was thus busy pretending to have done a great job even as the Maoists were disgruntled at the snail-pace of the processes that led them to the government and the CA polls. The alleged mistreatment of the rebels in the cantonments with dismally low amount spent for their daily needs was one of the important factors behind this. With the successive decisions that were taken by the government without consulting the Maoists still outside the government, they began to feel increasingly stripped of their share in decision-making.
Eventually, startling the skeptics most of which were within the parties themselves, the interim constitution was formulated though with some delay. That opened the path for the entry of the Maoists to the parliament and eventually in the government. Amidst the talks of absurd ideas like the provision of a baby king, the process kept the momentum, till a major and altogether different issue was going to trouble the national politics.
The storm of Ethnic Uprisings
During the Panchayat era, the firm vertical control of the authoritarian system forced the people to polarize themselves into the camps for and against the system. In early post 1990 years, the promise of democracy to impartially alleviate the grievances of all the people kept them busy trying the option. The leftist rebellion erupted when a section of people was exhausted trying the option through parliamentary politics. Once this gained the significance in national politics, the fierce conflict drew the attention of people so that they were barely aware of their needs other than protecting their lives. As the polarization in the national politics isolated the king, the repressive regime forced all others to unite against it burying their contradictions. That finally saw the fall of the regime with all the forces free to choose their destination themselves.
A political vacuum was thus created by the sudden disappearance of the ideologically driven armed conflict from the stage. Not surprisingly, the politics based on identity and claiming to fight the ethnic inequalities and oppression gained prominence. That is exactly what has been happening in the post-USSR world labeled by the political scientist Huntington as the characteristic 'paradigm shift' of our times.
Not to doubt that all sorts of inequalities and coercions existed in Nepal for as long as we can remember: those based on class, race, caste, religion, region and what not. Ever since the establishment of the communist party of Nepal around 1948, the issue of class based oppression has been in some prominence. Even amidst the relentless tendency of the communist parties to fragment every now and then, the appeal of the ideology has been wide among the common folks, mostly oblivious of the fate of giant communist states of USSR and PRC. Even though with little touch with the reality, the discourse with the central role of Marxism has remained always prominent and in or close to the mainstream in Nepal.
Now that the radical and violent version of the Marxism had shaken hands with the bourgeoisie with a promise to uphold the norms of competitive politics, this discourse with arguments for and against Marxism lost its momentum for the time being. The issue of ethnicity stepped in the vacuum making a large section of people suddenly asking themselves who really they were, how they were treated in the past and what they deserved now. There was always the perception that the state machinery had been pervasively dominated by the higher cast hill elites depriving all other groups their share of pie. The distraction by the other major issues like bringing democracy before 1990, institutionalizing it in the nineties, and bearing the conflict in the next decade, had kept the people engaged. That practically avoided the mass sentiments on ethnic grievances reach a threshold so as to give rise to the uprisings.
Now that the monarchy had gone taking the vitality of the old institution with it, there emerged a transitional period during which all the category of people tried to consolidate their interests. Eventually the bipolar conflict had given way to the multipolar clash of interests that palpably threatened to transform itself to a multipolar conflict. The facilitating factor behind the organized effort of the ethnically motivated interest groups was the cocktail of the Maoist policies that prominently included the promise to end the ethnicity-based discrimination by establishing a federal state with right to self-determination. That had been one of the strategies of the Maoists to draw the crowd behind them during their conflict with the state but now it was obviously backfiring with the defectors from the them gaining influence with the same rhetoric.
Except the few outbursts of communal disharmony, the cohesive fabric of Nepal had been reasonably strong for long. The expression of the grievances by different groups had been often overshadowed by the other issues of national interest. The fragility of the state institution complemented by the tentative settlement of the decade long conflict, however, now gave an altogether different momentum to the process.
By far the most prominent of the emerging interest group was the ethnically defined Madhesi community. Ever since the establishment of a fringe party promising to fight for the rights of the variably and then vaguely described Madhesis or the Terai people during the honeymoon period of parliamentary politics, this issue had got variable significance over the period. The promise of the Maoists to get them rid of the discrimination drew a significant no. of the fighters and the sympathizers in the geographical entity now loosely and controversially termed Madhes. It was equally true with the people of the indigenous groups who were, unlike the Madhesis, dispersed unevenly throughout the country. In later part of the insurgency and after the CPA, however, the perception that a party driven by Marxist ideology would not stand for the absolutely ethnic-based interests made defection from the Maoists a regular phenomenon.
THE MADHESH UPRISINGS
The first Madhesh uprising of early 2007 nearly after a year of the successful april uprising was the culmination of all these developments. That saw the exponential growth in the fortune of a group little known till that date, that would eventually form a political party able to stand fourth in the coming assembly polls despite its strictly regional base. That was when the ethnic sentiments were close to boiling point as a result of the awareness that the Maoists were abandoning their earlier agenda of fighting the ethnic discrimination as soon as they were close to power. Now that the Maoists were in the interim parliament and the government, they could no longer follow the populist agendas of the war time many of which contradicted one another.
In a historically unfortunate incident, an agitating Madhesi boy was shot dead by the Maoists while trying to pass through a highway obstruction created to protest the arbitrary discrimination against the Madhesis. That turned out to be tantamount to pulling the trigger of a loaded rifle. The incident catalyzed the process in which the Madhesi people were feeling increasingly cheated and thus disgruntled and now, directly attacked. That culminated in massive street protests throughout the southern plain strip of Nepal crippling the daily lives of the nation. As it always happens, the factor of mob psychology played a critical role in giving shape to the protests that saw the blunt and unprecedented acts of challenging the communal harmony. Further more, the slogan of complete secession of the Madhes from Nepal became quite popular with symbolic proclamations of a 'Madhes State'.
Even though the protests were called off with an agreement between the agitators and the interim government, that was indeed the beginning of the turmoil in the southern belt of Nepal. The armed groups claiming to fight for the interests of the Madhesis were then mushrooming with the most prominent of them being the defectors from the Maoists. The line separating the armed groups from the unarmed ones was thin and often incomprehensible with the receding presence of the state with the growing turmoil and statelessness. The life in the districts of eastern Terai became terribly difficult with massive emigration of the people from the hilly origin and resulting demographic shift that inevitably hampered the economy of the region. The petty crimes of simply snatching the property of the others by means like taking hostage became nearly as frequent as in the adjoining Bihar province of India. The state limited itself further to the district headquarters as the rebels kept gaining ground.
At negotiations, the two parties had agreed to ensure the federal structure of Nepal in the constitution to be written, with the provision to be inserted to the erstwhile interim constitution through an important amendment. The agreements obviously included the clause to ensure the Madhesi people to be proportionately represented in all state institutions and to have a decisive role in the Madhes unit to be crafted in the federal Nepal.
Again that was the only smooth part of he journey and the Madhes had already been the battlefield with the clash of the interests of the newly arising regional parties and the residua of the Maoists and other parties. What really mattered in the elections that would follow sooner or later was the might of the cadres so that the people could be literally forced to vote them. One way or the other, the influence was what every other party or group sought. That eventually invited some of the fierce and bloody confrontations, worst of them being the Gaur carnage with grotesque killing of about a dozen of Maoists cadres when the time and venue of their program clashed with that of MPRF, the largest madhes-based party.
All these events brought the Madhes issue to the centre of the national politics even as a variant of chauvinism kept creeping to the mind of a section of Pahadis, the people from the hilly regions. Close to the east-west highway in the northernmost Terai, a group proclaimed to fight against the alleged 'foreign encroachment' through the veils of Madhesi issues. Compounded by the communal strife and persistent demographic shifts, these activities only contributed to increase the animosity between the people from different ethnic groups threatening the foundation itself of the state of Nepal.
What would Nepal unite for now? The monarch that boasted to symbolize unity among various interest groups was now gone with the disgrace of maintaining the centuries long oppression. The parliamentary system with multiparty democracy and supposedly one of the best constitutions had miserably failed to deliver the promises and a big hole was poked in its reputation by the insurgency that was well the outcome of the years when it was in practice. The insurgency provided the conduit for canalizing these grievances of the people and the appeal of the rebels was strong enough to draw a section of sympathizers and fighters to the extent of decompensating the state. The optimism was, however, evaporated as soon as the insurgency subsided with the Maoists adopting agendas that were more practical than populist.
The conclusion of the ethnic groups including the Madhesis was that they needed to advocate a restructuring of the state with the unconditional assurance of autonomy and the right to self-determination. That invariably negated the proposition that Nepal should remain one at any cost.
The Madhesi community was obviously not the only one to agitate. The variably described indigenous groups had been prominent ever since the honeymoon period of MPD when the supreme court had given a verdict against the use of local language in government offices. They had been clear enough in their agenda of caste and language based restructuring of the state so that most of the hilly and Himalayan region would fall in their share to administrate if not to rule. The liquidity of the situation prompted them to step forward with escalation of activities to press for an assurance to fulfill their demands. In its extreme few groups in the eastern mountains proclaimed to intensify their armed insurrection to free their region from Nepal.
Nepal thus became increasingly plagued by anarchy and lawlessness as every other interest group could take the whole nation stage by obstructing the highways making the daily lives of the people terribly difficult. The government had thus no option but to concede the demands of any group many of which contradicted one another making it impossible to implement them completely anytime in the future.
THE CA POLLS
THE RUN-UP TO THE ELECTIONS: THE HURDLES THAT NEARLY SABOTAGED THE POLLS
The agenda of writing a new constitution had been lingering in Nepali political arena ever since the transition of 1950 when the autocratic Rana regime was overthrown by the people to find eventually that the fruit of their sacrifice was already in grip of the king. As every other failure in the history, the failure to hold the polls for CA also persisted for over five decades even though few instances saw tangible achievements for people.
The parliamentary polls held ten turbulent years after the change of 1950 saw Nepali Congress under BP Koirala as the largest party with a clear majority in the parliament. As Koirala recollects in 'Atma Brittanta', it was the crooked intention of the King Mahendra precipitated by the fear of losing prominence with the reasonable success of his government that led to the coup the following year. That was indeed the part of the cycle in which the every step forward was followed by a step backward in the deplorable history of Nepal. The coup coated by pleasant words like 'democracy suitable to the Nepali context' ensured the eventual entry of Nepal to the dark tunnel of Panchayat era with supreme role of the impulses and instincts of the monarch in governance more than anything.
Now that the Panchayat system was long gone and even its successor faced a miserable fate with failure in a decade there was no role of any makeshift changes in the system to give it new life. That was indeed what the PPPs had been trying to do while turning down the demands of the Maoists for the CA polls in the aborted negotiations earlier. The things had changed radically over the period of few years and it had been practically impossible to avoid the polls for the CA.
With the developments that were actually taking place, however, the situation was evolving increasingly unfavorable for any polls to take place. The first thing was the political unrest in Terai compounded by the surge in indiscriminate violence. The state was growingly incapable of dealing with minor law-and-order situations like the highway obstruction by handful of goons. The increasingly prominent legitimate Madhesi political parties were weighing the options of helping the state hold the polls and collaborating with the armed outfits for the autonomy and eventual secession of what they termed a 'Madhes State'. The other ethnic groups led by the indigenous and tribal groups similarly didn't hesitate to facilitate the descent of Nepal into chaos. With the intractable anarchy and lawlessness, the possibility of holding reasonably free and fair CA polls and leading the country to stability receded further.
That was however, not the most serious challenge for holding the CA polls. That was yet to come in the form of ironic twist in the stance of the Maoists. After helplessly watching the erosion of their bases in the Terai by the regional parties and in the hills by the emerging groups affiliated to certain ethnic groups, the Maoists were agonized. What they had fought for with so much sacrifice was now just steps ahead and it had been theoretically the victory of their agenda. At the moment however, what they sensed was the imminent loss of everything they had achieved by this magic things called elections that the communists always despised. Sacrificing 13,000 lives and a decade and the likely result: a defeat with the victory of those who had been opposing the agenda from the outset. That was unbearable for the Maoists. In desperation they eventually pulled out of the coalition interim government. The justification for that was, well, inconsistent. They often argued that the polls were not held when the masses were rallying behind them with a grand design to defeat them, so they won’t participate in the polls that are held when the tide has turned against them. Logically, that would be a childlike argument. But justification of the arguments and responsibility of the deeds are two things that have been missing from Nepali politics for long, or let's say, have not developed yet. They did not feel like going to the polls in given circumstances and that was all. While refraining from them, allowing the remaining political players to hold the polls was beyond imagination as that would be tantamount to letting other to harvest after working hard throughout the year.
The fate of the CA polls: well, more uncertain then ever.
