The chauvinistic circle, CK Lal

Some facts are so blindingly obvious that they fail to register altogether until someone else points it out. A college student in Massachusetts is researching the impact of remittances on elections of Nepal. He recently wrote in a personal note: “Just generated a word cloud of all political party names in Nepal from the raw data of 2013 elections. Scale of the word is proportional to frequency in the list of all candidates running for election. Colors also change by frequency. We sure do have a lot of nationalist and communist parties.” That perhaps partly explains the reason behind failure of the country in formulating a new constitution.

Neither nationalists nor communists have much faith in the supremacy of laws or a government of, by, and for the people. Communism, beginning with the upper case, is antithetical to democracy by definition. Dictatorship of the proletariat is the founding principle of communist faith. Nationalists too attach much more importance to unity, purity and superiority of their own community rather than accept diversity of identities, plurality of persuasions and multiplicity of opinions inevitable in any functional democracy.

Since its virulent eruption in the wake of World War I, nationalists have caused nothing but misery for the marginalized. Socialism in Nazi Germany, fascism in Italy, militarism in Burma, the clash between sectarianism and unionism in Sri Lanka—the list of catastrophes nationalists of various shades have wrought is long. Nobody knows what really goes on inside the only pure communist country of the contemporary world in the northern part of Korea.
Nationalists and communists are bad enough separately, but when they fuse together, the result is mostly disastrous. Joseph Stalin and his Gulags, Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and Killing Fields of Pol Pot were all induced by the fusion of communism with nationalism. Unfortunately, internationalism is conspicuous by its absence from the communist lexicon of Nepal. Almost all Nepali communists are unapologetically nationalist.

Predatory praetors

The throne of Asali Hindustan of King Prithvi rested on four legs. A clutch of Hindu mendicants spied and conspired to prop up a possible patron, protector and promoter of the faith. Audacious militia from the indigenous population of an impoverished region fought ferociously for the loot and the spoils of war. Ambitious merchants invested heavily in the hope of acquiring a slice of the lucrative Indo-Tibetan trade. Last but not the least, wily mandarins of Malla courts in Kathmandu valley shifted loyalty in the hope of keeping their privileges intact. They didn’t succeed, and would soon be replaced by Gorkhali loyalists, but the dénouement came too late for them to do anything about it.

Premier Bhimsen Thapa attempted to rein in wayward Hindu mendicants who had become fabulously rich at the cost of the state but he lost the game and his life with it. Jang realized the utility of a mercenary force and succeeded in institutionalizing his family rule. Chandra focused on mandarins to entrench himself in power. Juddha tried to appropriate trade with India through mercantilism but failed in the face of strong opposition in Kathmandu. It was Mahendra’s raw genius, coupled with Cold War candies of preferential trade arrangements, which led to the entrenchment of monarch-military-merchant nexus.

The liberalization, privatization and globalization wave of the 1990s brought free-market fundamentalists to the fore. Market jihadis under the spell of Mulla Mahat surrendered basic services such as education, health and transportation to the profit sector. A clutch of multimillionaires were born overnight even as population pushed off the cliff of capitalism fell into the arms of Maoists. Then came the Narayanhiti Massacre, which changed the game even as players remained the same.

The military came to the forefront as the monarchy lost its luster. Corporate mendicants had already modernized the Hindu order. Merchants discovered new avenues of profit as hundreds of thousands of Nepalis began to fly away to distant shores in search of work. The mandarins regained their lost influence. Apparently, the Gorkhali clique had encircled its wagons. It decided to dump monarchy in order to protect its privileges and defuse Maoist threat.
Cultural nationalism of a republic is even more insidious than that of a monarchy. Khum Bahadur Khadka is perhaps correct in his assertions that most leaders of the reigning coalition are closet Hindutva zealots. The military everywhere needs a faith to fight ferociously—war is essentially a jihad where soldiers embrace death believing that they are dying for a divine cause—and establish its primacy.

Once the patronage of palace is removed, philosophers and poets are under pressure to become populists and pander to the prejudices of the majority. Instead of one master to please, there are multitudes to be appeased. It’s impossible to contest patently communal legends, language, literature, symbols and manners when they are being purveyed as nationalist position of the majority population. When ideologies of security forces and poets merge, dissent becomes dangerous.

Merchants have to go with the majority. There is nothing personal about their position: It is business, plain and simple. The feudal lords of agricultural society had certain independence from the ruling class in capital cities. The commercial guilds and industrial magnets of yore too could afford to confront the ruler. In trade-based economies, merchants have to rely on whoever is in power to protect their holding and multiply profits. The republican majority—unless backed by the political culture of respecting the minority—tends to become chauvinistic purely due to electoral compulsions.

The chauvinistic triad of military, merchants and the middleclass then manufactures a mainstream where right of admission is reserved. A janajati lawmaker admitted in exasperation that only those of her colleagues could make headway in politics that agreed to sing paeans in praise of the established order. Dalits activists tend to play down casteist discrimination and focus on class consciousness to hide their helplessness in the Hindu orthodoxy that reigns supreme in nationalist-communist parties.

Modern mediators

The press was once supposed to be the voice of the voiceless. The media, however, is unabashedly an instrument of the market. Even the so-called social media is hardly as free as it is said to be: Lone voices get drowned out in the cacophony created by hired hands of vested interests. It is commonly believed that defense establishments and corporate entities dominate the internet with their vast human and capital resources. Media was once supposed to be the savior of democracy. It is no longer an unequivocal assumption.

The intelligentsia too owes its rapid expansion to market forces. It has to speak through the media and sustain itself from salaries and fees of the manipulators in the market. An enfeebled state implies that only the lightest minds can stay afloat in the circle of official intellectuals. Recent nominations to various academies have clearly shown that conformism is valued far more than independence of thought.

The NGOs—the WGOs or the Western Government Organizations in the characterization of writer-critic Tariq Ali—sometimes function as tools of pacification. It is extremely difficult for them to survive as forums of dissent: Governments lose no time in silencing them as soon as they begin to voice aspirations of the marginalized.

In such a stultifying environment, what option does someone as brilliant as Dr CK Raut have to vent his frustrations? Madheshi parties were co-opted, defamed, defanged and then dumped. There is no Madhesh media worth the name. The military is intrinsically inimical to Madheshi aspirations. Interests of the corporate Hindu mendicants are closely tied with the establishment. The international community in strategically located countries is wary of upsetting the applecart of status quo. So Dr Raut goes around the countryside canvassing support for his vision of independent Madhesh.

Dr Raut has reportedly been charged with indulging in suspicious activities. Yes, suspicious activities are culpable in a republic that has no bananas to call itself one. The triad seems to be getting tired of democracy, human rights and governance. Rituals such as a political roundtable in Kathmandu or a speech at UN in New York are good shows worthy of a ceremonial government. But someone someday will have to stand up and own absurdities of this ‘nationalist-communist-democrat’ coalition.

Published on 2014-09-15 03:25:33