M.R. Josse: Arms Management Is A Political Issue
Arms Management Is A Political Issue!
By M.R. Josse
Even as the country lurches unsteadily forward through a twilight no-war, no-peace zone, where non-governance has replaced governance and airy political rhetoric has overtaken commonsense, political absurdities are blossoming on the ground like never before. Truth be told while farmers are busy with their essential autumnal harvesting activities, the movers and shakers of today's Nepal – and the would-be architects of the brave "new Nepal" of tomorrow – have been treating the hoi polloi, or the simple-minded janata, with a bumper harvest of political absurdities.
Notably, it is being uncritically lapped up not merely by those on the fringes of political power but also by individuals who consider themselves the crème de la crème of academia and the media.
Indeed, it would appear that even omnipresent representatives of the so-called "international community" are either not taking too close a look at such shenanigans or, else, are simply not bothered. In any case, today's Nepal does offer all and sundry the rare opportunity to try out, or merely observe, the multiple political experiments that are being brought to bear upon her frail and battered body – naturally, in the name of peace on earth and goodwill towards mankind. Let's begin with the brazen attempt to project the crucial issue of "arms management" as being different from politics as meat is from potatoes. Readers' attention is, at this juncture, invited to the ubiquitously heard plea to resolve "all political issues" before attempting to grasp the "arms management" nettle. While this plea emanates, generally, from the Maoist camp oftentimes it originates elsewhere as well, especially from quarters such as the UML that are most hospitable to, or comfortable with, the Maoists' political platform or agenda. Take, as a concrete recent example, the public comments of UML's Bharat Mohan Adhikari who recommended that "political issues and the issue of arms management should be addressed side by side" (Himalayan Times, 30 October) – a formulation that, once again, suggests that the two issues are distinct from one another.
If the thesis that arms management and political issues are separate is very dear to DPM Amik Sherchan, UML's Bamdev Gautam, too, is a fervent advocate arguing in public from time to time that Prime Minister Koirala's stance on arms management is the major hurdle to a consensus on political issues.
Another variant to that takes the form of arguments, such as by former Minister Sailendra Kumar Upadhayay in a op-ed piece in the Himalayan Times (31 October) that not only is "too much emphasis" being placed on arms issue but also that that is what is delaying the holding of constituent assembly elections.
But can the arms issue be so easily brushed aside from all relevant political issues? My point is simple: arms management is very much a political issue, not least in a situation that has been created by one party (the Maoists) taking up arms against the other (the State) for the achievement of a set of radical political objectives in contradiction to the existing Constitution drawn up on the strength of a popular uprising in 1990?
That aside, since Maoists' raised arms in what they themselves term as a "people's war", surely it is illogical to argue that their weapons and political goals can be artificially separated.
After all, not only are they proud adherents of the sturdy Maoist doctrine that "all political power flows from the barrel of a gun" but they are also believers of Karl von Clausewitz's celebrated dictum: "War is not merely a political act, but also a political instrument, a continuation of political relations, a carrying out of the same by other means."
In other words, "arms management" is a core political issue and must be treated as such in all peace negotiations worthy of the name.
SLEIGH OF HAND
Another bit of political sleight of hand is reflected in the flood of commentary from public platforms and newspaper columns that deliberately seeks to project Prime Minister Koirala's give-space-to-the-monarchy-too as an unwarranted favour to the King – and nothing more.
Yet, to anyone familiar with the history and class character of the Nepali Congress and having a nodding acquaintance of the Maoists' political goals, not to mention their actions in a host of other countries, it should be abundantly clear that the impulse of such ostensibly heretical thoughts is plain and simple self-preservation. After all, in a political milieu dominated by Communists in general, and driven by the Maoists in particular, traditional, conservative, or non-Left political groupings will hardly be able to cope without reigning in the support of like-minded forces, including the institution of a monarchy, even if it only be "ceremonial".