The Maoists were feeling from the outset that letting the framework of the old system remain after the April revolt had been a blunder. That had eventually favored the conventional forces to thrive in the scenario that had seen the reform but not the revolution. A complete dismantling of the old system by forcing the king to flee or surrender followed by declaration of republic in the street and the formation of a government with their direct inclusion would have consolidated their position vis-à-vis the PPPs. The reinstatement of the parliament and the institutionalization of the achievements of the uprising by clumsy parliamentary procedures had contributed a lot to dilute the 'newness' of the New Nepal. In the immediate aftermath of the revolt they were unable to resist the popular expectations of the people and had to sign the CPA and promise to return to peaceful politics. That had been indeed conditioned with the holding of CA polls. Now that the intervening turmoil had made holding of successful CA polls less certain then ever, they found an excuse not to comply with their commitments made in the past.
The significant presence of the Maoists in all the parts of the country along with the imminent threat of their returning to armed insurgency, the ruling parties had to take extra caution in dealing with them. Even in absence of this factor, other hurdles described earlier were enough to make them hesitate to go to the polls without the Maoists. It thus led to the postponement of the CA polls for second time since the uprising.
Now that the parties had avoided going to polls without them, the Maoists were in a morally weak ground to keep refusing to go to the polls. Another U-turn had to be made first and then justified in their history of twists and turns. A relatively harmless excuse: pinching a dead tiger. They insisted that there was a reasonable threat to the holding of free and fair CA polls in presence of the monarchy, even ceremonial with the parliament already stripped the king of the privilege of head of the state. They put the condition of immediate abolition of monarchy and declaration of Nepal as a republic a precondition for going to polls. That put the ruling parties in dilemma. With the CA polls about to be held to decide everything, proclamation of such historical importance could not be just made. That would indeed raise a question in the relevance of the polls itself. Faced with the devil and the ocean on two sides they played a trick with the game of words: Nepal would indeed be declared a republic but the implementation would take place only after holding the CA polls. As in the old Nepali adage 'Killing snake without breaking the stick' the Maoists also could boast to have brought republic in Nepal.
That hurdle was thus crossed and the likelihood of the polls being held increased significantly. Still the final hurdle to the polls was to come few months before the declared date of polling. In the 'agitating season' of the previous year, i.e. March-April, the first Madhes uprising had laid the foundation of prominent regional powers in the region. A new political party had been formed by the Madhesi leaders who had defected from different political parties in the period that intervened. The first massive uprising in the Madhes the same season of the previous year had culminated in an agreement between the two sides in restructuring the state into a federal one with end of discrimination to the Madhesis. With the Maoists no longer opposing the polls the regional parties united to agitate once again with the declared objective of forcing the government to implement the agreements of the previous agitation.
The chaos once again followed as the regional parties declared the strike and that was one factor that had helped in bringing the PPPs and the Maoists together when they played the magic trick of abolishing the monarchy. The agitation largely followed the pattern of the previous one with further radicalization of both Madhesi secessionists and the Pahadi chauvinists. Daily life was crippled in the hilly regions as well, since the import of commodities including the fuel was virtually halted. The turmoil worsened as each day worn on with news of fatal clashes between the protestors and the police.
There were few basic differences in the contexts of the two Madhes uprisings. The first one was largely the product of the ethnic sentiments that rose in the vacuum left by apparent end of the ideology-driven conflict. The precipitation was caused by the outburst of the fury of people triggered by a sense of being cheated as the new arrangement was emerging with old features. Staying in Terai for five years that preceded the turmoil, what I have always felt is that it is not the mere discrimination of the Madhesis in apparent ways as the lack of representation in administrative or political posts that was the prime factor behind the sentiment. Instead it was the racial sentiment among the Pahadis that was expressed subtly but frequently with the intention to insult the Madhesis. It was so pervasive that it didn't spare anyone, from a manual worker to a professor. This ugly face of social dynamics in Nepal was exposed when a mildly derogatory remarks of an Indian actor precipitated a shameful burst of communal violence in Nepal with well-educated Pahadi youths indulged in vandalizing the property and attacking the Nepalis of Terai origin (then the term Madhesi was little used).
Now that the agitation with unprecedented strength was in place, every other Madhesi person found himself despising anything Nepali while recollecting the petty insults that had been forced to him in the past. That bore the concept of 'Madhes' as an independent state. Furthermore the Madhesi leaders had long tried to portray the image of the Terai-Madhes as the one deliberately colonized by the rulers by promoting the migration of the people from the hills. This concept of 'semi-colonial state' also gained prominence with increasing radicalization of the masses.
The response of the majority of the people in the hills to the agitation in Madhes was a cocktail of apprehension, confusion and ire. The racial sentiments increased further as most of them were unable to admit that the Madhesis had been insulted in the past by them. Some even thought that the Madhesis deserved whatever they got in the past because of their inherent nature. The people from upper and upper-middle class cursed the Maoists for having brought all this misfortune to the country by bringing the agenda of ethno-racial discrimination that were beyond prominence during the decade of parliamentary politics. Others viewed it as a step in inevitable collapse of Nepal.
The dynamics of the first Madhes uprising, however, was not limited to these tendencies. The most prominent outcome of the uprising was the realization among the Pahadi people that insulting and humiliating the people in the south would cost them high. Even though their contempt for the Madhesis increased, the realization was that it was no longer affordable to consider them 'inferior'. Many people of pahadi origin living in Terai admitted that the Madhesis had been living as second class citizens within Nepal in the past and now it was the turn of the Pahadis in the Terai to face the status. The term 'Madhesi' thus suddenly ceased to mean insult and contempt and began to symbolize the new and evolving identity of the people. In many places in the Terai, it became a usual practice to classify people into 'Nepalis' and 'Madhesis' often without any ill intention.
With all these deep-seated changes in the background, the second Madhes uprising was more coherent and focused in the agenda though the vigor of the first one was not reached. The Madhesi political parties that were more organized than in the previous year were firm at institutionalizing the achievements: both tangible and intangible ones. The defection of prominent leaders and cadres had further weakened the position of the larger political parties in the Terai. The overwhelming frustration leading from the stagnation that pervaded the country had transformed itself into more radicalized communal sentiments among the Madhesi people.
Faced with the formidable challenge, the political parties in Kathmandu were no longer in visibly odd terms with each other and were now focused on settling the Madhes uprising in order to hold the CA polls at scheduled date failure to do which lead to insurmountable disaster. That is indeed the irony of Nepali history: someone has to threaten our existence before we can unite meaningfully. The cards that could be thrown were, however, limited as the agreement with the agitators the previous year included major issues like the inclusion of a clause promising to make Nepal a federal state in to the interim constitution. The demands this time included ones like the mass entry of the Madhesi youths into the organs of the state like the army and the police in order to ensure proportional representation.
With the agitation to have lingered for many days, some kind of settlement became essential for both the sides. As after every other agitation, finally the two sides sat for the negotiations that failed to make any headway initially. The fact that the dates for the polls had been declared earlier linked the outcomes of the negotiations directly with the fate of the polls. With the armed outfits in Terai determined to obstruct the polls in the Terai, withdrawal of the regional political parties from the arena would mean a meaningless or even counterproductive role of the polls in bringing stability to the country. This ground reality worked in favor of the agitators in the negotiation table and they made a pretty use of it. At a point the talks nearly collapsed as the agitators stood firm in opposing the holding of polls in scheduled date. That also saw a difference of opinion among the component parties of the alliance formed for the agitation and a brief confusion followed.
The popular sentiment throughout the country was in favor of stability in the country at any cost. The CA polls were now the only way to achieve it. Despite their ethnic grievances, the Madhesi people were also in a dire need of stability and law-and-order. The achievements in terms of the recognition of their identity had but come at a cost of many untoward developments. The activities of the armed groups had similarly made the ordinary people exhausted with the violence that often included the Madhesi people. Any force opposing the polls would eventually help them and they would be dominant the moment the presence of Nepali state ceased to exist in the territory. Out of dozens of them, with many of the outfits a plain gang of dacoits claiming to fight for the rights of the people, that would sure mean a disaster for the people.
The moment the government rejected outright the demand to withhold or postpone the polls, the agitating groups had no midway option: either they should go to the polls striking an agreement with the government or they should collaborate with the armed groups in driving the state of Nepal away from the territory of Madhes sabotaging the polls. Given the chance of faring well in the polls that could be held in a reasonably fair way with their cooperation, the agitators finally agreed with the government and the final hurdle to the polls was passed.
THE VISIBLE AND FORMAL DUELS
In the two years that intervened between the polls were declared and they were actually held, there arose many other hurdles that were easily visible unlike the ones that we described till now. In fact, no party was ready to go to the polls in a way that would lead to its defeat. By any means, they had to ensure their victory or reasonable gain. That led to the marathon debates about the modes of holding the polls. With its largest size till then, the NC was more than sure that it would benefit from direct election of the candidates who secured the largest number of votes. The UML with its past experience of having to stand second in number of seats won despite garnering the largest number of votes, was firmly in favor of the proportional system. The Maoists with no such clear assessment eventually agreed with the middle-of-the-way approach with the 'mixed' system.
The issue of proportional representation of all the category of people in all sectors of the state was persistently gaining ground over the period making the proportional mode of holding polls a popular slogan. The indigenous and other ethnic outfits raised this issue with top priority. They even organized strikes in the same line as the Madhesi uprisings and negotiated with the government with the chief demand of making the mode of polls proportional. The NC-led government was, however, ready to do anything but the one that would decrease its likelihood of winning the elections.
When the parties played the magic trick of playing the game of words to abolish the monarchy, this issue of proportional representation also accompanied the main issue. The Maoists, with the bitter experience that they had lost ground for having backed from the assurances given to the people, withdrew from the commitments they had made with the government. With full vigor, they demanded the polls to be held in perfectly proportional basis instead of the mixed one that they had agreed earlier. As every other makeshift settlement of the problems in the history of Nepal, this one was also settled by increasing the share of those to come from the proportional basis while keeping the mixed system as such. That swelled the number of total no. of prospective assembly members but this fact was not going to harm any party directly.
THE FINAL PREPARATION FOR THE POLLS
Finally the polls for the CA were going to be held. The only forces opposing the polls now were the disgruntled armed outfits in the Terai and few extremist caste-based outfits of eastern hills. Even though the Maoists claimed that the king was dead set at disrupting the polls before playing the magic trick, the traumatized king Gyanendra did not see the risk of upsetting the developments worth taking. That would indeed worsen his future that was already bleak.
Given the experience of the turbulent two years, nobody had actually expected the polls to be held as smoothly as they did eventually. The weeks prior to the elections came to herald a major trouble as a candidate was murdered in a suspicious way in a mid-western district and many maoist cadres were shot dead by the security personnel of a candidate in other district in the western region. These incidents made the apprehension of the people worse as the day of showdown approached.
The security issue had been of major concern ever since the Terai had descended into ungovernable chaos with recession of the security forces to the district headquarters. Many leaders had suggested that the army be mobilized for the security purpose during the polls. That was, however, practically forbidden by the Comprehensive peace Agreement between the government and the Maoists. The Maoists were swift in reacting that their army should also be mobilized for the purpose if the NA was to be used for the purpose. The reasonable option now was the mobilization of the two police forces aided by temporary recruits during the polling day. Many thought this arrangement to be reckless as it exposed everyone to insecurity while the army stayed idle in the barracks.
The other potential obstacle to the fair polling came from a section of Maoist guerillas who had metamorphosed into the new body called YCL and drawn a huge crowd of young unemployed behind them. All other parties were apprehensive of them even as they tried their most to make the best use of their youth wings for the purpose.
THE PRE-POLL ALLIANCES
Two alliances for the CA polls became conspicuous for their failure to materialize. The first one was the much-talked leftist alliance between the UML and the Maoists. Having seen their bases eroding day and night, the Maoists were apprehensive of a humiliating defeat in the polls. Furthermore, they had been able to do little to break the traditional strongholds of the NC and the UML. What was to potentially follow was the chipping away of whatever they had gained by the regional parties and reproduction of the old result in the areas of traditional NC-UML dominance. In desperation, they literally begged the UML for help by making a mutually beneficial arrangement in which they were ready to give UML the share it deserved going by the result of the previous polls. After UML firmly refused the proposal after initial vacillation so characteristic of the party, the Maoists requested for a last favor: help each other in electing the leaders of both parties by withdrawing the candidacy of each other's candidate from the region.
For UML, it was the ultra-left rhetoric of the Maoists, that it had long abandoned, that made any alliance of that kind uncomfortable. The other factor was its reluctance to corner the long term ally NC by aligning with the Maoists that had repeatedly used and thrown the other forces ever since the insurgency. As the Maoists claim, it was after a lecture by the Indian establishment to its leader that the UML backed from its implied commitment to collaborate with them. The main factor behind the failure to make the alliance was, however, the confidence of the UML leaders and cadres that they could fare as good or even better by going to polls alone. They were not fool enough to shoulder the Maoists so that they would gain some ground instead of a humiliating defeat. Further more, both of them being the communists, the Maoists and the UML were the rivals in the long term to occupy the political space in the left as the NC would be always there to occupy the right side. Thus, it would be a strategic blunder to rescue the prospective enemy when it was in a life-threatening trouble.
