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Nepal : Wellspring Of Renewal Lies Within

Nepal : Wellspring Of Renewal Lies Within

By Madan P. Khanal

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King Gyanendra's reference last week to an influx of foreign money in Nepal has prompted a fiery response from the opposition alliance agitating against his direct rule. While the monarch did not elaborate, key opposition figures have inferred that the king thinks the public protests against his Feb. 1 takeover of full executive powers are foreign inspired.

Madhav Kumar Nepal , the general secretary of the Unifed Marxist-Leninists (UML), the largest communist faction in the mainstream, believes the king's comments portend another royal crackdown. Nepal Goodwill Party's Hridayesh Tripathy is more categorical in predicting a return to the Panchayat system, the three-decade palace-directed non-party system that ended with the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990.

The induction of several prominent personalities of the Panchayat years in the royal cabinet, the revival of the posts of zonal administrators and the return of Panchayat-era signatures tunes on official Radio Nepal , among other things, has heightened public interest in the system the king intends to put in place.

A rational debate on the future of the Nepalese polity cannot be pursued without demolishing principle myths of the past. The Panchayat system, which King Mahendra – father of the present monarch -- introduced in the early 1960s after dismissing Nepal 's first elected government and subsequently abolishing the multiparty parliamentary system, was not an untenable power grab.

The palace intervened to prevent the political class – specifically the Nepali Congress, which had a two-thirds majority in parliament – from continuing its depredations in the name of democracy. Specifically, the royal action was a bold endeavor to extricate Nepal from India 's stifling embrace and create a profile in the comity of nations worthy of a sovereign and independent state.

India is the principal obstacle to Nepal 's emergence as a fully independent an sovereign state. The "Delhi Compromise" may have been instrumental in bringing about the political changes of 1951, which ended the hereditary rule of Rana prime ministers and opened Nepal to the outside world. However, acceptance of India 's role did not mean the newly empowered democratic leaders should have yielded to every pressure India began exerting.

The following quote from Jawahar Lal Nehru is relevant to any discussion of India 's underlying approach to its relations with Nepal . "From time immemorial, the Himalayas have provided us with a magnificent frontier. We cannot allow that frontier to be penetrated, for it is also the principal barrier to India . Much as we stand for the independence of Nepal, we cannot allow anything to go wrong in Nepal or permit that barrier to be crossed or weakened, because that would be a risk to our own security." (Jawahar Lal Nehru, Foreign Policy, Selected Speeches, p.436.)

Having repeated these sentiments in various forms over the past half-century, Nehru and his successors virtually enshrined them as a cardinal principle of India 's Nepal policy. It would be futile to blame the Indian government alone. Nepalese political leaders bear much responsibility for giving New Delhi the opportunity to engage in such blatant intervention. They went on expressing their gratitude to the Indians for their contribution to "liberating the Nepalese masses" ad infinitum.

King Mahendra's repeated characterization of parties as being corrupt and divisive and as being pawns of foreign powers was not without substance. The record of political parties did not inspire confidence in their capacity to provide the leadership and authority necessary in a difficult transitional period. Efforts to blame the king for the failure of the Nepalese parties to mature were clearly part of an India-led campaign to defend the Nepali Congress' use of its majority to marginalize the monarchy.

With the introduction of the Panchayat system, the process of political, economic, social and cultural consolidation gathered pace. A polity that based itself on the grass-roots mobilization of the people, under the active leadership of the crown, provided the basis for radical reforms to the land-ownership structure and the Civil Code. The sustained effort to encourage the Nepali language as a key attribute of nationhood encompassed bringing in sections of the diaspora to enrich institutions like the Royal Nepal Academy .

India 's humiliation in its 1962 war with China , moreover, lifted some pressure off the new regime. Specifically, it allowed Nepal to craft a foreign policy independent of New Delhi 's influence. The extent of the power King Mahendra exercised in articulating Nepal 's national interests and concerns to his Indian audience was underscored by, among other things, the fact that leaders from Nehru to Indira Gandhi would take out time for consultations with the Nepalese monarch at New Delhi airport whenever he was on his way overseas.

India still forced the royal regime to sign unequal treaties on arms purchases and border issues. However, King Mahendra sought to offset such imbalances by raising Nepal 's international profile. The king's state visits to the United States under the Republican Dwight David Eisenhower and Democratic Lyndon Baines Johnson administrations mirrored the early impact made by the foreign policy of a country that had just come out of isolation.

The support King Birendra's Zone of Peace proposal received from 116 nations espousing diverse political ideologies and adopting different polities underscored the dignity of a small nation aspiring to prosper in tranquility. Nepal 's election twice as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council was another milestone in its diplomatic annals, achieved through painstaking effort.

Significantly, the Panchayat system showed how a balanced and mature foreign policy could foster economic progress. Nepal 's two immediate neighbors, both superpowers and a wide range of economically influential nations had become partners in its development endeavors. Admittedly, berating the Panchayat system for not doing enough becomes easy when one refuses to recognize the point from which it had to begin.

Over time, the Panchayat regime recognized the broader international and regional currents encouraging political liberalization. There were discussions under way to amend the constitution in response to this aspiration for change. At this point, Nepal came under a crippling Indian trade and transit embargo.

