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Thursday, September 29, 2022

An ominous stand-off between Prime Minister and President

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

Nepal is a test case in South Asia where democracy always remains fragile and frequently suffers due to the authoritarian behaviour of politicians who often tend to cross the constitutional red line. Once in power, leaders consider themselves the boss and the people their subordinates. In principle, democracy is a system where people are the boss while the leaders and parties are there only to serve the people.

As Rousseau said in The Social Contract, the government is the contract between rulers (in the modern sense, parties) and the people. Parties or politicians make contract with the people to act in the larger interest of the people. 

Recently, a debate has been raging on in the political circle of Nepal and at the citizenry level on the role and authority of the President, especially when the President refused to authenticate the citizenship bill passed by the Parliament a second time. 

The Article of the Constitution of Nepal states, “In case any Bill is sent back along with a message by the President, and both Houses reconsider and adopt such Bill as it was or with amendments and present it again, the President shall authenticate that Bill within fifteen days of such presentation.” 

In the words of former prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru, the president ‘neither reigns nor governs' implying that the president has only a ceremonial role and is obliged to do what the government says. There are several instances of a row between the president and prime ministers on the role and rights of the president in the world. Once the tenth president of India KR Narayanan returned the proposal of the government to impose direct rule in Utter Pradesh, stating that the president ‘was not a rubber stamp’.  

Democracy: The loser

The conflict between the government and the president is an ominous sign for the future of our democracy.  In the chequered history of Nepal, whenever the head of state and the head of government remained at odds, democracy paid the price.

The personality cult and power clash between King Mahendra and democratically elected Prime Minister BP Koirala was primarily responsible for the political disaster of 1960 in Nepal that pushed the country into three decades of the dark era of tyranny under the façade of Panchayat.

In the 1991 general elections held after the restoration of democracy, the Nepali Congress won a comfortable majority and formed the government headed by Girija Prasad Koirala. However, the intra-party clash and conflict within the Nepali Congress solely for power grabbing within the party and in the government led to the snap polls. In the clash between GP Koirala and Ganeshman Singh, Koirala prevailed but the Nepali Congress party lost.

In the subsequent election held in 1994, the Congress was defeated at the hands of its rival, Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist–Leninist. This is the point that sowed the seeds of a new phase of political instability from which king Gyanendra took over power. He went on to sack the legitimate prime minister to impose his absolute rule even as the Maoists emerged in a lightning speed. Democracy suffered a blow at the hands of the head of state.

King Gyanendra’s action proved to be fatal to himself as it paved the way for otherwise hostile parties to come together along with the insurgent Maoists on two key agenda: abolition of the tyrannical monarchy and election for a constituent assembly to write Nepal's new constitution. In the election held for the constituent assembly, the Maoists emerged as the largest party but fell short of a majority and formed a government with support from other parties. The conflict between the  Prime Minister and President over the issue of the sacking of the army chief took its toll on the politics of Nepal, thereby forcing Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ to step down. That in turn sowed the seeds of distrust and clash among the parties contributing to another cycle of uncertainty.

Violation of Constitutional limits

The conflict between the head of state and the head of the government has always been the main cause of political mishaps in Nepal. Now the president has definitely crossed the red line of the Constitution, but a section of the society hails her refusal to acquiesce to the Citizenship Bill as motivated by larger interest of the country. Citizenship Bill is definitely an important issue on which a consensus among at least major political parties is necessary.

The country has to have its citizenship policy. Citizenship policy and citizenship laws have a direct and strong bearing on national security and sovereignty. Nepal appears not to have a well-defined citizenship policy. Political parties, too, are vacillating on this important issue. Parties' standing on citizenship policy varies when they are in power and when in opposition. This is the fundamental problem and has complicated the issue. Political parties are politicking on the citizenship issue, which is unfortunate. It is now to be seen whether the president's action was guided by her personal ego and the political benefit of her erstwhile party or done in the interest of the country. Only time will tell the truth.

The writer is a former Nepali ambassador to Denmark from 2017 to 2021. He also worked as a journalist for over three decades, including 28 years at The Rising Nepal.

-Published in www.nepalminute.com on September 29, 2022.

 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Rightist Resurgence In Europe

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

European countries have witnessed rising a right-wing trend. However, Nordic countries are different. Nordic trend is left-centric. In other words, it is called social democratic model. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland are Nordic countries and these countries are always seen differently as they have unique political model distinctly different from both Western capitalist countries and the communist or socialist model. The model Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland have adopted is called the Nordic model.