The other alliance that could not materialize was that among the Madhesi political parties which had formed one during the agitation. The attempt could not move further as the MPRF with its established base in the Terai refused to share equivalent number of seats with the other parties. The other parties were also not ready to let the MPRF disproportionately large no. of seats. Ultimately, the MPRF went to polls alone while the TMDP and the NSP formed an alliance.
THE SHOWDOWN AND THE RESULTS
The polls were held in unexpectedly calm environment. Sporadic violence and cancellation and postponement of polling in few booths were somehow inevitable in any election of its kind and they happened. Even compared to such incidents during the parliamentary polls, they were much less in number and mild in severity. The security arrangement with resource-poor police forces and the temporary recruits worked reasonably well. Most important of all, the international observers found the polls to have been held in 'reasonably' free and fair manner and from this came the legitimacy of the polls that was so crucial to avert the disaster in Nepal.
In the days that preceded the polls, guessing who would gain how much became the hobby of people. While many expected the NC to emerge the largest party taking advantage of the vote sharing between the two main communist parties, others argued that the Maoists would be unable to snatch even a seat from the UML strongholds making the chances of UML emerging the largest party high. Many UML pundits even bet that the Maoists would come to size with no more than five seats through proportional system and not a single from the direct system.
As the early results floated out of the TV screens and radio sets, however, the news was stunning. NC was lucky to win the first declared constituency. That was the end of euphoria for the NC. Euphoria never came for the UML as one top gun after another went losing to little-known candidates, most of them from the Maoists. The Maoists felt the surge of excitation as the victory poured to them from unexpected quarters one after another. In Kathmandu valley, the evergreen stronghold of the UML, they were trounced with about a half of the constituencies in the fold of the Maoists and rest to the NC. More traumatizing news kept pouring for the NC and UML as the vote-counting proceeded.
By the time the results for most of the constituencies came, the Maoists were headed for a clear majority in the direct system while they comfortably led the count in the proportional system. The poll pundits were shocked as the UML came to a size with its executive leader have lost the polls in both of the constituencies that he had fought. A winner among the UML leadership was one of the exceptions while nearly same pattern followed in NC. With humiliation, the general secretary of the UML stepped down from the post taking moral responsibility for the pathetic performance of the party. The pre-poll equation of the powers was thus upset with the other significant gainers being the MPRF and TMDP as the fourth and fifth largest political parties in the country.
Eventually the counting of the votes for the proportional system was also over in which the performance of the NC and UML was not as pathetic as in the other system. Still the Maoists were the largest party with strength in the assembly more than that of combined NC and UML.
Ever since the 12 point agreement, the national interest had been second in priority to each of the players. Despite the rhetoric, each of them intended to utilize the developments in their favor so that they could gain the ground in the changing context. At a fragile moment when the Maoists were almost sure to sustain a catastrophic loss in the polls, they had withdrawn from their commitment to participate in the polls. Now the real polls gave catastrophic results to the NC and UML, they did not hesitate a bit to retract from their commitments made about the formation of the new government that would now determine much about how and what type of a constitution would be drafted.
A serious rift dwelt for the first time since the signing of 12 points between the political parties. The pre-poll arrangement had been that a stable government would be formed after the polls with a two-third majority of the assembly members. The party that emerged largest in the polls would obviously lead the government and it would take a two-third majority to bring that government down. Now that they had no prospect of leading the new government, agreeing to let the Maoists form government in that way would mean losing everything for the NC and UML. Still letting the system with executive president as proposed by the Maoists to take hold would mean a further consolidation of the position of the Maoists. They opposed both of these provisions tooth and nail and proposed the system with executive PM, a ceremonial President and a provision of simple majority for forming and dismantling a government. That would keep the possibility of the political alliances alive as the Maoists still lacked the majority in the assembly as a whole.
As the Maoists were forced to accept both of these proposals though with a reluctance and lackluster, the concept of 'consensus' in any issue lost its meaning for the first time since the 12-point agreement. The important equations now hinged on the acquiring of a simple majority. That would now inherently herald a political instability while, the NC and UML thought, assuring the accountability of the new government that would fear the collapse.
THE CULTURAL EVOLUTION, NOT REVOLUTION
The consumerist chaos
What consumerism really means for us in this ever-changing world
WHAT matters if enough money is there? After all, everything we do in life is for earning something and then spending it for sake of the comfort though it can be interpreted variably. The life long struggles have got their precise destination: to have enough money.
This has been, at least, the hidden philosophy of majority of us if not the expressed one. Struggle to achieve the optimally convenient life style has been the quest of the mankind from the time unknown.
All the inventions and innovations have this same intention even if they turn up doing the opposite once they become operational. With every other aspect of our social life, the way in which we prioritize the things to be achieved in life has also evolved through the time. At certain point of history when the people of particular territory are struggling for liberation of their nation state, or any other major upheaval, then the sacred destination of the majority of the people ceases to be earning enough money. Many such exceptions exist, some of which have given different junctures of history the peculiar momentum. But in the ordinary times, the ordinary people have a destination far simpler than this. This one, not identical in every instance, is greatly impacted by the cultural practices of society. Without negating the variations and specificities of different societies, few cautious generalizations about the evolving culture, thus the evolving destination of people can be drawn. Here we will examine the evolution of this attribute in the last two decades in the aftermath of collapse of the USSR, because, the overwhelming influence of the major political breakthroughs in social and cultural life is worth examining with some crucial implications.
Coming to the last few decades, the traditional inter state warfare whose extreme synchronization gave rise to the world wars, though not obsolete; has given way to other more subtle and deep rooted conflicts. Thus in this world with unprecedented intermingling of the interest of people across the globe and governed by a power hierarchy founded on the politico-military strength, the conflicts have taken altogether different shapes influencing the way in which people live in every other corner of the world. After collapse of the communist regimes, the global wave of the victorious culture of ‘liberal democracy with market economy’ that evolved was supposed to have significant impact in people’s lives in the last two decades. Has it been that significant so as to justify the euphoric claims and predictions of the victors after the fall of Berlin wall? It will be prudent to explore how this wave of ‘democratization’ of the politics, the ‘liberalization’ of the economy with ‘globalization’ of these values (LDG) has impacted this world, both in term of its success and failure, particularly focusing the cultural aspect.
First talking about the failures, the ethno-cultural insinuations, many of which contradicted with the spirit of a secular and democratic governance, particularly the Oriental and the Semitic ones, faced little resistance from this supposedly western-led movement. The appeal of the religious creed was practically unscathed by this supposedly global wave. Paradoxically, religious and ethnic extremism thrived well in the vacuum created by the vanishing ideological extremism. Initially ignored or even promoted by the ‘liberals’ as the antidote to the communist authoritarianism, ethno-religious communalization of the populace has now turned out to be the most counter-productive to the goal of creating a liberal and secular world. Neo-fascist regimes thriving on this communalization are now emerging faster than ever and ironically, gaining admiration and support of the corporate giants supposed to represent the ‘creamy layer’ of the world governed by market capitalism.
Now comes the critical assessment of the role of those who have been leading this wave of LDG, with its inherent cultural legacies, in the tumultuous post-1990 world in giving it the particular shape and momentum. Enough skeptics doubt the intention itself of the US-led axis, the only surviving pole after demise of USSR, when it reiterated its sole objective to be to promote a peaceful world with utmost respect to the human rights, one of the fundamentals of liberal democracy. Indeed this goal was supposed to have come closer with elimination of an enemy who often compelled them to transgress the traditional limits of ‘rational’ violation of human rights. This skepticism is founded on the gruesome acts of the axis in the decades preceding the end of the cold war including the invasion of the Vietnam and endless massacres of Latin America through the proxy dictators, all of which forced millions of people to be maimed, displaced, and killed. It was arguably not possible for US to transform overnight, from a state sustaining the barbaric despots to forward its interest, to one meaningfully promoting the democracy and human rights in every corner of the world. Two decades later, skeptics say, that process does not seem to have even started, let alone completed; thus doubting the existence itself of the supposed wave of LDG in true sense. In these twenty long years, the axis seems little troubled by the accusations and has been intent in forwarding its agenda at whatever cost.
To intend is one thing. To perform is, of course, the other thing. It is indeed impractical to expect any state in this world to act to really promote human rights or advance the cause of the democracy whenever doing so conflicts with its interest. And not all the states in the world are lucky enough to have their interests concordant with the axis. This ground reality has a lot to do with the mythification of the global wave of democratization in the last two decades.
Now supposing the axis truly intended to promote the liberal values globally by promoting the democratic institutions worldwide, examining the performance will be the other issue we will deal here with. The post-1990 world dynamics could in no way avoid the consequences of the developments that began in an effort to defeat the USSR but had lasting implications. A follow up of these processes to contain the potentially disastrous consequences was the sole responsibility of the victors. A responsible course of action would have included addressing the new realities in the post-USSR world disposing the decades long feud of the cold war era. To point few, the dejected state of Russia deserved a treatment far better than she actually got, that characterized by the loot of the state property and the coordinated attack on her strategic interests. A sympathetic treatment by the victor powers was what was logically expected once their real enemy, the communism was defeated. That would have been the strongest stimulus to the Russians to transform themselves to the democratic future, laying the foundation for the potentially largest democracy in the world. The energized and motivated jihadists trained to fight the Soviets were never going to elope on their own as would have been most favorable to their former allies A multilateral approach to address the conflicts in different parts of the world with meaningful engagement of the regional powers and the neighbors of the subject country was essential to establish a truly pluralistic democratic world.
What was really done was, however, remote from this. The devastating ‘war on terror’ has done a lot to blur the history of the religious extremism by creating a mass hysteria. Still the stories of the abandoned mujahiddins after defeating the Soviets in the Afghanistan now come to haunt the conscience of the ‘liberals’ as the war against them in the Pak-Afghan front is being increasingly lost. Coming to the treatment given to the defeated Russia, this was a remote reminder of the treaty of Versailles that ended the WWI but laid the foundation of the more devastating WWII. The impossible amount of money snatched from Germany as ‘war reparations’ and a host of other clauses humiliating the defeated side eventually gave way to the Nazism in Germany led by Hitler. Though not to the same extent, the attack on the strategic interests of the Russia by relentless expansion of NATO and a range of other activities was similarly detrimental to the peaceful and stable world. The growth of the Russian might by the formidable convergence of the soaring petroleum prices of the pre-slump years and the authoritarian determination of Putin has finally brought Russia out of the ditch excavated by the victors of the cold war. Precisely this fact has created ripples in the ‘by and large stable’ world order, exemplified by the brief Russia-Georgia war. The days to come are sure not to be as smooth unless a radical change in US policy follows the changed administration in US.
The blatant disregard of the role and engagement of the agencies other than the cliques of the US executive has characterized all the major international events in the last decade. The role of this unilateral approach to the conflicts and other problems has now been widely held responsible for making this world an unprecedentably dangerous place to live.
Coming to the successes of the wave of LDG, creation of tremendous amount of wealth, though not all real, brought prosperity to millions of people worldwide regarded as the ‘emerging middle class’. The wealth creation was particularly impressive in the former communist states like China, Vietnam and the states with formerly socialist economies like India. The consistent growth of the already prosperous economies of the west and those in the east integrated with the west like Japan, Singapore, South Korea also characterized these pre-Slump years. The exponential rise in the number of the billionaires was taken as the indicator of irreversibly prospering populace.
After this brief digression, we will again come to the matter of evolving culture during the period, particularly with respect to the successes of the LDG wave. The most significant aspect of this evolution was obviously the spurt of consumerism. The vanishing appeal of the utopian world of communism was matched by that of the glowing advertisements of everything from those of shampoo to crude sex. Thousands of women in the former USSR literally locked by the communist regime were now free to venture in the brothels of Western Europe and America. More lucky ones would now get the opportunity in the fashion world or the beauty pageants. These were the only feasible and viable options for the bulk of women who lacked the expertise to compete for more decent jobs. Neither was it possible to sustain life as earlier since the whole world with all its pomp and luxury had opened itself up through the television sets.
It was hypothesized that by allowing everyone in this world to compete with each other to gain wealth, we would be traveling to infallibly prosperous world. Even if few people were always privileged to earn disproportionately more than the others a proportion of this wealth thus created would ultimately trickle down to those less fortunate ones thus enabling them to consume more and thus sustaining the cycle. To a doubtful extent this theory did well prompting the guarded economies like that of India to open up. Thus the entry of millions of people into the potential consumers of a range of commodities once barely imaginable was matched by the fierce competition among the corporate giants to produce them. The off-shoring of the American and Japanese industries to the China and Taiwan gave this process a crucial momentum combining the cheap labor with the large-scale investment. Things once beyond reach for the people with low income now ceased to be so. The shining world glowing in the TV screen provoked people to do nothing but to consume. This development had thus enormous impact on the people’s outlook, again virtual if not real. The evolving culture was thus centered on sustaining a certain level of consumption irrespective of the other factors like matching it with the income of the individual or the family. The life without certain amenities that was usual few decades back now literally symbolized the destitution.