Given this basic political reality, it is so outlandish that Koirala, who has never after all been know to be comfortable with Communists, should wish to provide some space for a natural political ally? Should it be considered unnatural for the NC supremo to desist from mass hara-kiri of his party colleagues and cadres? Should the NC, or other non-Left political forces, not seek their own comfort zone to avoid the fate of suicidal-minded lemmings?
Before jumping to any facile conclusions let's also not forget that Koirala's celebrated/controversial comment came on the heels of his sudden official visit to New Delhi not long after the April Uprising that catapulted him, for the fifth time, to the prime ministerial gaddhi. Anyone who has taken note of the change in New Delhi's (and, for that matter, that of the US's) stance towards the Maoists since April should be able to appreciate the point just made.
What needs also to be taken into account in this context is the urgency with which moves are currently being made (a) to unify the two Nepali Congress groupings and (b) by other non-Left forces as well, including those formerly associated with the RPP.
NO TO REFERENDUM
Another odd creature that is floating around in Kathmandu's political space these days is composed of Koirala's arguments against the holding of a referendum on the issue of the Monarchy. To recall, while in Biratnagar the other day, he argued that a referendum would give the King scope for maneuver, would raise new issues about the Monarchy and could shift public opinion in favour of the King. On the face of it, there would seem to be a stark and baffling contradiction between such a stance and that recommending that some political space be provided to the King in the new scheme of things.
Besides, as an editorial (30 October) in the Himalyan Times correctly makes out: "If the people are sovereign and they want to retain the kingship, their will must be respected; the political parties, even taken together, are subordinate to the general will."
Indeed, since, as is endlessly chanted these days, the people are now the real lords and masters of this land, why should it be a no-no to find out directly what their views on the Monarchy are? Can one argue, from one side of the mouth, that there must be "complete" democracy and, from the other side, declare that the sovereign people may NOT pronounce their will on this vital issue?
After all, one cannot forget that during the 1980 referendum, the people were provided the choice of either voting for a reformed Panchayat order or a multi-party polity. Indeed, as editor of The Rising Nepal at that time this commentator wishes to remind readers that for a full year before the referendum even the state-owned newspapers, and the RSS, gave equal opportunity for views of both sides of the referendum divide to be heard. Of course, the earlier ban on political had been lifted in King Birendra's landmark proclamation announcing the referendum a year earlier. Incidentally, one wonders if stalwart members of the "international community", including UNS-G Kofi Annan's personal representative in Nepal, Ian Martin, know this. For the sake of the record, I wish to remind all and sundry that this media development was recorded, among other places, in the US Department of State's annual human rights report, under 'press freedom' in the year following the referendum.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS?
Another curious trait that one notices these days is that votaries of human rights are virtually silent as lambs before the slaughter. Besides oft-hyped members of civic society seem also to be adopting a strangely low profile almost as invisible, one might say, as members of the police force or indeed the Army.
The diplomatic corps too seem uncharacteristically mute these balmy days, although there are constant reports of the American and Indian envoys meeting the prime minister and other political worthies – when, that is, they are not busy toing-and-froing from here to their respective capitals.
All such low-decibel activity is, of course, in stark contrast to that of the loud and teeming bands of Maoist cadres parading and slogan-chanting through the streets of the capital, even as we now enter the month of Lenin's October Revolution. What is no less an absurd feature of the current political landscape are repeated claims by some political heavies and their uncritical fans in the media that somehow the seven plus one parties now running the show represent the 25 million plus people of Nepal.
Quite apart from the fact that the eight have not been elected for that purpose, there is the indisputable reality that millions of Nepalese citizens are not members of any political party, including those outside the eight party power monopoly. Finally, it may be germane to recall that in a long interview by Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara in the Kathmandu Post (16 October) there are repeated references to doing away with all traces of a feudal order, restructuring of the state, alleviating poverty, charges of betrayal by the palace and so on but not a word on his party's commitment to democracy or multi-party democracy, human rights, press freedom, constitutionalism and rule of law. Isn't that too a wee bit out of whack?