The East European countries, until 1990s, used to be satellite states of the Soviet Union. These countries followed Soviet path and adopted rudimentary type of regime which they called socialism, fundamentally inimical to Western European political model. The communist regimes in East Europe collapsed like a house of cards following what Samuel Huntington’s said the ‘ third wave of democracy’ and disintegration of the Soviet Union. 

Disintegration 

Sixteen new countries, including Russia were born out of the disintegration of Soviet Union, of which eight are in Asia and the rest are in Europe. The newly born countries adopted the system somewhat akin to western political model. Even Russia which claims to be the inheritor of Soviet Union shook off the shackles of communism and adopted the capitalist model. Russia, at present, is in conflict with the West, which has flared up following Putin’s invasion in Ukraine, but this conflict is not based on ideology but for enlargement of hegemony.

The 2008 economic recession and the influx of immigrants mainly from the Africa and the Middle East to different countries of Europe had already triggered the rightist turn. Denmark which used to be citadel of social democratic model, too, turned right in the election in 2014. Danske Folke Party (Danish People’s Party), vehemently anti-immigrant rightist party, out of the blue emerged as a key player in Danish politics. A new government of Lars Løkke Rasmussen was formed on rightist plank ousting the social democratic government. Since then, Denmark is slowly moving to what some Danes call the ‘American way’ or the rightist leaning. Although Social Democratic party returned to power in 1919 headed by Mette Frederickson, rightist agendas continue to dominate the government policies. 

Rightists and conservatives are hijacking people’s agendas all over the world. They have succeeded in setting their own agenda which are not in the interest of the people in the long run. Conservatives and rightist are gaining ground in several countries in Europe. Far-rightistAlternative for the Deutschland (AFD) in Germany and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally Party in France are slowly gaining ground and retracting attention, while Austria already has the government of rightist and green coalition. The Brexit is also the glaring example of this trend. British far-right conservatives were the ones that had pushed more for leaving the European Union. Italy and Sweden are the recent phenomenon. 

Two important countries of Europe Italy and Sweden went to general election recently in which rightist resurgence has been the major trend. In the election held on September 25, right-wing coalition has emerged winner in Italy and now is poised to form the government. Although the government has so far not been announced, Giorgia Meloni is likely to form the coalition government. The coalition will consist of Brothers of Italy party led by Meloni herself, the Democratic Party of former prime minister Enrico Letta and liberal Third Pole party and Italia Viva. 

The mid-term elections were prompted as the government headed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi failed to win confidence of Italy’s ‘Camera Dei Deputati’ or Chambers of Deputies ( the lower house of Italian parliament). The electoral system of Italy is unique as the parliament is composed of different clusters. In other words it is the hybrid system in which 36 per cent or 147 members of the 400 member lower house of parliament are elected on the basis of the first-past-the-post system whereas 253 are chosen on the basis of proportional representation system. The number of seats in the lower house of parliament was reduced from 630 to 400 through a referendum held in 2020. 

Sweden is another important European country that went to the election on September 11, which saw a sharp rightist and conservative shift. Sweden was the social democratic model or left of the centre politics. But a right-wing coalition consisting of the far-right and ultra-nationalist Sweden Democrats (SD), Moderate Party, Christian Democrats and Liberals has secured a fragile mandate to form the government in this Nordic country. Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s centre-left coalition government comprising Social Democratic Party, left and green parties was defeated in the election. Leader of Moderate Party Ulf Kristersson is likely to head the next coalition government. Right after the election results were made public, Jimmie Akesson, leader of the Social Democratic party leader, said “now we will get order in Sweden and it is time to put Sweden first”.  

Multiple factors 

Multiple factors are behind the rise of rightist elements in European politics. The health of European economy had been bad since the 2008 economic recession. Soon after the economy had just been recovering, COVID-19 hit hard the life of entire world including Europe. Barely the world had started to come out of the COVID-19 shock, the Ukraine war began as Russia started invading its small and weaker neighbour. The Ukraine war has caused multiple impacts in Europe. 

Energy price shot up tremendously, inflation ratcheted record high and cost of life became unbearable. The immigration had been a key political issue of parties for quite some years due to influx of a large number of refugees from some Middle Eastern countries and Africa. Already more than seven million Ukrainians fled their country and are living in different European countries as refugees since war started, which has caused further alarm in some European countries.