THE COST OF SUCCESS
The exploding consumerism had, however, utterly variable impacts in different places of the world, and even among different groups of people in the same society. In the developed countries with advanced and stable economies the spurt was matched by the salient work ethics and the dependable economic opportunities. Complemented by modestly efficient political leadership (of course not to mention the slump years!) to guard adverse developments, the spurt of consumerism did practically no harm to that part of the world. It was just opposite in the developing world, where the poor work ethics inherited from the colonial past combined with the ineptitude of the leadership to gauze the developments around the world to safeguard their interest. The surge on consumerism only helped to make them further corrupt and detached from the masses. Embezzling money to fulfill the costly wishes of the family members including the children became common among the elites. The harmless way to escape being traced for this was to further shake the already bleak mechanism for accountability.
The cumulative effect of all this has been an obscene version of consumerism where the young minds learn how to consume before learning how to earn the livelihood. By terming everything that breaks the relatively rational traditional taboos like gambling or drinking liquor as the symbol of tentative ‘modernization’, the new generation has made a mess of our cultural heritage. Smoking hashish on a certain festival mentioned in the epochal religious texts is promptly followed and even exploited to garner the otherwise illegal item for another month. The instruction to abstain from drinking liquor is, however, repudiated as out-of-date concept. The young minds are convinced through the overt or covert advertisements that drinking happens to be the harmless act of making oneself sociable; were it otherwise, the westerners should never prosper the way they did. The stark dissimilarities between the two worlds are however deliberately avoided from being realized by the ‘consumers’. The dynamics of the inter-personal relations inside a family has also similarly evolved with declining respect to the elders as the earner, the principle figure contributing the resources for consumption, happens to be the younger member of the family.
The last two decades have thus deliberately sustained the time tested parasitism of one part of the world to the other. In its latest version, it has manifested as the boom in foreign employment in the developing countries. The surge in consumption of commodities ( of course in the pre-slump years ) led to the boom in the manufacturing activities in the industrialized countries increasing the demand for the workers, preferably expecting a low salary. The influx of the migrant workers from the darker part of the world has been the boon for the investors. But, what for the workers or their countries in the darker part of the world? It has been just the opportunity to consume more items that are produced by themselves for the employers; and categorically not to invest in any productive field to sustain their own economy in the darker part of the world. This way the one event kept perpetuating the other and sustaining the profitability of the investors from the brighter part of the world. And the inevitable consequence of this cycle is the catastrophe in the darker world, the moment the system of bloated manufacturing activities can no longer sustain itself. A famine is thus always in the door of these ‘foreign employees’ who help to sustain the bubble of consumption to the greater extent possible.
THE WAY OUT
How do we face this situation then? One adage in Nepali goes like this: you should not ride your roof jealous that your neighbor is riding a horse. The other one goes like: consider your throat before swallowing the bone. The west could be scores ahead of us in many respects and we should never hesitate to learn from their innovations ranging from an advance in a scientific field to a political system genuinely benefiting the masses. However, what we can not absolutely afford is the thoughtless imitation of the way in which they consume, with dismal attention to the resources they have got. Absurdities may be their in our culture but their culture also need not be the perfect one to be followed blindly. Their model of governance could be worth following with our own specificities, but the parasitism is the least desirable form with which we interact with them.
The culture evolving in the developing countries in the last two decades was thus poorly attached with the emerging realities. A meaningful introspection by the leadership in the changed context was indispensable and that had to include cultural evolution as one aspect. The delay has already cost enough and we are awestruck by a cataclysm that is said to have originated in the (previously) brighter part of the world. Now this shows no sign of sparing any part of the world irrespective of the role it played in its inception.
It is thus the time to learn from the mistake we committed in the last two decades in an attempt to drag ourselves to prosperity without the vehicle of sustainable economic foundation. Sooner or later we’ll realize the role of the cultural developments in giving our march to the future a definite direction. A regressive cultural heritage can ruin a good economic system, as it has its imprint in the every actor of the system. The scourge of ill-founded consumerism has thus played a huge role in sustaining the darkness in our dark part of the world. This is thus the moment for meaningful introspection: can we afford to keep moving in this reactionary path? If not so, it is about to be too late to start a serious discourse on how we can avert the crisis. This article is an attempt to begin the discourse. Let’s join it.
The Miracle of Foreign Employment in Nepal
Ten years back, my village was going through a process of change. The local elected body of the communist party had implemented the radical agenda of eradicating the alcohol use and gambling. With the enthusiastic support of the youth, the program was by and large successful with the game of card being unseen even at the occasions of Tihar. The impact of this in the social life was tremondous especially with those with lower socioeconomic state having practically no access to alcoholic drinks that so often deprive their wives and children from the basic needs of food and education. With the game of cards almost obsolete the young people discovered other games like volleyball for the occasions like Tihar that promoted the physical and mental health eliminating the chance of financial devastation of many by the gambling.
What I saw in the same village this time was also a change, even more impressive, but of different kind. The young men who were so actively involved in the anti-alcohol campaign were frequently intoxicated and busy with the cards while the Volleyball courts seemed abandoned. Majority of the working-age population was already in the gulf for employment while the remaining ones were in a process to leave for there. The money thus arriving had a tremendous impact in the living conditions. Cassette-players and the CD-players were commonplace while the television sets were on way to replace them. The local shops of garments and cosmetics were booming. People could now easily purchase the rice in the market due to which the existence of indigenous crops like millet and maize was threatened. What were missing were the revolutionary cultural programs of early days. They had been replaced by the booming folk songs, ‘dohari’ programmes and the Nepali and Indian movies in the Videos.
The particularly disturbing fact was the percolation of the deadly urban poison all the way down to the villages. I could not believe at first that the drug abuse that has threatened to annihilate the urban youth had reached the rural area. With little awareness about the consequences this problem can spread soon among the rural youth creating a disaster. With the gulf money, so many other undesirable elements had also been able to penetrate deep into the rural life.
Here we will try to explore this transformation from various angles.
The new rich
Financially, the foreign employment has worked as a sort of miracle by providing a good option for those uneducated and unskilled. Earlier the school dropouts that often form the bulk of rural youth used to remain in the village with the peasantry being the only option, while only those who passed the SLC could get the chance to palpate the city. With the low productivity of agriculture with dependence in traditional methods that meant a never ending crunch of money. Especially the financial crisis would leave no reserve for the events of illness or accidents, compelling them to take loans.
The other option for the under-privileged was to move to India for jobs often poorly paid, moreover, this option too was being difficult in the last decade. This has led to increasing number of Nepalis coming back from India to fly to the gulf.
So where has this wealth gone? A graduate from a reputed university, son of a government employee argues: “The prosperity thus brought about by the foreign employment is enormous and productive. Life long savings of my father as a government employee could not spare us from taking loans to build a small residence at the end. But the people can now construct a good house after working just for few years. The other large chunk of this money goes to the education of their children that will change the face of nation in coming few decades.”
Though the skeptics of this view are not difficult to find, this perception is grossly correct. Mass migration of the village folks to the towns merely to teach their children in a private school is rampant while the increasing number of private schools in the villages promise to cover others who can’t migrate altogether. The perception that the expensive private schools provide the education necessarily better than the government schools may not be true, though.
The other side of the coin is also equally significant. With the ever-growing wealth of the agents and the manpower companies the number of those who fail to make it to the destination or those who come back without earning is increasing. The lost lives and health of an increasing number of workers, especially those involved in construction works is significant. The practically absent mechanisms for the welfare of the workers are further aggravated by the unhealthy competition by the workers from countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines and Nepal. The lack of cushion for any worker in trouble by employer or the government from Nepal or the host country has been stark.
After all the universal challenge to this trend has been the financial security of the future. For this it has been compared with the Khahare khola by the village think tanks , where the flood comes once in a year wreaking havoc but remains dry throughout all the other seasons. With absence of the opportunity of investing in the productive field, the maintenance of the life-style upgraded during the employment can cost dearly in the aftermath. Beginning some form of business with the money is an option but not that feasible for all.
Politically the foreign employment has taken a heavy toll in the communist ideology if not in the parties. The concept of the inherent difference between the wealthy and the poor, the feudal, reactionary, coercive and the proletariat, progressive, coerced has been blurred in a unprecedented way. The harsh economic reality has prevailed over the fragile political ideology. First the dissenting communist cadres began to follow their bourgeoisie counterparts and later it became an accepted practice as it was impossible to resist the trend.
The first toll taken by this was in the number of active cadres who were earlier available in cultural and other programs to keep people engaged with the politics. The second blow was the challenge to the concept of coercive feudal class trying to resist the change to maintain their hegemony against the proletariat, always coerced by the wealthy and trying to change the world. The reaffirmation of the affiliation to the party by the changed people could heal the wounded party but not the wounded ideology, instead the party was forced to welcome the things that it hated earlier. The simple life style with no cosmetics and the ornaments recommended by the party was the first to be challenged.
The emancipation by the distant proletariat revolution now seems more elusive than ever. The consequence of this radical ideological shift is to be still seen in the long run. Significantly this shift corresponds the ideological shift in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, though it took about two decades for this to travel all the way to Nepal.
Culturally the effects are more divergent and more difficult to write precisely. In one bizarre example, a woman began to behave coldly with her husband after he came back home losing his job unexpectedly after working in gulf for five years. The reason was the difficulty that would now arise to maintain the lifestyle in the absence of the income. In other one, a man who began to earn a handsome amount abandoned his ailing parents to keep his wife and child in Kathmandu after a dispute between the in-laws. In a third example, a married man came home with another wife from Kathmandu while coming back from the gulf.
As already mentioned, a ban on alcohol or gambling is beyond imagination in the villages now. The experience of the village folks in the infamous cabin restaurants and the brothels abundant in Kathmandu and other cities is an altogether new dimension to our culture. The increased flow of money in the rural area has provided an expanding market for a new range of products for consumption. The jewelleries and cosmetics for the women, fashionable clothes for women, men and children, Cassette and CD players, DVD players and television sets all have now got the direct access to the vast rural market. The impact: the city no longer remains the only place for the luxurious life.
The traditional norms of cautious spending in clothes, etc. thus stand challenged. Similarly the inter-household bonding that was essential for survival in the rural areas earlier and marked the difference between the rural and urban life has considerably weakened. The universal applicability of the concept ‘the better the education, the better the life’ has also been questioned, at least in the short term.
Most importantly the tussle between the traditional culture based on the social hierarchy with the elderly, male, higher cast, at the top and the then evolving so called Marxist culture dictating the abolition of all the inequalities has now been sidelined. The consumerist culture is thus rapidly displacing both of them with the hegemony of the market on the issue of how people can and should live. The glory that comes with the money is now luring everybody to an extent that they do not mind applying the means that were earlier unacceptable to earn money.
With increasing value of money, the cost people are ready to pay for a good earning is growing. Within few weeks of assassination of 12 Nepali workers in Iraq, at least 6 young men had reached there from my small village of fifty household, by illegal means. To earn fast and change fast they were ready to take loans upto 2.5 lakhs so that they can reach there to earn on average four times that can be earned now in traditional gulf destinations. Their determination does not falter due to any destabilizing trend in Iraq, even those who returned safely after earning 8,9 lakhs in Iraq did everything to go there again.
Even with the gruesome tales of coercion of the female migrant workers an increasing number of women are also leaving for various destinations like Kuwait, Israel or other countries.
While Japan and the European countries have been the preferred destinations among the educated and desperate youth, the process has disproportionately high risk and the cost. The scandals of the elusive agents and the forged documents have been increasing. During the maoist insurgency there used to be the flood of Nepali youths seeking the refugee status in the European countries. The fascination to be on and to earn on the better world has, however, not decreased with the end of the insurgency.
The cost of wealth
It was more than a mere coincidence when every other week a patient with mental illness told that he had been working in Malaysia at the time of onset of illness. The findings while working in the psychiatric outpatient department of a Bhairahawa-based hospital were stunning. The patients would explain their experience with a bizarre composure about the working conditions there. Many had to be fetched from there by the family members. The enormous stress resulting from the pressure to pay back the debts taken while going there in face of the poorly and untimely paid jobs with extreme working conditions had taken a heavy toll on them. As expected the devastation of the family caused by this burden of treating this illness of often the only earning person in the face of an already ruined financial status was obvious.
There could be other factors as well which could affect the living conditions of the workers, making it disproportionately worse than other countries. The recent economic depression in Malaysian economy, however, has been decisive in this regard as the employers are unable to give a reasonable amount to the workers.
The number of the death and disability resulting from the work is also increasing. With practically no mechanism to safeguard the interest of the keens in such cases, the sufferings are multiplied as the compensation and the insurance money hardly reach to the family members. In many cases bringing the body back to Nepal becomes a huge problem.
The major setback for the Nepali workers is of course the lack of qualification and the skill required for the well-paid jobs of good reputation. Many workers who have been there resent this condition in which most of the Nepalis have to work as a ‘helper’ for a slim salary while the Indians and other skilled workers can earn very high with comfortable jobs. The regressive trend of education in the villages is going to aggravate this further.
