The schizophrenic polity, CK LAL

There is an old saying usually attributed to early Marwari traders awestruck by the architectural splendor and pristine beauty of Kathmandu Valley: Gajab Kashmir, Ajab Nepal! A building spree and resulting urban chaos since the early nineteen-eighties have almost eclipsed magnificent monuments of yore. Toxic smog rather than invigorating mist hugs the valley floor throughout the year. However, the Ajab description of daily life—quaint customs, syncretic culture and carefree attitude—continues to make the Nepal valley distinctive in its own ways. The uniqueness permeates the polity of the country making the modern state of Nepal an archaic wonder.

In most places, residents of hills and mountains often agitate to be freed from the dominance of the plains. It is just the opposite in the country of Buddha and Mt Everest. When countries modernize, they aspire to transform themselves from religiosity to secularism in public life. A significant section of a supposedly democratic party—the Nepali Congress (NC)—has begun to echo traditional, regressive and conservative forces and has promised to campaign to revert the country back to the ‘glorious age’ of Hindu theocracy.

The defense doctrine is usually framed by the legislature after wide consultation and careful consideration of its social, cultural, economic and geopolitical implications. The Nepal Army reportedly adopted one without the issue being mentioned on the floor of the parliament. The office of the President is expected to maintain dispassionate interest in the affairs of the state. President Rambaran Yadav publicly voiced his opinion in favor of small number of provinces in the federalization process. The NC duly obliged the head of state by proposing six or seven provinces instead of higher number and different demarcations agreed upon by the majority in the first Constituent Assembly.

When people agitate for better infrastructure, states normally respond with assurances and value the voice of the people. At Simraungarh in Tarai-Madhesh, the paramilitary (Armed Police Force) shot a protestor in the chest for asking better roads and for demanding that activists not be arrested in arbitrary manner. Meanwhile, a new Chief Justice declared upon taking up the high office that he would zealously guard the independence of judiciary rather than promise that he is committed to delivering justice to the poorest, the weakest and the most marginalized or externalized sections of the population. If past experiences are anything to go by, assertion of what has been called the independence of judiciary usually ends up implying supremacy of the court in the affairs of the state. Oblivious of everything else, the Ceremonial Premier of the country was caught on camera laying foundation stone of not a public school or a philanthropic hospital but a corporate hotel in the heart of the capital.

Freedom of the press is a way of ensuring freedom of expression. Other than incitement of violence, freedom of expression has to be unconditional in order to mean anything at all. However, in an incredulous country that calls itself a “Federal Democratic Republic”, an activist is charged of sedition for advocating separatism in a peaceful manner. The media maintains a supportive silence in the face of such a blatant infringement of one of the fundamental tenets of political freedom.
Perhaps Madheshi rights-activist CK Raut is the lone political detainee in the country at the moment. But nobody would know that from media reports. Ever the vanguard of what it defines to be the “National Interest”, chauvinistic preceptors of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist-Leninist) have declared that in addition to donning the national dress, politicos of their party must wear patriotism literally upon their chest in the form of a miniature flag.

Paranoid patriotism

In paternalistic states, divine mandate legitimates absolute power of the ruler. The welfare of the people, however, is the primary duty of the ruling order even in traditional societies. Under fascism or totalitarianism, a militarist state takes over the responsibility of running day-to-day lives of the laity. Militarist states also claim to advance best interests of the people. A democratic state, on the other hand, is based on the belief that only the people know what is best for them, which they determine and implement through their elected representatives. A welfare state is essentially a creation of the democratic system of governance.

Whether it’s written or assumed, a welfare state has to run on the basis of an explicit contract that binds the state with its people. People agree to abide by laws that they have had a hand in the making; pay taxes that their representatives have determined; and participate in activities considered to be for the common good. These are inescapable obligations of every citizen. On its part, the state guarantees fundamental freedoms; ensures safety and security of person and property; provides basic services; and ensures the prevalence of justice on the basis of equity, equality and human dignity of every person and all communities within the country. Post-1950, Nepal once aspired to be a Democratic Welfare State (DWS). The dream evaporated within a decade as a royal-military regime emerged to re-institutionalize its supremacy.

The geo-strategic curse proved to be a blessing for the royal-military regime in the Cold War rivalries of the 1960s. In the name of Panchayat, Nepal embraced what has been called the National Security Doctrine after President Harry S Truman and his notorious National Security Act of 1947 enacted to fight insidious enemies. Academics have identified several easily identifiable characteristics of a National Security State (NSS).

Supremacy of security forces is the fundamental feature of a NSS. The regime proclaims to be democratic but has little respect for the will of the people expressed through free and fair elections. Concentration of all forms of power—economic, social, political and diplomatic—in the hands of elite subservient to the defense establishment is yet another defining characteristic of the regime.

An obsession with external or internal ‘Enemy’ of the state makes NSS permanently paranoid: If one doesn’t exist, it has to be manufactured in order to keep the country alive. And when such an enemy is so pervasive, the state must control fundamental freedoms to safeguard the National Interest and command obedience of the people through coercion, conversion or cooptation.

Religiosity breeds conformism, nurtures compliance and counters rebellious thoughts: When everything is the will of the God, it would be blasphemous to contest it on humane grounds. The NSS loves religions even when it swears by secularism to pacify minorities. The last but not the least, male dominance is built into the belief system of NSS doctrine. Any of these features sound familiar? Even though system of government changed in 1990 and the royal regime fell in 2008, the NSS doctrine continues to maintain its hold over the polity of the country.

Warped worldview

Irrespective of the worth of the meaning in medical professions, English dictionaries hold that schizophrenia is characterized by mutually contradictory or inconsistent elements. The ruling classes of Nepal is unwilling to give up its obsession with NSS but the aspiring elite hasn’t yet forsaken all hopes of creating DWS. Unless the contradiction is resolved, the country shall continue to be stuck in the quagmire of incompetence born out of paranoia. No country that abhors its most prominent neighbor and fears a very significant portion of its own population can make much progress. Other explanations for the continued backwardness of Nepal are unnecessary, if not completely superfluous. The schizophrenic polity of the country needs serious and sustained treatment.

A former premier reportedly observed in exasperation that Nepalis were incapable of taking any decision on their own. Pundits routinely decry the NC, the UML, the UCPN (M), and the Madheshbadis—the supposed Big Four of Nepali politics—for their ineptitude. However, no constitution can be formulated without first determining whether the all-powerful security establishment of the country—with more influence in international community than commonly imagined—will allow the country to be transformed from a NSS to DWS in a peaceful manner. Forms of government, federal structures, inclusive regime, electoral systems or judicial arrangements are not as complicated issues as they are often made out to be. What really matters is whether the Permanent Establishment of the Nation (PEON)—propped resolutely by the Security Forces—is willing to release its hold peacefully or not. Everything else is mere divertissement.

Published on 2014-10-13 00:17:13
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