These issues and problems provided further ammunition for the right-wingers and ultra-nationalist forces in Europe. As people were facing hardship, the populist agendas and slogans of the rightist and populist parties and politicians drew attentions of the voters. But it is now to be seen how these parties deliver and live up to their promises because it is easier said than done. 


(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

Published in The Rising Nepal on September 28, 2022

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/16564

Monday, September 19, 2022

A Momentous Day In Nepal’s History

 

Yuba Nath Lamsal.

"We, the people, are the rightful masters of the Congress and the court, not to overthrow the constitution but to overthrow the men who try to pervert the constitution," said former American president Abraham Lincoln, signifying the value and sanctity of the constitution. The constitution is, thus, the soul of democratic governance. It specifically says what a government should or should not do in the defence of people’s rights, freedom, and well-being.

All countries in the world have their constitutions, but not all are democratic ones. In the constitutions of authoritarian or non-democratic countries, the government tells the people what to do and what not to do. In democratic countries, constitutions are made by the people, and the people tell the government what to do and what not to do for the safeguard of the rights of the people.

Democratic Charter
Nepal’s present constitution, by all accounts, is the most democratic one with some unique features. The preamble of the constitution begins with "We, the people of Nepal, in exercise of the sovereign powers inherent in us ………. hereby promulgate this Constitution through the Constituent Assembly". Thus, it is the people’s constitution, written by the people’s elected representatives.

Amidst some apprehensions and uncertainty, the first President of Nepal, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, formally released and publicised the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nepal on September 19, 2015. It was a momentous day that heralded a new era in the political history of Nepal. It is the first constitution of Nepal that was written by the elected representatives of the people. The unique features of the Constitution are, among others, federalism, republican set up, a mixed type of electoral system, and proportionate representation in all law-making and decision-making levels.

The French philosopher Montesquieu says, "In republican governments, men are all equal." As said by Montesquieu, it is only the republican system that ensures genuine democracy and treats all inhabitants of a country equally. The monarchical system, whatever may be its name or form, is like George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. There are some monarchical systems in the world that claim to be democratic, but they have a system and tradition that make some people "more equal than others. In a monarchical system, some people are born superior to others. Such a system cannot be called a real democracy.

Nepal remained under the monarchical system for over 240 years. Nepalese people know well the pains and plights of life under a monarchy. The monarchy has always served as a principal barrier to democratic development in Nepal. Every time people brought about a democratic system, the monarchy always tried to crush and defame the people’s system and imposed an absolute regime.

 Multi-party democracy was first introduced in Nepal in 1951 through a popular movement spearheaded by the Nepali Congress. The movement not only toppled a century-old Rana oligarchic system and heralded a democratic system of government but also restored the status of the king. One of the principal tasks immediately after the 1951 change was to hold the election of the Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution. The then king, Tribhuvan, had publicly made his commitment to hold the elections to the Constituent Assembly, but the same monarch broke the promises made to the people and scuttled this process. 

Parliamentary Polls
Finally, a parliamentary election was held in 1959 instead of the election for the constituent assembly. In the general election, the Nepali Congress won an overwhelming majority and formed its own government headed by BP Koirala.

Since the political change in 1951, the democratic system of government has been slowly and gradually moving ahead and getting more mature, despite several hitches and hiccups. The king did not want to see the democratic system grow and take its roots. The king crushed the democratic system through a soft coup in 1960, sending elected leaders, including BP Koirala, behind bars. 

After remaining under monarchical dictatorship for almost three decades, people rose against the king’s absolute authority in 1990 and restored multi-party democracy, in which the monarchy was brought under a constitution. But King Gyanendra again made a conspiracy and trampled democracy in 2002. The Jana Andolan III restored democracy again. Political parties, leaders, and ordinary people have come to realise that democracy in Nepal cannot take its roots as long as the monarchy remains in place. One of the key agendas of the Jana Andolan III was, therefore, the abolition of the monarchy. And the constitution of 2015 formally institutionalised the republican set up and declared Nepal as a federal democratic republic.