Warmth of the Urine
There is a famous proverb in Nepali that compares a momentary comfort in troubled time with the warmth given by warm urine during cold. Shortly after, the warmth goes but the wetness in the cloth remains for long the cold piercing the skin.. At once the economic boom brought about by the foreign employment doesn’t seem to resemble this warmth but once we explore the dynamics of the economies of the nations and the world and the volatility of the global job market in the liberal world, a number of similarities emerge.
Firstly, there is no assurance that the job opportunities that are relatively lucrative for us will keep on propping up in the future, even in the gulf countries. The economic boom in the gulf countries that has invited an unprecedented number of workers from Nepal and other countries in the past decade is not immune from the imminent economic depression of unknown magnitude. Failure of a company to win a contract for a construction means a termination of the job for hundreds of Nepali workers.
Secondly the jobs as ‘helpers’ paying a mere lakh rupees annually are not taking us anywhere higher than this so long as the jobs paying a lakh rupees monthly keep going to others. In the open and the competitive world what helps us getting higher and keeps there is the innovation that comes from the qualification and skill. The role of a strong foundation of education producing a spectrum of ‘genius’ in various fields can never be over emphasized. Indeed in this open world we have two-fold challenge of producing a skilled manpower and retaining even a proportion of it from evading in face of the global competition to lure them. As already in practice a qualified Nepali who has got a degree in Physics, Medicine or Engineering meets with no problem in an attempt to reach the US where the ‘opportunity’ awaits.
Third, the lifestyle change that ventures ahead of the positive change in the economy is going to lead us to trouble. So long the foundations of the nation’s economy are week, any momentary boom can easily give away to a bust.
In the history those who could timely exploit their human resources in a well-planned manner have done better than those who exploited their natural resources and incomparably better than those who could exploit neither. Fortunately we have the potential of exploiting both of them , though nothing much is done till date. Diversion of our unemployed youth outside the country is merely distracting our attention of the really serious issues of our resource management.
The way out
Discouraging foreign employment at this time is the worst option available, though continuing the same is not the best. As pointed by another university graduate, the state should do everything to bring education in the priority not only in the cities but also in the villages to revitalize its lost fascination. The means to ease the immediate difficulties of the workers like regulating the manpowers to prevent forgery, training the workers before sending them, co-ordinating with the host countries to deal with individual cases of damages to the workers can be a way to help them.
In the long run there is no alternative to building a sustainable economy where the problem of unemployment can be solved from within. Making ourselves ready to fight in the global field with help of the knowledge and skill is the only way to safeguard our existence in the competitive world. Though full of challenges the future is not, after all, devoid of the opportunities.
HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE CHANGING WORLD
I would like to begin this brief peek on human rights issues in the world by referring to the communist version of this concept: "we can’t imagine ensuring the human rights to the majority of the people so long as the oppressors of the people keep leading the country. So long as the regime has its foundation on the coercion and exploitation of the majority of people to ensure the welfare of the few in power, it becomes the mere slogan. The social structure which promotes inhuman competition to become wealthy by any means, from fraud to crime has its innate limitation in this regard. So long as the constitution safeguards the interest of the oppressors and the political system provides impunity to the rich and the powerful, how can we promote the human rights? Thus to end all the evils like human right violation, discriminations based on gender, cast, religion, and financial status, we need a political system where the majority or the proletariat rules. Crime and impunity is deep inside the foundation of both the feudalism and the capitalism both of which advocate the exploitation of the majority. We can go the courts to get the justice but the corrupt judge will free the criminal as a consequence of the under-table dealings that we never know, but we will have to suffer for life. We may seek the help of the police to catch the culprits but there always exists a rear exit in the legal system for those with power and money.
By elections, we can change the rulers but not the inherent ruling mechanism with knee-deep corruption, inefficiency, hypocrisy and nepotism. The concept of the human rights will always remain different in the theory and the textbooks from that in practice. Ultimately the only way to safeguard the interest of the people including the protection of the human rights, is to demolish this mechanism to establish the people’s rule through the revolution led by the proletariat."
With little doubt most of these allegations to the present political system are true and they can’t be sidelined as propaganda. Indeed the concept of human rights has suffered a huge setback in the present system. But when we come to the solution as pointed by the communists, it doesn’t go as smoothly. Particularly, the relevant records in the communist states in the past have not been that impressive and the gross disregard to the protection of the human rights has acted as a trigger in the collapse of those regimes.
The political set up has been an important determinant in this regard. The decades old confrontation between the communists and the capitalists characterized by the cold war is over now. But a crucial dispute still exists: does capitalism intend to ensure welfare of every citizen as advertised or inherently select a few for whose interest those of the others are to be sacrificed?
The fundamental flaw in the traditional communist states was that the process of choosing a leadership on behalf of the proletariat masses was soon skewed. This soon led to the emergence of an authoritarian ruling elite theoretically representing the masses but not fundamentally different from any other dictatorship. The spirit of the ‘commune’ or togetherness of the people thus changed into the evolution of a hierarchy with the role of the masses limited to living a life as outlined financially, socially and culturally by the ruling elite. The cultural revolution in china defamed for the cruelty of the communist forces to the dissenters and the alleged purge or killing of them exposes the vulnerability of the communist regimes to take extreme courses with little control of the masses over the rulers.
Given the innumerable experiences worldwide, where capitalism has induced, promoted, sustained and institutionalized the violation of the poor people’s right to live, the question arises: how can it be regarded as the better protector of the human rights than communism? The latest version of capitalism with crucial role of the media in shaping the attitudes of people has categorically subverted this discourse thus projecting itself as the best protector of the human rights. Practically this term thus implies different meanings in different contexts, giving different criteria for its violation with respect to different people.
The execution of Saddam Hussein in charges of violating human rights by killing the dissidents was given much publicity. But now it has been established that the whole adventure of Iraq war was the collusion of the sadistic attitude of the Bush administration with the fabricated hypothesis of the WMD. The flip-flop of the previously credible intellectuals in the US and the west on the issue is amusing to see. The uniform criteria to judge the HR violation would have justified the reciprocation of the Hussein’s penalty to Bush once the hoax of the WMD was exposed, for massacre of the more than six lakhs of Iraqi civilians. But this never happens here and Bush will now serve the humanity through some charity. This is where exactly the present day scenario matches the most barbaric moments in the history diluting the memories of brutalities of the communist era. Significantly, everything seems to be running smoothly now with no threat to humanity as in the past just because our media is able to present the things this way.
The impotence of the liberal democracies, the civilian governments was exposed during the foreplay of the Iraq war when the massive demonstrations worldwide could make no difference in the chain of events. Even now, there are Americans who have done anything they can to flay the misdeeds of their leaders including the Iraqi catastrophe. There are Americans who have lost their precious lives resisting Israel, the illegitimate child of the US and Europe. There exists a increasingly radical group of anti-war activists. But after all, to what end is all this? The pilot less drones of the US keep killing indiscriminately the civilians of Pakistan and Afghanistan every other day. The imperial mission of the declining empire remains as such and the massacres take place one after another as the 'necessary collateral damage'.
There is however, one most prominent difference between the circumstances in which the atrocities used to be committed during the communist era and those being done so in the new and liberal world. The reaction of the communist rulers to their criticism was to isolate themselves making the access to them difficult for the media and thus the outer world. There still exists a genuine controversy in the number of people killed or purged by Stalin in the USSR in his marathon reign of three decades. Same thing applies for the purges and killings during the Cultural Revolution in Mao-led China. They did all they could to dismantle the modes of communication that passed news and information unfavorable to them. Same dictum still applies in remaining miniature communist state of North Korea and it is anybody's guess how many people die there of famine each year.
As it emerges, Capitalism has developed a far more feasible and desirable mode of keeping the media in check. Their stances in favor of the 'free' media are so polemic that few can see beyond the obvious. People are not discouraged to seek the information unlike by the communist states. Instead they are apparently induced to keep seeking for the information and entertainment through various means. Success in this objective has created a huge market for the 'Entertainment, Information and propaganda' industry making itself a double-advantage affair. The ownership of the big media houses by the elites or the corporate giants has ensured a particular way of disseminating information in which the unfavorable truths are glibly misinterpreted if not obfuscated outright. The inevitable competition in terms of the resources then favors the money-makers over the 'eccentric' or unconventional media outlets thus creating a monopoly.
This factor of invisible control of media has got crucial role in making everything look like what they actually do. In question of human rights, like in every other issue, what comes in the mainstream media is often not what actually takes place. Even when a brazen incident of HR violation by the US and Co. gets exposed inadvertently, there are few emergency measures to minimize the harm if not to alleviate altogether. The usual trick is to create one more hoax in a sensitive issue that draws all the attention of the media-driven masses while the perpetrators of the crimes get vindicated. This deliberate management of the media rather than the check on them has been quite favorable to the existence of the capitalism.
THE POST-SLUMP WORLD
Can’t you see!
Droughts and famines in our doorsteps,
Floods and hurricanes
In the order to follow,
Dark nights chasing the bright days.
Cool mornings replaced by hot humid hours.
How to tolerate, my friend!
Pigeons floating in the air hunted by the vultures,
Wings of sparrows frozen by cold,
Parrots locked in the cage.
Who’ll sing the rhyme of freedom, my friend!
Fresh air replaced by tonnes of smoke,
Water contaminated with the nuclear waste,
What to breath and what to drink,
Oceans running short of fishes,
Glaciers receding metres a month
What to quench thirst?
Throttled by injustice,
Strangled by poverty,
Ultra modern missiles targeting the villages
Where to seek asylum? My friend!
In the world growing so narrow day by day,
Where to take few peaceful breathes?
They say it is global village,
With no boundaries, no road blocks,
Only liberty and freedom.
Resources looted, manpower exported,
Trade of weapons disastrously universalized
Freedom for the powerful to do anything
From sanctions to genocides,
Guarantee of no retaliation.
Yes there are boundaries for the others
Poverty and wealth piling on two camps
The distance between them growing.
Can these boundries ever be challenged?
In the face of impending disaster
I appeal, my friend!
Are you lured by those sweet words?
Are you scared of those inhumane threats?
That can mislead for years, frighten for months,
They are not going to last for ever, my friend!
Masks of democracy, peace and stability eroding,
I can see those anthrocidal faces
Preparing to launch another attack on humanity,
To kill lakhs, displace millions
For sake of few thousand ‘people’
My friend, can’t you see them laughing insanely
After their successful mission to assault humanity.
I wrote this poem long before the economic turmoil unfolded itself in this world. My instincts told that the system was somehow unsustainable as such. The version given about the prospective fate of the world was deceptive, I often concluded. This contributed to my fascination towards the unconventional thinkers of the time, to name few: Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy and of late, Tom Engraldt.
HOW THE TURMOIL SET ITS FOOT
For long I could not draw any meaning from the early news of financial mishaps. The terms like toxic and sub prime mortgages, insolvency, foreclosures, liquidity crunch, etc. were confusing enough for any beginner in the subject of economics. Probably, the term 'Wall Street' was the one to appear most repeatedly in the newspapers in those days. The reference of the Reaganites and the Keynesian model also appeared frequently. The discourse about regulation-deregulation and the question of erecting 'protectionist barriers' reminded me of what I had read in Freedman's book. I was then barely aware of this magic thing called investment banking in which the assets could be created and multiplied making people rich without any real work done. Somewhat like Enron scandal that I had read about a year back registered in my mind when I heard the news of collapsing giant institutions that dealt with money and wealth. In Nepal we are oblivious with all these things and it was usual for me to lag in the learning process.
As the turmoil worsened and I followed it with keen interest, I discovered that, to my surprise, the phenomenon was equally enigmatic to even the economists and the policymakers. Their predictions deceived them one after another and they had to make corrections within a month or so of predicting. They might have got no problem with the terminology the way I did, but their attempt to read the dynamics of the evolutions in advance and place the measures to avert the crisis met with little success. Eventually, what was declared to be a limited outbreak turned out to be a global pandemic.
I am still not familiar with the minor developments that constitute the evolution of this giant system of world economy. But what I have observed is quite easy to comprehend: the turmoil has caused the industries to shut down, forced the workers to unemployed status, the petroleum producers to decrease both the amount and price of the fuels. All this has led to a drastic reduction in the consumption of the commodities giving further blows to the fragile industrial sector. The banks are running short of cash and are reluctant to lend people the money. The share markets are seeing their worst days with failed recovery of the stock markets after the initial panicky nose-diving. The people are apprehensive everywhere if not already suffering from the impacts of the turmoil.
How do we comprehend this phenomenon that is variably explained as financial turmoil, crisis, recession, depression, slump, etc.? This obviously leads to hunger, unemployment, poverty and destitution. This brings social unrest and a spike in the crime rate. This, to be precise, is one of the most hostile enemies of the mankind. What is the root cause of this phenomenon then? Is it avoidable or is it inseparably coupled with the system of capitalism? Has the Bush administration in the US been vicariously held responsible for something that was inevitable or did his deeds determine the timing of the turmoil? Was it possible for the system of Capitalism to avert a crisis of this magnitude by some cautions? This is a set of questions after searching answers for which, a new set of issues arise that need to be addressed: How badly will this turmoil threaten the status quo? How deep and how long would this prove out to be? Will this accelerate the process of changing the power equation in the world? What will happen to the theme of deregulation in economy that has been applied axiomatically in the last few decades?
