| January 15, 2021

Triumph of trickery

Triumph of trickery
Ruling Oli-garchy is a continuation of socio-political reality of Nepal where Khas-Arya considers itself to be rightful owner and ultimate defender of purity of nation
After 12-long months of business as usual, the Permanent Establishment of Nepal (PEON) has suddenly discovered that the memorial day of Gorkha Earthquake is close at hand. Adroit at turning all challenges to the regime and every catastrophe it has to face into opportunities for amassing a fortune and further entrenching its hegemony, the PEON will probably not hesitate to mark April 25 with pomp and pageantry befitting the annual Hindu funeral rituals of the deceased.

It’s more than likely that obligatory silences for few minutes will be observed during public functions; and cars will come to a halt in the traffic-choked streets of Kathmandu to show that those dead in the quakes haven’t been completely forgotten. Wreaths will probably be laid at the site of the fallen Dharhara and pledges will be renewed to reconstruct it on grander scale. Weather permitting; choppers of the high and mighty may even land near the epicenter of the quakes in Barpak where astonished children will be caught on camera to show to the world that normalcy had begun to return in Gorkha.  

The White Shirts—the 4B (bankers, builders, brokers and bureaucrats) nexus still salivating at the prospect of sharing slices of four billion dollars worth of aid commitments and millions of budgetary allocation earmarked for reconstruction—may stage a silent march-pass with appropriate placards to prove that they too care for the downtrodden. Usual noises about the continuing plight of nearly 10 million affected people will be made from five-star seminar halls to impress the international community without explaining why the government has done almost nothing to alleviate the misery of earthquake survivors.

In the immediate aftermath of April-May, 2015 tremors—aftershocks continue to regularly rattle the ground even a year after the initial Magnitute 7.8 temblor—survivors faced their misfortune with stoicism and fortitude characteristic of people that have been accustomed to living under tyrannical regimes of different hues for centuries. Since its founding, governments in Nepal have invariably been instruments of exploitation and oppression rather than a provider of succor to the people in times of hardship and distress. With the help of concerned people from inside and outside the country, survivors coped with adversities almost all on their own. Heavy winds, severe rains, and a harsh winter were spent inside makeshift shelters. The PEON, meanwhile, kept doing what it has always done best: Hatching political conspiracies, playing diplomatic games and having a ball while spouting assurances that good times for all were just round the corner.

Inert intelligentsia

The PEON got down to its usual business in haste when the ground beneath its feet was still shaking and the central secretariat was functioning from tents inside Singh Durbar. Unfortunately, its activities had more to do with sieging the opportunity created by the quakes for political benefit rather than providing relief to survivors. The so-called 16-Point Pact reached between the-then coalition government and the Maoists—with a Madhesh-based party as a witness-participant of the deal—in early-June was intended to reverse most of socially inclusive features enshrined in the Interim Constitution. It also sought to disown the agreement that the government of Girija Prasad Koirala had signed in 2008 with agitating Madheshbadi parties under the auspices of the Indian government.

Formulation of the draft of the new statute was entrusted to a bunch of lawyers in the Second Constituent Assembly that began its work by neglecting past settlements and renouncing all the work done by the First Constituent Assembly. This was the time when the concerned citizenry should have spoken up for earthquake survivors. Unfortunately, the invertebrate intelligentsia of the country as usual began to argue that the justice lay in whatever the steamroller majority decided to do with its brute power in the government and the legislature.

Soon after the finalization of the Draft Constitution, the Tarai-Madhesh began to burn. Supposed consultations with the people were rushed through and the statute was promulgated when at least one-third of the population was mourning its dead—most of them Madheshi protestors and innocent bystanders shot through chest and head by security forces for voicing opposition against what was widely perceived to be a regressive constitution. Border blockages were desperate attempts of protestors in Madhesh, aided and abetted by a section of the Indian establishment no doubt, to make the regressive axis of dominant political parties retract their steps.

Having perfected the art over centuries, the PEON skillfully turned the purely domestic issue of Madheshi protests into a diplomatic game with geopolitical dimensions. Earthquake survivors were forgotten. Janjatis were made to give up their claims for the sake of ‘national unity’.

The poor began to get their daily dose of ‘patriotism’. The lumpenbourgeoisie rallied behind the regime even while they made a quick killing from state-sponsored smuggling and swindle of lay consumers continued under the protection of state machinery for nearly half-a-year. The lumpenproletriat were happy to be carriers of contraband.

The state floundered and failed even as its government flourished by fanning the fire of nationalism, which more often than not, turns out to be fascism-lite: Easy to perceive, but impossible to prove as experiences in ritualistic democracies with communal majorities have shown in several countries.

As the closest neighbor, India was the first to sense the danger of establishing an exclusionary regime in a diverse country. That was an advice that the PEON could easily ignore: Anti-Indian slogans have traditionally been the most potent weapon of demonizing and delegitimizing Madheshis in Nepal. The USA spoke against the denial of right to women to confer citizenship upon their children and discrimination between different categories of people in the new constitution. The National Human Rights Commission did what it is constitutionally obligated to do—draw the attention towards denial of fundamental rights of affected people and dereliction of duty by the agencies of the executive in ensuring freedom and fairness for all.

Similar concerns were voiced by the International Crisis Group, an independent agency that sniffs around the world for incipient crises and warns the word of possible consequences well in advance. The government dismissed all these well-meaning murmurs with a shrug and the head of government vented his monarchical ire upon the hapless spokesperson of the NHRC. Meanwhile, apologists of the PEON continue to serenade op-ed pages with panegyrics in praise of patriotic government with dangerous implications for critics of the regime.

Mindless media

Having begun to practice freedom only since the 1990s, the Nepali media is still largely immature with the confident energy and raw passions of graduate students. Being overwhelmingly uniform in its composition, the newsroom barely goes beyond bien pensant concerns for the ‘other’. Most mediapersons usually subscribe to the official view that what is good for the government is also good for the people. If cultural conservatives and political revisionists had ganged up to promulgate what has turned out to be demonstrably divisive constitution, producing agitprop for the atavistic ‘patriots’ became an obsession with talk-show opinionators and leading op-ed writers.

In any case, the Stalinists and Maoists comfortably cohabiting with hardcore Monarchists and fallen Marxists in the same coalition government have been so adept at talking left and walking right—or the vice versa equally often—that it was impossible to see that the regime was slowly but surely headed backwards towards cultural conservatism.

Trickery is perhaps only part of the explanation. In fact, the ruling Oli-garchy isn’t an aberration: It’s a continuation of socio-political reality of Nepal where the Khas-Arya—irrespective of its class or regional location—considers itself to be the rightful owner and ultimate defender of the purity of nation. It was ready to get rid of monarchy in the name of modernity, but is unwilling to let go of its hegemonic control over all apparatuses of the ‘republican’ state and the ‘national’ society. It unabashedly prioritizes order over justice. The PEON knows that democracy is merely one another ritual that can easily be added to the Hindu pantheon.

The Gorkha Earthquake was karma, and so are the sufferings of Madheshis, Janjatis, Dalits and women of all categories. This is how it has been for centuries and will continue to be forever. There is shorthand to explain away the stranglehold of PEON in Nepali—Yo Nepal Ho! Everything else is mere explanation.