Nepal has a relatively seven-decade long history of constitutional development. The constitution of 2015 is the seventh constitution of Nepal. The first constitution of Nepal was the one given by Rana Prime Minister Padma Sumsher Rana in 1948. The second constitution is the interim constitution of 1951, following the political change and introduction of democracy in the country. The third one is the constitution of 1959, which was given by the king and had reserved some especial prerogatives of the king that were misused to trample democracy in 1960. The fourth one is the Panchayat constitution of 1962. The fifth constitution is the democratic constitution of 1990. The sixth one is the interim constitution of 2005. The present one is the republican constitution.

People’s Sacrifice
This constitution is the product of the great sacrifice of the people. From 1996 to 2006, Nepal saw a violent conflict. In the decade-long violent conflict launched by the CPN-Maoist, more than 17,000 people were killed, thousands were forcibly disappeared, another thousands were physically disabled, and several others suffered psychological trauma due to actions and atrocities perpetrated by both warring sides. The constitution finally brought this situation to a formal end and marked a peaceful transition to democracy. The constitution of Nepal-2015 has, in a practical sense, made the people masters of their own destiny.

The constitution is the document in which the nation makes commitments for the greater good of the people. The success of the constitution depends on its implementation in its letter and spirit. Political parties and their leaders are the principal actors in a multi-party democracy. The Chinese statesman San Yat-sen, who led the 1911 revolution that ended imperial rule in China, said: "If we want the republic to be solid, we must first build its foundation. We don't need to look abroad for this foundation; we should look within our own hearts."As observed by San Yat-sen, political parties and their leaders are required to work with good intent, competence, and honesty to build a strong and solid foundation of our republic in the hearts of all Nepali people.

(Lamsal is former ambassador and chief editor of TRN)
-Published in The Rising Nepal on September 19, 2022
 
https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/16924
 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Uphill Task Awaits Liz Truss

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

The 2002 census report of England and Wales came as a shock to many British people as it indicated that if the same trend continued white Britons would soon be in minority in their own capital city. The 2012 census further stunned them as only 44.9 per cent residents in London identified themselves as white British. These two events agitated the right-winger British politicians to take up the nationalist bandwagon blaming the liberal immigration policy. The far rightist hardliners in the Conservative Party took it an opportune time to hit the liberals in both sides of aisles of British parliament and come into the leadership spotlight. 

The liberal immigration policy was linked with UK’s association with the European Union and the hardliners often called it as British government’s policy capitulation to the European Union. They unleashed a crusade demanding tight immigration policy and exit from the European Union finally forcing the British government to hold referendum on the EU. In what is popularly known as the Brexit referendum 2016, British people chose to break UK’s five decade long collective engagement with Europe since the creation of European Economic Community. Hard conservatives cheered calling it a victory of British people to make their independent decision. 

Polarisation 

Liz Truss was one of the Eurosceptic conservatives in the United Kingdom, who said ‘after Brexit, we will be free to determine our economic future, with control over our money, laws and borders’. Now Truss has come to the mantle of power in the 10 Downing Street and is in position to practice what she preached. The Brexit issue sharply polarized the British politics and deepened fractures and fissures in the British society. After David Cameron resigned in the aftermath of Brexit referendum result, no prime minister has completed his/her full tenure. Britain has seen four prime ministers over the last six years since 2016. David Cameron wanted to remain in the EU in 2016 stating that ‘Britain was stronger, safer and better off inside the EU’. 

But popular verdict came against what he advocated and Cameron resigned stating that he did not want to remain a ‘captain of the sinking ship’ paving the way for the Brexiters to be in the helms of affairs. Theresa May rose to power as a successor of David Cameron but served only for three years and had to quit in 2019 over her failure to negotiate an amicable way to leave the EU, clearing the way for another Brexiter Boris Johnson to take up Tory party’s leadership and premiership of the United Kingdom. Johnson’s premiership, too, didn’t last long as he remained barely 38 months in power and had to resign over a scandal. 

Now the 47 year Truss is the new leader of the British Conservative party and prime minister of the United Kingdom. Just two days after she took up the straight jacket of premiership, British Queen Elizabeth passed away and King Charles III has ascended to the throne of British monarchy. The United Kingdom has now both new head of the state and the head of the government. As a Eurosceptic conservative, Truss is called a Thatcherite hardliner and often compared with Margaret Thatcher.  But her background does not confirm with this image. 

Thatcher was avowed conservative and proved it in action during her 11 years of premiership, due to which she was called an ‘iron lady’. Truss is not Margaret Thatcher. She is liberal left turned conservative right. She rose to power on the basis of anti-EU evangelism rather than rallying on her ideology and policy distinction. She is criticised as the one who lacks vision and clear priorities.  