While exploring the causes of the Great Depression of thirties, Nehru gives an enviably simple cause for the turmoil. "Essentially it was due to the unequal distribution of the surplus income produced by capitalism. To put it differently, the masses did not get money as wages and salaries to buy the goods they had produced with their work. The value of the products was greater than their total income. The money which, if it had been with the masses, would have gone to buy these goods, was concentrated in the hands of relatively few very rich persons, who did not know what to do with it. It was this superfluous money that flowed out in loans from America to Germany and Central Europe and Latin America . It was this foreign lending that kept war-worn Europe and the capitalist machine functioning for some years, and was yet a cause of the crisis. And it was the stoppage of these foreign loans that finally brought the crash."
That tells a quite a lot about the current turmoil also. It was exactly the same superfluous money that led to the spurt in investment banking and share market speculation this time. The money with the riches could not sit idle and it had to be multiplied by means whether scrupulous or not. That led to the breach in the financial norms as it was necessary to multiply the assets of the elites whose interests were concordant with that of the executives of the monetary institutions. Like in case of the great depression, it was this excess liquidity that helped to sustain the economy that was bloated in last few years leading to sky-rocketing price of the petroleum just prior to the crisis. That makeshift arrangement was simply unsustainable and collapsed when it was due.
In six or seven decades that intervened between the two great hitches to capitalism, there have been a lot of advancements in many fields including science and technology, communication and what not. The essence of the system of capitalism, however, remains the same. The invisible coupling of the system with the auxiliary systems like the armament industries remains similarly intact. The world was in tatters after the WWI when the great depression engulfed the world with the vigor of the world war itself. Yet at the end of the turmoil a more disastrous WWII followed. All of these acted to create and sustain human misery for decades. The present world has been similarly ravaged by conflicts, most of them with their root at the pretty interests of the dominant world powers. The unscrupulous greed of the industrialized states to the oil and other natural resources has been at the core of the most of the notorious and devastating conflicts in Africa and elsewhere. The invasion of Iraq was the most visible intervention in the regard and drew the ire of the people worldwide. The living conditions of the people who live in the conflict-zones now are not much better than those of the people during the world wars.
The most prominent difference between the two craters through which capitalism has passed, however, is that there was a part of the world different and untouched by the great depression. Even as the capitalist world was in its struggle for life, the communist world in the USSR was busy expanding its economy. Now, however, the USSR has already seen a disgraceful exit from the world stage making the system of capitalism practically unchallenged.
In the last two decades it has been pretty well argued that the economic recession and depression like the great one is an exception rather than a norm in the life-cycle of capitalism. The regulatory mechanisms placed after the Great Depression were dismantled one after another, especially in the later decades with the same presumption. The growing number of the 'middle-class' people was taken as the disproval of the socialistic presumption that a section of people has to be impoverished to see the other section enriched by the competition in capitalism. The trickle-down hypothesis was promoted vigorously as the only remaining way of alleviating poverty now that the system of communism was gone.
Beyond all these things that were visible at the surface, however, something else was brewing behind the curtain. The pro-rich policies taken in the US and other countries were causing a formidable transfer of wealth from the poorer people to richer ones. At the outset, the worker class and the so called middle classes were oblivious to all this as it was masked by the boom in economy that was largely aided by ever-advancing technology. The concentrated wealth in the hands of the elites and the investment by them also helped in growth of the industrial sector. This in turn, contributed for a high demand of the petroleum thus the higher price and the important incentive to the economies of the petroleum-producing countries like Russia.
There was, however, a limit to how much one could invest in industries that really produced goods as the production had been constantly being built up in the last few decades effectively outstripping the demands from those who could purchase them. That led to the unprecedented boom in investment banking and the undue speculation in the stock markets. The banks now had to invest the money that had accumulated and that did not go well with the proper risk assessment that was the norm. That was to manifest later as the intractable problem of 'toxic' mortgages. The crash in the stock markets was something inevitable as it solely depended on the confidence of the investors and this was the first to suffer after the early symptoms of the turmoil appeared.
A vicious cycle was then set in which the giant money-making institutions collapsed one after another. That caused the panic and people rushed to take back their asset from the vulnerable forms like the shares in such institutions. The banks thus dried up and the share markets crashed. The industries financed by the banks suffered an acute shortage of money. The provisions of paying for the commodities like cars in installments to the banks were almost scrapped. There was thus the drastic fall in the demand of the commodities and the loan-deficient industries suffered further having to fire the bulk of their workers resulting in unemployment and a further dip in the demand of the commodities.
THE REACTION TO THE TURMOIL
In the new era, the worker is apparently not as deprived from an opportunity to become rich as used to be in the past. Indeed the talk about the transformation of the economy from one with a vertical control with top-to-bottom hierarchy to one with horizontal relationship with the help of new and breathtaking technologies has been in air for long. The bulk of the prospering middle classes in countries like India and China is taken as the prime example of this phenomenon. The consumption by this emerging 'riches' had indeed cushioned the industries by ensuring the sale of the commodities they produced till the turmoil hunted them. The people who had come out of poverty in China, India and Russia in the last two decades were also grateful to the liberal economic system.
That was, however, the end of the good part. With the barriers of state regulation dismantled one after another, there was no limit to how much one could encroach to the interest of the others, and to be precise, that of the bulk of public. That was where the thing called 'competition' came with full vigor as all moral or ethical restrictions were lifted as the nuisance of 'regulation'. The corporate giants were now in a position to exercise their clout in the highest echelons of power and ensure that the policies taken by the state were favorable to them. They could literally buy and sell the politicians. The executives of such institutions were thus the ones behind every decision taken in the regard.
To elucidate further in the matter, now onwards I'll include comments in context of the slump by few anonymous civilians to the state of affairs in the US posted to an online discussion forum. An impressive comment reads: This is what passes for democracy in the United States. Our elected officials are not servants of the people, they are hired mercenaries for the wealthy elite.Or the other one that goes like: Tossed from my job like a used condom and sitting here watching as these wolves and hyenas rip apart what's left of our country, the sad truth is we'll all doing nothing. It hasn't sunk in yet that Obama and company will more then likely do nothing more then change the linen for these bastards.
In the US, the rage and frustration of these people seems to be directed to the way the new administration is dealing with the matters. The onset of the turmoil corresponded with the last months of GW Bush in white house and he has been complimented with responsibility of precipitating the crisis at the moment it did by a host of policies that facilitated a massive transfer of wealth from the poorer people to the richer ones. That was indeed what contributed decisively in McCain's pathetic loss in the polls and the emergence of Obama as the symbol of hope and change. The compliments for Obama for dealing with the crisis the way he is doing are not pleasant either, as one of them goes like: The difference between Obama & Bush is that one is an ignorant clumsy salesman for US militarism, imperialism, & plutocracy; while the other is a well-spoken & polished salesman for the exact same things. The other reads: "That's the long & short of it. The very people who got obscenely rich by swindling the public through various unregulated Enron-style operations during the Bush years, are now being offered trillions of dollars & guarantees by the federal government, to "partner" with government in order to "rescue" the financial system. What a deal!"
These rebels within the US have been long arguing against the presumption that true democracy has
existed in the US and have been sniffing at the argument that the US has been long devoted to promoting democracy in every other state in the world as claimed. Here goes another comment in response to the enraged expression of other civilian: "Ahh, some outrage. Anger. Frustration.
Your rage is understandable. But you are no different to the millions who increasingly feel the impotence to address their frustration, incapacitated by the rotten perverted democratic system, stifled by the corporate crony mass media and rendered powerless by banksters, lobbyists and bullshiticians………………. Compared with the pandemonium to come, we have lived in cosy ambivalence, many in blissful ignorance. This was indeed a stable state even if there was some ‘variation’"
If that is how the people in world's most advanced 'democracy' feel like, our feelings are sure to be more frustrating if not gloomy. A discourse is now underway in the west on the role of what this commentator calls corporate crony mass media, though the communists have long been flaying the supposed 'free media' praised so much by the rest of the world. Now that the same 'free media' has only helped in the drive of the plutocrats to obfuscate everything unfavorable to them, the voices from the middle classes are also being directed against this virtue. Ever since the Iraq war executed under the animated pretext of WMD, the role of mainstream media had come under scrutiny but it had not been as repulsive as now after the onset of the turmoil
'Cosy ambivalence' and 'blissful ignorance' are something we have been long accustomed to. That is what the crony mass media has promoted with so much vigor. And it is going to take quite some time before the thorns of the emerging reality prick us. Someone else writes: "Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors... it is not supposed to make any sense. If you can't win people over with truth, bamboozle them with elaborate BS. All I see is homage to the twin demons of Mammon (the banks/bankers "deserve" this capital infusion for bankrupting not only our nation, but others? Millions fated to go hungry and/or homeless over these shenanigans) and Mars (never question the egregious sums thrown at the MIC and its Darth Vader lords of ostensible, unapologetic destruction)
The US psyche is sick, and the leaders serve the illness rather than the cure. The whole thing is so disgusting and distressing as to render one insane with grief, anger, and disillusionment"
Grief, anger and disillusionment, that is what is ruling the day. That has been, it seems, only worsened by what the Obama administration has been doing in an attempt to avert the worse. The contentious issue of bailing out the banks and financial institutions with the public money was presented as the 'unpleasant but indispensable' step in helping the economy to recover. As someone else notes:
"the bailout money is not "for failed banks". here is what a famous progressive economist just told me about who has been and will keep getting most of the bailout money.
'...the Congressional Research Service states that the wealthiest 1%
increased their share of the returns from wealth from 37% ten years ago to
57% five years ago, [so] my estimate is 70% of the derivatives and other gambles are by the richest 1% today. And [...] my guess is that about 50% accrue to the top 0.1%.'"
The figures are staggering and that is what everything has been in the last decade. There has been a staggering rise in the number of people who gained the 'middle class' status. There was a staggering rise in the demand of luxury items and that was why the industries saw a boom. The increased Purchas ability of this evolving class saw a similar hike in the demand of cars and other motor vehicles. But the moment we began to imagine that eventually there will be a car for everyone in this planet and gear-started a production in that scale, the assumption was bound to go wrong and it did actually.
THE PARADIGM SHIFT
As one keen observer comments: "All this could have been foreseen by anyone who has studied history, specifically the history of the Dutch and the British as world economic powers. In both cases the end came when they went from making money out of making goods to making money out of shuffling money. " Indeed, the glorious way of making money out of shuffling money has lured people in an unprecedented scale in the modern world.
Germany reshuffled its money by allowing extreme hyperinflation of its currency after the WWI so that it could pay the internal debts of the war out of nothing. Other European countries also did so though not to the same extent. That was, however, the compulsion for the war-ravaged economies. In the nineties and in the new decade, a different form of shuffling money came into existence and rapidly grew in scope. In the new game that involved shuffling of money, few people were in a position to use and misuse the money of thousands of civilians. The system sustained itself until recently as the thing called trust of the people existed and worked provisionally. That was, however, not going to last forever. Greed is something that has been dragging capitalism through uneven terraces of time and it has been behind the grandiose propositions about emancipating the mankind through the unlimited prosperity to be brought by the unhindered free trade. The trust succumbed easily as few of the early corporate scandals could no longer be hidden. That suddenly made people realize how the greed factor had been working throughout and how it could upset the system that demands but does not ensure the honesty of the players more than the accountability that can be observed perfectly by 'cooking the books'.
The other paradigm shift that has worked with the above factor to precipitate the crisis is related with the production of the commodities. Literally, the primary objective of producing goods has been to optimize the profit for the investors ever since the industrial revolution, rather than fulfilling the demands of the consumers, which has been always secondary. This tendency has only accelerated in the last few decades. That much was, as such, acceptable so long as a section of the populace was getting richer increasing the demand and thus consuming the commodities. Indeed that was why the mainstream media praised the middle class so much on behalf of the elite investors. The scientific innovations that facilitated the production making it faster and cheaper to produce goods with better quality were also praised for the same reason: all of them ensured the ever better means of making profit.
This absolute focus on the promotion of consumption to boost the production, which is in order to maximize profit, has had important implications beyond the cycle. Taking example of China with its central role in the spurt of the world economy just prior to the turmoil, the domination of the world market with the Chinese products had come at a price. The environmental cost of the growth has been enormous with intractable pollution of the water and the air. The exhaustion of the other natural resources has been similarly problematic. The deprivation of a section of the populace from an opportunity to move up in the economic hierarchy has been more than important making a social turmoil imminent. The other far-fetched implications have been like the need of the Chinese rulers to compete with the US in propping up repressive regimes in other countries in order to secure the natural resources.