Although the immediate trigger is described as India 's displeasure at Nepal 's purchase of anti-aircraft guns from China at bargain prices – which New Delhi claimed was in violation of Indo-Nepalese treaty provisions – it came against the background of India 's consistent effort to assert its long-term geo-political and security goals all the way up to the Nepalese Himalayas.

With the palace refusing to succumb and the Nepalese people growing increasingly alienated by Indian pressure tactics, New Delhi began questioning the legitimacy of the Panchayat system. Nepalese politicians prodded from across the southern border were quick to capitalize on the Indian shift. By projecting the 1990 political movement as a mass-based initiative with clarity of purpose beyond the lifting of the ban on organized politics, however, the post-1990 leadership blocked candid political discussions.

The new leaders, clearly unprepared to govern, began Nepal 's second experience with multiparty democracy with a systematic endeavor to denigrate the monarchy. Subsequent events also exposed their shortsightedness in assessing the crown's roots in the nation. The political class and segments of civil society that drew succor and sustenance from ideologically driven agendas lost both the capability and credibility to facilitate a meaningful national dialogue on moving ahead. Their stubborn refusal to acknowledge the contributions of the partyless Panchayat system in nation building precluded a dispassionate analysis of the accumulating national malaise.

It was not difficult to see the extraneous interests the democratic leaders – both from the Nepali Congress as well as communist parties -- were serving. Their pledge to delete the Zone of Peace proposal from the new constitution had all the appearances of a quid pro quo. Once that threshold of Nepalese sovereignty was breached, the way was cleared for Indian leaders to revert to their pre-Panchayat penchant for bossing around. Organized politics eroded into a malevolent exercise to preserve individual fiefdoms at all costs. The Nepali Congress's propensity for self-destruction, the UML's mastery of doublespeak exacerbated the malaise.

If Nepalese leaders were not prepared for their political responsibilities, Indian strategists discovered they were even less ready for the new dynamics a proliferation of political parties and plethora of viewpoints injected into Nepal's relations with India. Enduring Nepalese suspicions of India 's motives and parliamentary compulsions of a democratic system stymied Indian efforts to exploit Nepal 's vast water resources. Water accords and treaties faced political roadblocks amid much partisan rancor. For India , the creation of another destabilizing force had become essential. Enter the Maoist rebels.

Endemic poverty, social and cultural inequalities and a general sense of abandonment in rural Nepal provided the perfect setting for a radical uprising. When the Maoist rebels declared war on the state – vowing to turn Nepal into a communist republic from a constitutional monarchy – their rhetoric had a stridently anti-Indian tone. This was aimed at shielding the real source of the violence the rebellion was soon to inflict on the kingdom. Maoist leaders always enjoyed safe havens on Indian soil. They received weapons, training and moral support, all of which would have been impossible without official Indian complicity.

From the moment of his enthronement in June 2001 – after a palace bloodbath that wiped out the entire family of his brother, Birendra -- King Gyanendra sought to reassure the Nepalese people that the crown could not be oblivious to the systematic descent of the nation. His meetings with people of different walks of life and his expressions conveyed through the media amply showed that the crown was fully aware of its responsibility to the country and people.

King Gyanendra's takeover of full political control on Feb. 1 came as a clear demonstration of this commitment. In the months since, the monarchy has been the only institution articulating a vision for 21st-century Nepal by, among other things, seeking to establish the kingdom as a transit hub between its economically rising neighbors China and India . The opposition, by harping on the "autocracy" chord, is carefully seeking to shield its own culpability in messing things up.

India must never again be allowed to enjoy the groveling and prostrations of Nepalese leaders who provided New Delhi the opportunity to expand its influence in the kingdom between 1951 and 1960. On the other hand, it would be fruitless to describe or perceive any effort at extricating Nepal from India 's grip as anti-Indianism. The primary endeavor must be to impress upon the Indian government and the people the basic fact that Nepalese ties with China and Pakistan , or, for that matter, any other country, are not in any way directed against India .

The task would by no means be easy. Indian displeasure with Nepal's growing links with China – especially following the recent exchange of high-level visits -- and Kathmandu's refusal to adhere to New Delhi's strictures on the kind of relations we should have with Islamabad, for instance, can be expected to be manifested in different ways on the political, law-and-order and other fronts.

India 's eagerness in forging an anti-palace alliance between the mainstream parties and the Maoist rebels is in tandem with its destabilization campaign. Earlier this year, Maoist supremo Prachanda and his deputy Dr. Baburam Bhattarai mysteriously patched up differences that threatened to split the movement. Dr. Bhattarai has been reinducted into the politburo special committee after several months of suspension caused by major policy differences with Prachanda.

Indian newspapers reported that Indian intelligence agencies were "chaperoning" Dr. Bhattarai in his consultations with Nepalese leaders visiting New Delhi , including Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala and UML leader Bam Dev Gautam. India is evidently banking much on the emerging mainstream-Maoist alliance.

The Nepalese people can draw strength from the fact that they succeeded in breaking free from India 's stranglehold during the Panchayat decades. Obviously, Nepal 's multiparty leaders would not like to be reminded of the internal realities of the partyless polity they so assiduously campaigned to oust. One must nevertheless remain optimistic that some of them are patriotic enough to acknowledge that success and would be sagacious enough to draw the appropriate lessons.


The Nepalese people have the capacity for national renewal within. They must not allow a sustained campaign of denigrating traditional institutions struggling to uphold Nepal 's independent identity and existence to poison that reservoir.

ENDS

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