She has assumed the office of prime minister of Britain at a time when the world is facing a tough time. The international security environment is reaching a tipping point. The Ukraine war has divided Europe. Once a principal empire and global leader, the United Kingdom now appears to have outsourced its foreign policy to the United States in the name of special relationship as London often looks at the world through Washington’s lens. 

The United Kingdom is facing worst crisis as people’s cost of living is ratcheting up, while income is declining. Inflation is soaring high and inequality is widening while Ukraine war has sent a multiple ripples to economic and security fronts of all European countries. Health system is broken. While the war has fuelled inflation, the energy crisis is deepening in entire Europe with Moscow drastically reducing gas supply to Western Europe. Europe heavily depends on Russian gas and if Russia stops gas supply, the upcoming winter will be harsher in Europe.

Multiple challenges

The Eurosceptic conservative leaders said British economy would be better after breaking relations with the European Union. But it didn’t happen so instead problems and crises have further worsened. Moreover, even after the Brexit, some pressing issues are still to be resolved with the European Union. The Brexiters promised the people so many things which are now not possible to realise. Given the gulf between the promises and ground reality, it will be an uphill task for Liz Truss to set things right and maintain the confidence of the British people. Now British people are slowly realising that Brexit was a mistake and had Brexit not happened, the situation might not have gone as badly as it is now.  

The society and politics are so deeply divided that the primary task of the Truss government will be to bridge this divide created by the Brexit and immigration issue. Her tax cut promise, too, is not likely to see the light of the day because of the problematic British economy. Apart from the economy, the other key bone of contention is the immigration policy. It is yet to be seen how she handles this issue and repair the broken immigration policy. Thus, Liz Truss will have tough time to handle these multiple challenges facing the United Kingdom.

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

- published in The Rising Nepal on September 14, 2022

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/16699

Monday, September 5, 2022

Elections 2022: Time to sort out wheat from chaff

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

( Published in nepalminute.com on September 4, 2022)

The concept of democracy originated in the ancient Greek city of Athens in 500 BCE. Since then democracy has undergone continuous evolution both in form and substance. The ancient Athenian system was direct democracy in which all eligible city dwellers would assemble in the city centre and participate in the decision-making on every issue concerning them.

However, with the development of complex societies, direct democracy and the system of seeking consent of every individual citizen on each issue and subject is not possible. Thus, the idea of representative democracy emerged which is now in vogue worldwide.

In representative democracy, people elect their representatives who make decisions on behalf of the citizens.

"… of the people, by the people, for the people"

Former American president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) didn’t know his Gettysburg speech would be so immortal. In his tributes to the soldiers killed in the American civil war (1861-1865), Lincoln gave an emotional speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in 1863, and said “… the nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.

Lincoln's that phrase – “the government of the people, by the people, for the people” – serves as a mantra of democracy throughout the world.

Democracy is people’s polity in which the government is created by the people from among themselves.

In the modern representative democracy, political parties generally represent the citizens. People choose their representatives to govern on their behalf. It is done through elections and the government formed through people’s consent is presumed to concentrate its energy and strength on the broader interest and welfare of the people.

Bertrand Russel, therefore, says, “Democracy is the process by which people choose the man who will get the blame”. The periodic election is, thus, central to democracy.

People are the masters of their own destiny in a democratic dispensation.

In democracy the system serves as 'means' while the public good is the 'end'. While the system is important but the system alone is not everything. What is more important is the intent, competence and will of those who handle democracy. It is said ‘people get the government they deserve’ 

Erosion of public trust

Democracy without periodic elections is inconceivable. If there is no election, there cannot be democracy. Election is the soul of democracy. But not all elections are democratic. Elections are held in authoritarian dispensations as well but they are often manipulated to give legitimacy to a ruler or a particular party.

Genuine elections are held only in democratic system on multi-party basis. Thus, the election must be free, fair and credible in order to maintain the sanctity of democracy and public faith.

But the credibility of elections is slowly diminishing globally owing to which public trust on democratic system and government is eroding. According to Pew Research Centre.

In April 2022, only 20 percent Americans approved of what their government was doing, which meant 80 percent were unhappy with the government’s performances. This is not merely the American case but a global phenomenon. Public cynicism is rising even in mature western democracies which gave rise to eccentric leaders, who have tarnished democratic regimes. 