By any standard, this tendency had been comfortably acceptable to every side so long as the system was working well. Compared to the poverty that the reformist Deng had inherited from the Mao-led China, the accomplishments in reduction of the poverty were impressive. The establishment of the Special Economic Zones with unprecedented preference to the interests of the investors vis-à-vis the workers similarly made it possible to boost the export trade making the trade surplus a norm and establishing a strong national economy. The off-shoring of the industries from the US similarly combined the cheap labor of China with the 'superfluous' money and technical expertise of the west. Availability of cheaper versions of every other commodity from simple one to sophisticated one was what was gained by the world market.
We are, nonetheless, increasingly tempted to conclude now that the free trade under the lassaiz-faire economy does have its limits and an export-led growth of the economy harbors an inherent vulnerability to the fluctuations in the demand of the commodities. Now that the system has been decompensated and the demand of the commodities has slumped, the ones to be hit worst have been the Chinese workers, mostly the unskilled and relatively poorly paid ones who had lost whatever land they had earlier in their drive to move 'up' to the urban conglomerates in search of better jobs. The issues of the protests and the imminent social turmoil in China that we have discussed earlier are now increasingly gaining prominence as gloomier news keep flowing about the economic indices.
In a nutshell, the system that has kept everyone happy in the boom times has now hit some groups worse than the others in the bust times. And those who have been hit hard have little effective cushion as the states struggle hard to avoid going into decompensation.
LOOKING BACK TO AMERICA
From the outset, Americans evinced a compulsion to acquire territory and extend their commercial reach abroad. How was expansion achieved? On this point, the historical record leaves no room for debate: by any means necessary. Depending on the circumstances, the United States relied on diplomacy, hard bargaining, bluster, chicanery, intimidation, or naked coercion. We infiltrated land belonging to our neighbors and then brazenly proclaimed it our own. We harassed, filibustered, and, when the situation called for it, launched full- scale invasions. We engaged in ethnic cleansing. At times, we insisted that treaties be considered sacrosanct. On other occasions, we blithely jettisoned solemn agreements that had outlived their usefulness.
Andrew J. Bacevich
a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of colonel, writing in his recent much acclaimed book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism
The US had been so far the role model for any other country that aspired to prosper in the competitive world. They were indeed the only power capable of interfering in the state of affairs in any corner of the world. That was what they exactly did by using their political and military clout in every possible state in the world. Frustrated with the current developments, however, one civilian refers to what Freud had once told: "America is the most grandiose experiment the world has seen, but, I am afraid, it is not going to be a success." -Sigmund Freud
I doubt the rage of these people represents that of every other American citizen, but the frustration and rage has reached an extreme in a section of them. Many of them are morbidly skeptical about the version of 9/11 story given to the public. One writes: . I am one who never took 911 as the event that matched the SCRIPT force-fed to the public. I suspected Bush-Cheney operatives behind it, realized Bush's father retains old CIA connections, and unlike many people who seem to think a killer will only kill foreigners, it was clear to me that these sociopaths would not blink at eliminating Americans as "necessary collateral damage" to their plans of empire. The way soldiers have always been treated, the travesty at the military hospital Walter Reed, and the newest statistics about DU exposure...shows the ease with which necessary bodies are dispensed with. Unfortunately the concept of a code of honor, the lie of patriotism and its blinded-by-the-light idiocies, and a Hollywood culture that celebrates violence all make it harder and harder to unmask the illusions and present the Truth. I hope the authors (what research!) of that long article watch their backs!
The other comment goes like: Yes, the CIA was involved in 9/11 but so was Israel. Remember those Israelis dancing and high fiving on the roof top watching the towers fall? The people that planned the event feared that if Americans set the explosives that took down the buildings they might feel some remorse for killing American people. No fear with the Israelis. They didn't flinch when they attacked the Liberty and killed the survivors who were getting away in small boats.
Do you know that scientic study of the ash from the World Trade center show there was the very latest form of thermite explosives in the ash? This grade of thermite was made by our military industrial complex right here in the U.S. of A.
Israel wanted the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. Now they want us to attack Iran
These people may be among the exceptions within the US. Even then their views are quite significant though they seldom matter in the mainstream media and thus have to come through the alternative routes, in this case, the website www.commondreams.org. Indeed their depiction of the face of the US is more realistic than the one presented by the glaring TV Channels, I assume. As other observer puts it:
"The US has become a hybrid monster that grants the fruit of all citizens' labor to those that directly trespass against us. Insurers about profits, not public health; big business about polluting assets or GENUINE natural resources, without the slightest notion of accountability; leaders that bow down before the money masters and neglect the needs of the commonwealth; a fiscal machine that churns out war at its leisure. America is so far off any sane, moral or spiritual track as to COURT disaster, or karma's patient boomerang. I hope those within this land who have tried to walk the walk and been role models of far more sacrosanct value systems will only marginally suffer. The DIE has been cast."
The discourse has advanced well to bring socialism in discussion. One observer puts:
"Marxist socialism was NOT what existed in the USSR under Lennin or Stalin. Socialism was undermined in that nation, but there is nothing to say that it always devolves into single party dictatorships. It could be said that unregulated capitalism DOES always evolve into single party dictatorship - namely fascism."
A different America can be clearly seen through the eyes of these infuriated civilians many of whom have been thrown like 'used condom' from their job as one of them puts it. They have witnessed the greatest ever transfer of wealth from below to upwards in the history. They have witnessed the massacre of the civilians in every other corner of the world, from Iraq to Afghanistan by the order from their elected leaders. They have witnessed the millions of children being starved to death by lethal sanctions that every other country in this world opposed. They have bitterly experienced how the news channels CNN et al can engineer facts out of nothing, obfuscate the reality and make a calculated supply of the rumors to the world news market. They have haplessly watched how the appeal of millions of people demonstrating worldwide fails to matter to whom; one commentator calls an ignorant clumsy salesman for US militarism, imperialism, & plutocracy. To their terror, they have been witnessing the sanctimonious deeds of the new administration that merely pretend to change the style in which the White House and Pentagon work. It is thus plausible for them to believe on the alternative explanation given to the 9/11 massacre.
The Prospective World
Bush! Your Highness
Can’t tolerate, Bush! Your highness,
Your prosperous and well secured world.
Stabbing bayonets in the bellies of the hungry,
Throwing grenades to the bodies of the naked,
Bombing the roofless from the fighter planes.
Bush ! your highness
Decapitated the heads of the Palestinian children,
Crushed the heads of the Lebananese teenagers.
Lakes of tears and rivers of blood,
Your achievements, Bush the achiever!
Animals in the zoo are mourning
For your genocides covered by bright titles,
Creatures in the homes with coke in one hand,
Whiskey in the table
Are clapping eagerly for the models,
When the nudest of the girls will appear?
In your ideal world created by consumerism.
The giant dozer of inhumanity
Rolling from Asia to Africa
From Haiti to Somalia.
Bush your highness! Your remote control
Has more power than your bible imagined.
Handful of robots in the headquarters,
Are rolling the red carpet
To receive your criminal steps.
Malodorous your foreign policy,
Scented with so called ‘war on terror’
Busy playing the fluid of sadism,
Challenging the humanitarian law and sensibility,
Who can declare you as Laden?
Hitler used the gas chambers for the holocaust,
You are using the warm beds.
From Hanoi, Kabul, Gaza to Baghdad,
From Mogadishu to Kosovo, from Beirut to Guantanamo
Hitler’s genocide was limited in one continent,
Your highness, yours in all the five.
Cease the bloody war games,
Dear bush! have a think,
Hitler never thought,
He would ever have to suicide.
History is not bound to be tamed in your cage.
Over your achievement, the river of blood,
I am fed up of looking for my image.
Bush please, do not compel me.
To stand against all your evils,
A front is active all these days.
To join it without remuneration,
I have already applied.
Bush! Your highness, this copy of it
For the information of the Pentagon.
And at the earliest,
Dispatch a troop of hunting dogs from CIA
To spy and then to kill me
I am desperately waiting for them,
Bush, your highness!
For your prosperity and security.
I originally wrote this poem in Nepali but soon was tempted to translate it into English thinking it would be a very good compliment for George Bush in the language he can understand and speak, though not that well. Now that the war mongering of Obama who had come with the promise to change is being compared with that of Bush, I wonder what the compliments for Obama would be like at the end of his term.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
The Persistence of Savagery
Israeli Misadventure: Can this stop the march of History?
The schizophrenic explanations given by Israel to the butchery in Gaza are beyond condemnability. The latest assault on UN school to kill more than forty children is the act that is not enough to render the commissions of Israel the war crimes for the neo-fanatics in the west. It is still the ‘conflict’ or the ‘incursion’ by the Israel which is to be merely placated to minimize the humanitarian crisis. It is indeed shameful for us to stay calm in our dwellings thousand kilometers away from Palestine. But this does not apply for the so called leaders and the diplomats of the world.
The uproar in the aftermath of the recent Mumbai assault by the terrorists that killed close to 160 people including few Americans and Israelis can be contrasted with the lukewarm response by the authorities worldwide to current Israeli assault in GAZA with more than 800 Palestinians killed and the killing spree still continuing. How is the terror to be defined? Is it the monopoly of those who hate the US and the establishments worldwide? This appears to be the belief of at least the ruling elites worldwide with few exceptions like Chavez who has acted promptly by expelling the Israeli ambassador from Venezuela.
It was barely shocking to hear from an Israeli diplomat how the massacre of the children in the UN school was justifiable. It was in a sharp contrast with the views expressed by a former Israeli pilot Yonatino who demanded all the actions of Israel to be stopped immediately to avert the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But all these sentiments of the common folks are to be simply disregarded so long as the elites have no fear of loosing elections or being deprived of power due to their actions. This irony represents the most unfortunate tendency of the modern world: those who have some regard for humanity do not reach in powerful executive posts and those who can do so sacrifice their humane ideas before ascending to the thrones.
The discourse that will be increasingly prominent now in this terror haunted world is this: what exactly constitutes terrorism? Much to the dislike of the ruling elites everywhere, and amidst the increasing failure of the US and allies to combat terror in many fronts, this new discourse is going to deprive them of an important legitimacy that they are still enjoying amidst the vacillating perceptions of the ordinary people. If the military might and the Jingoism of the media houses are with you then you can kill innocents and then prove them to be guilty. You can bomb the terrorized civilians intentionally and later prove that they were used as the human shields by the terrorists. The international humanitarian laws and protocols are nothing but the nuisances to be bypassed by all the means. This is exactly where the state terror converges with the ordinary terrorism throwing all its guises of respects to human rights and the like. The self perpetuating cycle of confrontation that thus begins takes its toll in the civilians who can only step in the death traps. But how long will this last?
This reminds us of the WW I that the powers had fought ‘to end all wars’. But that begot a more violent and barbaric WW II. The ‘wars on terror’ that are being fought today with indiscriminate use of the violence and intimidation of the civilians also seem to be headed to similar destination. Labeled by Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of physics department in Quaid-e-Azam university, as ‘the illegitimate offspring of the union between the US under Ronald Reagen and Pakistan under Zia-ul-haq’ , the radical extremism was well nurtured by the superpower so long as it served its purpose. The devastation of the civilian lives and the properties during the ill-famed ‘war on terror’ expanded the scope of confrontations as never before.
The current Israeli assault on Gaza is all set to break all the records of savagery in the recent history. Israel’s intention to settle the scores of the strategic setback it suffered in its assault on Hezbollah last time appears too obvious. But is this attempt going to prove to be the ‘once and for ever’ remedy to rocket attacks by Hamas as claimed by Israel? If the history were to end whenever a favorable moment for somebody came, as foolishly announced after the collapse of the USSR, this could be the case. But the events in the last two decades are enough to show how history marches despite the wishes of some to stop at a point. This call of history is the thing the US and its allies including Israel are reluctant to comprehend. History has also shown that it has its own way to punish those who refuse to learn from it. Let’s see how this task is executed this time if a war plane does not drop a cluster bomb onto our home before that.
This was a blog article that I posted in the middle of Israeli genocide in Palestine this January. This speaks much about the direction being taken by the world politics. Prominently the heinous act was committed days before the president-elect Obama was to take the oath of office in the US, replacing Bush, the architect of devastating conflicts. Symbolizing the odd inclination of the Israeli masses to the politics of genocide, the extremist right-wing leader Netanyahu has been elected PM in the subsequent polls narrowly beating the so called 'moderate' rivals who had perpetrated the crime. This irony matches well with the increasing perception among the victims of the economic turmoil in the US who are increasingly discovering the Obama rhetoric of Change to have been hollow.
