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Dipta Shah: Factionalism and the Nepalese Diaspora

Factionalism and the Nepalese Diaspora - The digression of the debate on King Gyanendra's move

By Dipta Shah (February 12, 2005)

Not surprisingly, intense debate has surfaced in several forums in response to ''Making Sense out of Non-Sense - the Calculation behind the King's Decision.'' Valid concerns have been expressed by different elements of the Nepali Diaspora, some in support, others against.

While definitive answers to many of the queries are unlikely to materialize in the immediate future, the risk of the debate morphing into a "pro-monarchy" versus "pro-democracy" dialogue is becoming increasingly apparent.

To be exact, the debate before us is between "democracy" and "Maoism." Prospects for a complementary system of "constitutional monarchy" and "democracy" still exist. On the other hand, mutual exclusivity remains the definitive feature of the relationship between "Maoism" and "democracy."

Some would argue that the former mis-guided debate is precisely the outcome that King Gyanendra's assumption of executive powers accomplished. If such is case, then it would undoubtedly be in best interest of all who find common cause in ensuring a truly peaceful and democratic future for Nepal, to oppose such bi-forcation and collectively proceed to address Nepal's challenges, not propagate them.

The idea, as articulated revolved around the theme of how best to engage the new government (so as to guarantee a voice for Nepalis living outside of the country). The gross mis-interpretation of this initiative to either signal support for, or raise condemnation against the Royal take-over, is inaccurate and misleading

A corollary of the thought (as originally incepted) was also to impress upon the international community, the existence of opinions that delude main-stream media. It was thought (and is still hoped), that through constructive debate, the emergence of a common position will become available - one through which Nepalis (albeit the educated and elite minority), can express a unified set of views.

Unfortunately, one is forced to acknowledge that there are some who opt to forsake the possibility of constructive dialogue, based on principles driven by ideological extremes. The notion (as expressed by a respondent) that "civil society does not deal with extremes - left or right," was most disconcerting because such a statement out-rightly mutes the possibility of a compromise.

Ironically, strict adherence to such principles guarantees exactly that which it supposedly opposes - extremism. Remaining in the middle is always a safe bet, but adapting to an evolving environment so as to continue to remain in the middle, is a challenge.

Surprisingly, no objections were raised to refute the argument of the risk of adverse selection (that the international community may pass judgment on Nepal, taking into account the views of an elite, educated minority). This is most likely a function of the fact that 100% of those who participated in the debate (myself included), fall in this category.

One of the repetitive themes (used to challenge the validity of the assumption that the King's move could yield beneficial results for Nepal), was that the proposed logic relied too heavily on faith. Legitimate questions such as "whether the King's intentions are trust-worthy" and "whether a 3 year time-frame would be definite" were put forth.

While it is true that the original argument relies on the assumption of good faith on the part of the monarchy (that it gives the King the benefit of the doubt), an assumption to the contrary unnecessarily subdues the probability of amicable resolution.

Basing one's proposition on the probability of an outcome is a frequent practice in all decision-making processes. Of course, "betting" on an uncertain event doesn't guarantee desired results - but neither does "betting" against it.

One could extend this metaphor to address all concerns on the issue of "faith." While the odds may be unpredictable as to the King's true intentions, the is absolute certainly in the alternative - further death, destruction and chaos for Nepal.

This leads to another widely held belief: that the King is using the "perception" of the Maoist threat to his advantage. While this argument could have been a topic for deliberation (and possible joint action by the political parties) prior to February 1, the perception itself, is now reality. One may argue (for the sake of arguing) that the King is using reality to his advantage, but such an exercise would be silly.

Yet another point of opposition was raised on the misinterpretation between being "educated" and the ability to practice "informed decision-making." The question over whether or not democracy can flourish in a largely illiterate environment is not at the heart of this debate. The notion highlighted was that democracies function best when constituencies maintain the ability to make "informed decisions." This is merely a statement of fact, not a point of origin over whether or not democracy can function in Nepal.

A failed attempt at re-verse logic made by a respondent, solidified the validity of the said statement. In attempting to invalidate the proposed logic, it was suggested that the Maoist leadership is highly educated and that Jesus Christ and Gautam Buddha did not attend university. These propositions were put forth in defense of the notion that democracy can flourish in Nepal regardless of the literacy rate (a point to which there was no objection to begin with).

The fact of the matter remains, neither Jesus Christ nor Gautam Buddha had to vote for their leaders and both attained enlightenment, despite not having graduated from college. More poignantly, a classic example of what can happen in the absence of "informed decision-making" is served by the expansion of Maoism in Nepal.

Further, there was never any contention over the validity of democracy as a system of governance for Nepal. The evidence provided was directed at re-iterating the manner in which Nepal's democratic exercise was undermined by a self-serving leadership.

Other arguments put forth consisted of the debate over "democracy before nationalism," "realism versus idealism" and an attempt at proving the post-1990 era benefited Nepal economically. Now is hardly the time to launch a full-fledged discussion on "democracy before nationalism" when the distinct possibility of a failed state is in full view. Evoking a debate on the virtues of "idealism versus realism" is just as futile. Granted, with the maturity of the debate, participants produced evidence of progress (during the nineties) in non-quantifiable terms. But once again, the issue at hand is not whether democracy can serve the needs of the Nepali populous-at-large, but over whether we can put aside our differences and coalesce as a united front to face the most immediate challenge to the sovereignty of our state - the uncompromising attitude of the Maoists.

The most profound statement made during the course of this exercise runs as follows: "democracy is not about making choices, it is about keeping choices open for everyone." Provided this statement personifies a common goal, it is incumbent upon all Nepalis to act in a manner that buttresses, not corrodes, the availability of future choices.

The reversal of the King's "coup" is not at issue, securing options for the future re-conciliation between the monarchy, the political parties (albeit with new, preferably younger leadership) and forwarding an atmosphere of cooperation as a platform for the Maoists to ultimately enter main-stream politics, is what's at issue.

Whether or not "it is a supreme act of bad faith on the part of the king to ask taxpayers around the world to foot the bill for his autocratic reign," (Manjushree Thapa) is a valid consideration. Using one's position as renowned author and public figure to advocate for negating the lifeline of sustenance for the rural poor is hardly an act of good faith.

Clearly, there are two sides to every position and multiple angles from which to evaluate the same problem. This is a self-evident truth. What is also evident is that despite the prevailing constraints, we must proceed to negotiate, compromise and eventually arrive at a reconciled set of views that represent a distinct majority - independent of physical location, ideological orientation and personal preferences.

The common agenda of establishing a democratic polity for Nepal is ever present. Formulating a plan of action that heightens the probability of success (while minimizing the loss of life), is the challenge all Nepalis face.

There are already enough divisions amongst Nepalis to allow for yet another set to emerge at the detriment of the common good. This is not the time to identify with or against the monarchy; it is a brief window of opportunity, a fleeting moment in time, to rectify the wrongs of the past, to heal as a nation and move forward into the 21st century.


Dipta Shah is a recent graduate from Columbia University's School of International Affairs (SIPA). now he works for a global advisory services firm, doing finance and risk analysis.

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