Election year

In Nepal, this is an election year. We had local elections in May. The country is going to the elections for federal parliament and the provincial assemblies for which we have less than ten weeks.

On November 20, Nepali voters will decide their destiny for another five years by presumably choosing the best candidates and party or parties to govern the country at the centre and in seven provinces.

The Election Commission has already made necessary election-related programmes. The Election Commission this time seems to be stricter in observing the election laws, code of conduct to be followed by political parties, governments, candidates and all other stakeholders aiming at maintaining sanctity of the polls.

Participation in the election reflects the faith of the people in the political system. The higher the voter turnout, the greater will be the participation and public trust in the political process. Right to vote is the fundamental rights of citizens.

But at the same time, it is the duty of the citizens to vote and actively participate in the electoral process. If people do not participate in the election, wrong persons will benefit and the governance will go to the hands of political crooks that will further pervert the political system.

Hinting, perhaps, at this scenario, George Jean Nathan, says ‘bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote’. It may also be worth noting a Turkish proverb here which goes as: “The forest was shrinking but the trees kept voting for the axe, for the axe was clever and convinced the trees that because his handle was made of wood and he was one of them”. This often happens if people do not make informed and conscious decision in the election.

Costly elections

Election is the system which makes politics responsive and accountable. When it comes to sanctity of the election, it should not be taken as a one-day event. Election is a long process that has multiple aspects to ensure a genuinely free, fair and credible election.

Beginning with formulation of election-related legal frameworks, the process goes through preparation and updating the electoral rolls, educating voters on election and its process, making logistical and human resource management for the polls, security of the votes, conducting election on the polling day, vote counting and declaration of the results.

In a way, election is the continuing process to connect the voters with the parties and politics.

It is being widely felt that elections are becoming increasingly expensive and unaffordable for ordinary people in Nepal. Money, muscle and media manipulation seem to have played larger role in the election.

If such trend continues, it may promote serious aberrations further eroding public trust in our political and electoral system. It is now high time that all stakeholders take these aberrations seriously and do the needful to reform our electoral system and preserve the sanctity of elections.

Fait accompli

Nepal has adopted a mixed of first-past-the post or majoritarian and proportionate system of election. Nepali voters will have multiple choices out of which they will have to select the best.

Given the electoral system, no single party is likely to secure a majority in parliament to form its own government. The alliance is, thus, our fait accompli.

Chanakya Niti says: “Merit makes a person great not just getting a high position. A crow does not become Garuda (eagle) just by perching on the top of a palace”.

Election, thus, is the time to distinguish between the crow and Garuda or eagle and elect Garuda or something like separating the grain from the chaff. Let us hope wisdom prevails on the Election Day and good, honest and competent candidates and parties get the chance. This will determine the destiny of the 30 million Nepali people.

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Are India, China Coming Closer?

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

In his maverick style, Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar recently said, “The Asian Century will be difficult if India and China don’t come together”. Soon after Indian minister’s remarks, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said: ‘If China and India do not advance, there cannot be an Asian century’. This convergence of opinion of the two Asia’s giants signifies the necessity of closer cooperation between India and China for peace, stability and common prosperity of Asia. 

Asia is the earth’s largest and most populous continent consisting of 30 per cent of earth’s landmass and 60 per cent of world’s population. In a way, even Europe may not be called a separate continent as there is no water separating Europe from Asia. Europe is an extension of Asia or vice versa. The word continent originated from Latin word terra continens, which means continuous landmass. It would, thus, be wise to call Europe and Asia as a single continent -- Eurasia. 

Strategic race

Alfred Thayer Mahan, a sea power theorist, says ‘whoever controls the Indian Ocean, will dominate Asia’. Given Asia’s geopolitical prominence, whoever controls Asia controls the world. This strategic vitality has made the Indian Ocean an epicentre of international power projection further elevating the geopolitical prominence of countries in the region including India. International powers are, thus, scrambling to coax and take India into their fold seeking to have upper hand in the global strategic race.

In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, ‘China is a sleeping giant’. Once it wakes up, according to Napoleon, China ‘will shake the world’. China is, thus, a historic power. But its power diminished over the last 200 years due to external invasion and occupation, which China calls a ‘national humiliation’.  With the dawn of 21st century, China has risen again, which, indeed, has shaken the world. United States and Western powers have got so much obsessed with what Chinese president Xi Jinping calls as China’s ‘great rejuvenation of Chinese nation’ that they have focussed their entire strategy and energy on containing China. If China alone can shake the world, what would happen when India and China join hands in this geopolitical contest? 