The blanket demolition of the lives and property in Palestine speaks more than thousand articles in corporate media about the direction the world is taking. What really matters is the power: that is an efficient army with advanced fighting skills, an arsenal enriched with nuclear war-heads and other sophisticated technologies, a treasury with never-ending resources. The rhetoric of the rented intellectuals and think-tanks apart, this is what has been actually taking place: brutally destroying whatever happens to come on the way of petty interests of the powers. As Andrew Bacevich aptly summarizes in 'The Limits of Power': Crediting the United States with a "great liberating tradition" distorts the past and obscures the actual motive force behind American politics and U.S. foreign policy. It transforms history into a morality tale, thereby providing a rationale for dodging serious moral analysis. To insist that the liberation of others has never been more than an ancillary motive of U.S. policy is not cynicism; it is a prerequisite to self-understanding.
If the young United States had a mission, it was not to liberate but to expand. "Of course," declared Theodore Roosevelt in 1899, as if explaining the self- evident to the obtuse, "our whole national history has been one of expansion." TR spoke truthfully. The founders viewed stasis as tantamount to suicide
This has been the reason why the rhetoric of democracy and human rights always contrasts with the actual practice of the US and Co. To repeat once again the words of George Kennan: "We should cease to talk about vague and . . . unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization," recognizing that we must "deal in straight power concepts," not "hampered by idealistic slogans" about "altruism and world-benefaction” And that speaks more than any bulk of information in the mainstream media.
What is the way ahead then? Is the Obama's rhetoric of change hollow making him essentially a well-spoken & polished salesman for the US militarism, imperialism, & plutocracy as labeled by a disgruntled civilian? Is the world headed for more confrontations and thus more chaos and misery? At least from the evidences available till now, the answer seems to be affirmative.
NEPAL'S JOURNEY TOWARDS CHAOS
Nepal's great leap forward away from the devastating conflict had been possible by a single factor: the collaboration between the Maoists and the PPPs. And that was aptly symbolized by the 12 point-Agreement. Realistically we would have been still amidst an ugly conflict had the agreement not taken place or been sabotaged anytime afterwards. The agreement was, however, the culmination of certain turn of events in the history that had made it inevitable. The alternative option for each of the two sides were then far from favorable. The political future of both the PPPs and the maoists was then at risk as the king had finally decided to rule without any proxy civilian government and the maoists were obviously fighting a war that was sure not to be won.
As the months and years passed, however, each of the political parties discovered its former self that characterized them prior to the April revolt when the brawl for power and privilege was what dominated everything else. The euphoria of the uprising gradually settled leaving the parties in the same old dilemma: What is the politics for if not for enjoying power and privilege? For the maoists, on the other hand, it would be unacceptable to remain in the back seat of the national politics now that they had sacrificed so many lives with the promise to change that only they could lead. As we have already examined, there persisted a factor of conflict in the interests and the priorities of the PPPs and the maoists. That was merely suppressed by the overwhelming sentiments of the people during the uprising. It would then be practically impossible for any side to forward its interest by collaborating with the other so long as the conflict existed.
The concept of the politics of consensus had thus inherent contradictions that were going to be expressed eventually. Even as the need of the moment was a collaboration among the major players and there was evident chance of reversal of the achievements in its absence, each party was tempted to drift away from this for an obvious reason. It was the realization that someday in the future each of the parties would have to compete with one another for the political space. In that case polarizing the people for the self and against the others was thus essential. Demonizing the other side and ridiculing them for their acts was the essential part of the drive. The various conflicts thus arose as each of the political parties including the maoists began to pull out of the politics of consensus even while paying lip service to this.
It was due to all these factors that the polls had to wait for whole two years after the success of the April Revolt. Even as the polls came nearer, the polarization could only increase. The politics of consensus was the prime victim of the developments that followed the declaration of the results of the polls. Formation of an all party government with leadership of the maoists was unacceptable to NC even though the pre-poll arrangement among the parties mandated so. The inherent conflict of interest of the parties came in the fore as the humiliating defeat of the NC and the UML was enough to numb their senses.
That was where the seeds of confrontation among the political parties were formally sown that would eventually grow into the bitter conflicts in the days to follow.
THE FALLOUT: THE DIVISIVE ELECTIONS FOR THE PRESIDENT AND PM
The developments that took place during the election of the president and the PM were indicative of what course the national politics was going to take. Reasonably confident of the mandate they got from the people, the maoists hurt the sentiments of the titans of both the NC and UML. They poured water first over the aspirations of the octogenarian NC supremo GPK to become the first president of the Republic of Nepal. This was out of their fear that the post of the president would remain no longer ceremonial if pro-active Koirala occupies it creating two power centres. What they actually needed was a figure who would refrain from opposing any of their acts, like Ram Raja Prasad Singh whom they eventually proposed for the post of president.
That was more than bearable for the NC in which GPK's instincts are supreme to judgment of all others even now. They were now more than ever determined to ensure the failure of the maoists. This obviously made the alignment of the maoists with the UML more likely. What UML wanted was also similar to what the NC did: the privilege of the first president of Nepal to its twice looser leader MK Nepal. The maoists were reluctant to yield to this too.
This turn of events saw the alignment of the NC and the UML to elect Ram Baran Yadav as the president along with the help of the MPRF that was able to secure the post of vice-president for its leader in the arrangement. This coalition termed as 'unholy' by the maoist supremo Prachanda was soon out of use as both the UML and the MPRF aligned with the Maoists in electing Prachanda as the first PM of the Republic of Nepal. That further increased the already great distance between the NC and the maoists institutionalizing the politics of spewing venom at each other. This made the politics of consensus a rhetoric that would never materialize.
THE EXPERIMENT THAT WAS LONG SOUGHT
(It may be still too early to analyze the nine-month stint of the maoists in the power leading a coalition government from a historical perspective. Few paragraphs will thus suffice to give a brief outline of the period.)
There is now no surprise that nothing changed radically in the country that the maoists ruled for nine months leading a coalition government. Even less and worse is widely expected of the new government that is just taking shape. The period of nine months is, however, significant in many ways. This meant major developments in the dynamics of intra and inter-party relationship. And the dynamics is now poised to give a particular direction to the national politics.
The major attribute shaping the national politics during the period was the marathon rivalry of the ruling maoists and the opposition NC. The polarization was so intense that it represented itself in the other ruling party UML as the factions close to the two sides struggled hard for dominance. That was why the general convention of the UML was widely viewed as the tug of war between the Prachanda-friendly and GPK-friendly camps. Thanks to the triumph of the former, the government could last for the period it did and did not collapse earlier.
That was, however, the only one dimension of the complex interaction. The rift between the two ruling partners maoists and the UML was aptly represented by the rampant clashes of the youth wings of both that vied for dominance in the race to take the law in hand. A prominent faction in the UML kept opposing tooth and nail the policies of the maoists along with the NC effectively playing the role of the opposition keeping alive the opportunity of ruling the country along with NC if the need be any time in the future. That is what has exactly happened now: a coalition government excluding the maoists.
The most frustrating development of the period was the relentlessly worsening law-and-order situation with the institutionalization of the impunity as the youth wings of both of the major ruling parties competed to take law in their hands. The utter incompetence of the government institutions like the police to address the grievances of the ordinary people resulting from innumerable strikes and 'Bandhs' also contributed for the anarchy. The strikes thus became the norms rather than exception during the period.
(……………………………………………………………………….To be updated later)
THE WAY AHEAD FOR NEPAL
The plethora of problems facing Nepal currently can be remedied by no magical trick or short term adjustments. The ambiguities and the absurdities in the national politics still continue to paralyze even the daily procedures that are least likely to bring any major overhaul salvaging the country from crisis. As in the past, a repetition of the failure to capitalize and institutionalize the accomplishment of the popular uprising seems imminent. There is, however, indelible difference between the circumstances of the past and now making the condition inevitably graver this time.
In the past the issue of ethnic grievances had not arisen as forcefully as now. The people were less radicalized and more pliant to seek a common mechanism that reasonably addressed the grievances of everyone. Now, the conflict of interest among different groups of people divided by the race, religion, caste and other traits has been so prominent that any resolution acceptable to every side is literally impossible. Worse than this, there is now the motivation to seek the right to self-determination to the extent of secession in many of such groups. And the response of the state to all these till now has been myopic, clumsy, confused and half-hearted if not entirely impotent.
As the authors mention in the beginning of the book 'Nepal in Crisis', crisis is not a static point to which the societies move. The subtle processes that threaten the viability of the system become apparent or come to the surface only long after doing the damage to the system silently. Crisis is, they argue, a complex process, a changing manifestation of underlying structural contradictions which reveal themselves in variety of forms, from the chronic to the acute. Their argument during the period was that the crisis was rapidly becoming acute in Nepal.
Unfortunately, after three whole decades of publishing of that book, I am writing this one to elaborate about the crisis that is now rapidly becoming acute in face of the eternal political chaos. To the utter dismay of every one, the assessment that the particular form of imperialism was behind the forced stagnation of production and productivity still holds true after these three decades and two great uprisings. The vision of the political leadership to navigate through the crisis is so fraught with myopia, dilemma, ego and selfishness that it has been commonplace among the people to talk about the impending doom in the fallout of the political turf wars. What we are still deprived of as masses is a leadership able to see beyond tomorrow and discard the obsession to power and privilege.
My intention is, however, not to undermine the importance of the positive developments over the period and the achievements. Nor is this work intended to add a factor of intense pessimism in the already gloomy perception of politics in Nepal. Compared to other weakening, failing and failed states across the globe, we have still many things to rejoice and that may turn out to be the only coping strategy if the matters worsen in the future. The political developments in Nepal in the last few decades have provided high-yield precedents for any student of history. That may be one collateral advantage of the metamorphosis through which we are going even if this does not lead to a definitely better future.
So long as the political issues keep preoccupying the minds of the folks as well the leadership and a fragile power structure keeps every one in an indefinite queue for power and privilege, the economic issues never get the priority they actually deserve. The ordinary people thus become the victim of the impotency of the system to provide them the economic opportunities and thus harbor a persistent frustration and anger towards the state. There is thus the lack of sense of national engagement for a purpose and thus the motivation to work hard rather than drain the state property. Whoever can reach to the post and abuse power does so without any remorse. The corruption and plundering become thus the norm rather than exception.
The over all outcome of this is that, from cadres to leaders of the political parties, from the peons to chief-secretory in the administration, from constable to IGP in police, from a new recruit to the COAS in the army, all are apprehensive primarily about their own future and secondarily about the future of Nepal as a state. The work ethics at every other step thus suffers from this universal tendency to work less and earn more. In the cycle that thus ensues, everyone sees the fault in the other and blames him. Thus begins a vicious cycle that never ends as the jealousy about the unscrupulous activity of the other prevents one from feeling guilty of his own misdeeds.
A poor work ethics and an overwhelming tendency to literally loot whatever happens to be public has been thus imbibed by our culture that the political uprisings do nothing to change. The malpractices in governance are simply resistant to any attempt to stop them as they eventually change their outlook and keep acting in more deceptive and indirect form. It is thus barely surprising to discover that corruption is the most flourishing and acceptable virtue after begging in Bangladesh and in many of the African countries and of course, Nepal is close to their heels on following the trend.
It will thus take more than the uprisings led by the people agitated against the system for a country like Nepal to transform into a truly prosperous country. At best the uprisings give a jolt to the stagnant system giving rise to the tides that travel for a limited period of time and thus the dynamicity. There obviously comes an opportunity utilizing which the accomplishments can be institutionalized, though theoretically. A missed opportunity may thus mean the years of stagnation, regression or even the dangerous slide of the state into chaos and civil war.
With the ugly episode that led to the fall of maoist-led government giving way to the one led by UML, Nepal's descent into chaos has become more imminent. At best, it may mean a sheer political confrontation with a stalemate whose consequences invite further confrontation thus perpetuating the cycle. The worst case scenario can be well a decade or two of conflict and civil war worse than the last one with severely threatened sovereignty of Nepal.
Even though the rhetoric of the Maoists about the civilian supremacy may seem fraught with their intense antagonism to their former enemy institution, the NA, the way the new government is dealing with the issue may well herald an age of gloom for the democratic practice in Nepal. As such the role of the army had been never same in theory and practice ever since the fall of Rana Regime in Nepal. That had made the army instrumental in every other coup de tat against the civilian institutions. It obviously takes more than declaring from the parliament that 'the army is under civilian control' to really change the way in which the army acts. And that sure involves that is unpleasant to the institution governed ever since the birth by the loyalty to a person and a family. That is where the civilian leadership must take the risk of locking horns with the powerful institution. It is not in the very nature of such armed institutions to be appeased to the extent of accepting the 'real' civilian supremacy.
The way in which the Maoists tried to confront the NA might have been inappropriate and it became impossible for them to proceed after the CD scandal. There arose an ample of logic to argue that it was the intention of the Maoists to capture the state by hook or crook after the scandal. Considering the evolution of the realities in the aftermath of the CA polls, and the dynamics of Nepal's relationship with the neighbors, however, that was not an option as likely as claimed. Furthermore, the vision of the new government about the direction that the state will eventually take is
The Lokman Story - *How citizens and judiciary in Nepal unseated a corrupt 'anti-corruption chief' and a dictator-in-making* It may now be tempting to trash and lampoon a fal...
1 month ago