The Asian Century is the connotation first used by Deng Xiaoping when he met with the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Beijing emphasising the need for greater partnership between China and India. The vision and concept of Asian Century is coming to reality decades after the two leaders visualized in 1988. Now the Asian Century phrase is on everybody’s tip of tongue and its practical and early realisation may depend how the Asian powers, more particularly India and China, cooperate and behave. 

India and China are two great powers of Asia sharing a long and contested border. They are both partners and rivals. They have common as well as divergent interests on several regional and international issues. Both the countries are ancient civilizations. At times, China and India were prosperous countries while Europeans were in the impoverished state. China and India combined accounted for more than half of the global GDP until early 17th century with Asia being the greener pasture for Europeans. In course of time, the same Europeans who came to Asia to make their fortune colonised the vast landmass of Asia including India and China.

Europeans prospered by robbing off the wealth and resources while rendering the Asian countries poor and backward. But things have changed recently and Asians are coming up in leaps and bounds. Karl Marx once said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”, while according to Mark Twin, “history doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes”.  Now Asia is creating history neither what communist guru Marx said as farce nor has it merely rhymed. Asia is now resurging and creating a new history of what Indian-American geopolitical analyst Parag Khanna says ‘Asianisation of Asia”.

With the dawn of 21st century, global geopolitical dynamics has seen a marked shift. This shift is from US-European axis to Asia due mainly to the economic growth accompanied by demographic and other dynamics. Asia’s growth is phenomenal. Japan was once an economic super power and now is the third largest economy. China is the second largest economy and poised to be the largest one in a few years. Given China’s growth trend, China’s rise is unstoppable in the race of global leadership. 

Similarly, India is the fifth largest economy, while other countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Singapore alike are rising fast and firmly. In total, Asia alone accounts for almost half of the total global GDP. In all accounts, Asia is on the top list. Thus, the 21st century is definitely going to be the Asian Century. Be it a mere coincidence or spontaneous, the identical tone and tenor of China and India exhibit the reality and their inner intent illustrating the possibility of cooperation between them. But their hyper nationalist ego and predatory realism may not allow it to happen in near future. 

Mistrust

The problem lies in their historical perception. The trajectory of India-China relations is characterised more by mistrust and susceptibility than by convergence and cooperation except in a brief period of Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai of 1950s. International relations analyst Kanti Bajpai in his book ‘India Verses China’ says the most serious problem between India and China is mutual perception and power asymmetry. According to Vajpai, China sees itself as a ‘great power with no pair except the US’, while viewing India as a smaller neighbour. India suffers from inferiority syndrome and thinks China is too powerful and New Delhi seeks alliance with the third power to contain China. Guided by this negative perception, India and China choose one’s rival as another’s ally. But the circumstances on the ground require these two Asian powers to cooperate for their own interests as well as for the broader peace and prosperity of the entire region burying their old hatchet.  


(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Bhanubhakta’s Pioneering Work In Nepali Literary

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

Known among the Nepali speaking population across the globe as Aadikabi or pioneer poet, Bhanubhakta Acharya is, indeed, one of the greatest personalities Nepal has ever produced. His contribution to the promotion of Nepali language and literature is definitely huge and heavy. During Bhanubhakta’s days, circumstances were not easy as they are today. Opportunities of education were not easily available in Nepal. Schools had not been established. Reading and wiring were the strict privilege of the upper caste Brahmins that, too, was limited to religious study. The study of liberal art and other streams of learning were not available. One had to travel as far as Banaras of India if he wanted to pursue education. It was so with Bhanubhakta as well.

A son of Dhananjaya Acharya who belonged to a religious Brahmin family, Bhanubhakta Acharya learnt basic skills of reading and writing at home under the custodianship of his grandfather, Sri Krishna Acharya, who was a Sanskrit scholar of his time. Later his grandfather took young Bhanubhakta to Banaras for further study, where he studied Sanskrit literature. During those days, there were no literature and reading materials in Nepali language. Sanskrit was the lingua franca of studies. However, his genius and instinct made him a writer in Nepali language, making known him as Aadikabi (pioneer poet).

Born in Chundi Ramgha of Tanahu district, Bhanubhakta had never thought in his early childhood that he would one day become an acclaimed writer and a towering personality in the history of Nepali language and literature. It happened so accidentally making an ordinary village boy a literary icon of Nepali language.

As is the case with several great personalities in the world, an ordinary incident inspired young Bhanubhakta to do something that would keep his fame and name alive and alight even after his death. His encounter and conversation with a grass cutter was a turning point in his life that proved to be a historic event for Nepali literature.

The death of his grandfather, Sri Krishna Acharya, shocked Bhanubhakta greatly. He had to return home upon hearing the shocking news giving up his study in Banaras.

It is said that once when young Bhanubhakta was roaming around in his own village, he happened to meet a grass cutter in a local Chautari (a traditional village resting place constructed under the shade of Banyan and Pipal trees by raising a platform little above the surface). In course of conversation, the grass cutter told him that he eked out on cutting grass and selling it to the needy people. He had a village pond dug with the meager money saved out of his little earning so that people would collect water from the pond. He did so with the motive of social welfare so that people would always remember him.

This incident almost shocked young Bhanubhakta. He came from a better off family in the village whereas the grass cutter was poor and had no personal and family property. For the first time in his life, he felt ashamed for doing nothing for the society. As he had a poet inside him, he wrote a poem describing that particular incident and hailing the grass cutter and reviling and regretting for failing to do anything for the society.

He was still clueless what he should do that would make the society remember him forever. But ultimately, his poetic genius told him to write the Ramayana epic in Nepali language. The Ramayana, description of Lord Ram’s life, works and activities, was originally written by saint Valmiki in Sanskrit verses. Sanskrit was not the lingua franca of the ordinary people. So, he wrote the Ramayana in a simple Nepali language and in charming rhythmic verses that enable even an ordinary person, who is just literate, to read, understand and remember easily. Soon after its publication, this epic became so popular among the Nepali people that it was read in every household. With the popularity of Ramayana, Bhanubhakta also became a household name in Nepal as well as Nepali speaking community everywhere.

Apart from the Ramayana, he has written several other books like Badhu Siksha (education to daughter in-law), Prasnottari, Ram Gita and Bhakti Mala.

There is also an interesting incident that made him write Badhu Siksha. Once he happened to visit a friend’s house in the evening, where he wanted to spend a night. To his dismay, his friend, Gajadhar Soti, had been away from house. The friend’s daughter in-law did not recognize Bhanubhakta and did not allow him to stay there. Instead, she misbehaved the poet. Describing this incident, he wrote Badhu Siksha.

Bhanubhakta was humorist and satirist too. There is one incident that reveals his art of satire in literature. Bhanubnhakta, who was once a clerk in the government office, was caught on charges of financial irregularities and put behind bar. But, he was later found innocent. When asked how he was doing in the jail, Bhanubhakta had replied most satirically that everything was fine and entertaining. He said this way: ‘Mosquitoes and fleas are friends of mine here, where mosquitoes sing and fleas dance while I entertain myself watching their music and dance’.

Even after he was declared innocent, he was not released from jail immediately. He appealed to the authorities to release him soon but the authorities kept on asking to wait until ‘tomorrow’. Frustrated with the false promise of releasing ‘tomorrow’ he wrote an appeal to the higher authorities in most satirical manner that really touched the higher officials and he got released.

The story about grass cutter and village pond is subject of debate. According to some critics, the village where he was born practice of buying grass has never been in place, neither are there any commercial grass cutters. Also the village has plenty of water from rivers and rivulets and there is no need of digging a pond. This is a mere imagination and fabrication of Motiram Bhatta, who popularized Bhanubhakta as a pioneer poet of Nepal. Motiram Bhatta, who spent a long time in Banaras, had seen the scarcity of water there and practice of grass cutting and selling. He conceptualized the same condition about Bhanubhakta’s village in order to promote and popularize Bhanubhakta and his works. Anyway Motiram Bhatta was guided by a good intention of promoting Nepali literature for which Bhanubhakta had to be established as the pioneer poet.

The publication of the Ramayana ushered in a new era in the history of Nepali literature. This is the beginning of a modern era of Nepali literature that inspired many new writers to make contribution for the promotion and development of Nepali literature. Bhanubhakta passed away in 1868 at the age of 54. But, Bhanubhakta always remains in the heart of Nepali speaking population not only in Nepal but also across the globe.