Monday, December 26, 2016

A Rightist Revival Attempt

Yuba Nath Lamsal    
The provocative remarks that deposed king Gyanendra Shah made through a statement on December 21 have, as expected, stirred up a hornets' nest in the Nepalese political circle.  His remarks have drawn both flak as well as commendation.  As a citizen, Gyanendra Shah, too, has every right to enjoy his freedom of expression. In that sense, his remarks should not be construed in a negative sense as he has spoken his mind on the state of affairs in the country. But given the circumstances and moves he has made over the last couple of months, one can easily presume that something fishy is afoot in the dark rooms of the rightist camp in Nepal.

Political polarisation

The Nepali society is politically charged and politics is highly polarised. Every sector, including our intelligentsia, is politically divided and polarised. Our intellectual circle, which is supposed to be independent and to make its analysis and judgment based on the facts and reasons, often tends to toe party line. So our political pundits analyse and interpret any event and its consequence in a way that suits their personal or partisan interests. Their analyses often do not reflect the reality, but the opinion of a particular political party or interest group. This is perhaps the chronic disease that Nepal, in particular, is suffering for a long time.

 If we are to drive Nepal forward onto the path of prosperity, a new culture of democracy must be established wherein the politicians will behave like politicians and professionals will act like true professionals. There must be a clear demarcation between the politicians and professionals. Politics is the domain of politicians whereas professionals have their own sphere of domain of telling people what is right and wrong without any kind of fear, pride and prejudice. Social and political scientists, economists, analysts and professionals must be honest and do justice to their profession.

Given the highly polarised politics and politically charged society, the ex-king's remarks have definitely given rise to different speculations. This is because we have the tradition and trend to analyse everything and every incident in a way that suits one's own interest. Nepal is a democracy which allows all hues of ideologies and political beliefs to exist. We have political parties which have varied orientation and leanings—from far right to the far left. Different political parties have different stance and position on different issues, which is natural in a democracy. This is the beauty of democracy, which allows all kinds of flowers to blossom in the pluralistic garden. We have diverse society in which different ethnic, lingual, cultural and religious communities have been living in a perfect harmony. This diversity is our pride, property and heritage, which must be protected and strengthened. Unity in diversity is what our constitution visualises. The ex-kings opinions should also be taken in this light.

The issues and concerns raised by the ex-king are nothing new. The politicians, activists and civil society leaders have often been saying and expressing similar views and opinions on different occasions and forums. In his statement, the ex-king has raised the concern on national unity stating,  "Nepal’s national unity is under attack by the so-called progressive, revolutionary and modern elements". He even went one step forward in attacking the political parties that they (political parties and their leaders) were trying to create rift between the hill and plain people at the behest of external forces. It is a direct reference to and attack on political parties. In it also there is nothing objectionable as every citizen has right to criticise the conduct of political parties and their leaders.  In principle, none is expected and even allowed to act anything against our national unity and integrity in any name, form and manifestation and under any pretext. If anyone tries to do so, it is treason. Necessary action must be taken against anyone who tries to harm our national interest as well as one who allows the external forces to interfere in our internal matters.

Nepal is an independent country and Nepalese people are capable of charting out their own political course and solving their own problem. Any kind of interference and dictates in our internal political affairs from external forces and country are unacceptable and intolerable. But the question is whether our leaders are as dishonest in a way the ex-king has claimed. It's a big no as our leaders are not less patriotic than the ex-king or anybody else.

This is an indication that attempts are afoot from certain quarters both at home and abroad to portray the ex-king as the symbol of national unity and patriotism and malign our political leaders. This is a serious conspiracy against our democracy, republican set up and all other achievements gained through the Jana Andolan of 2006. An individual can never be a symbol of national unity in this modern democratic era. But the ex-king is being instigated by a section of ultra rightist and ultra-nationalist elements to try to reap political benefit out of the rising rightist trend in the world.

Although the rightist trend is on the rise right from 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is more pronounced in the recent years. The rise of BJP and Modi in India, Shinzo Abe in Japan, Theresa May in the United Kingdom and most recently Donald Trump in the United States are the clearer manifestations of rising rightist trend in the world. The ex-king and his supporters might, perhaps, have been encouraged by these developments abroad and political chaos at home. The ex-king is trying to raise the specter of rightist nationalism and at the same time the sentiments of some hilly people more particularly after the registration of the constitution amendment bill in the parliament. The king's statements and moves are nothing more than an attempt to fish in Nepal's troubled political waters and he is not likely to gain anything out of this.


Although Nepalese people may have short memory, the history of monarchy in Nepal is still in our fresh memory. There were of course some kings who have made positive contribution to Nepal's nation-building, but most of the kings were tyrants. Prithivi Narayan Shah's role is definitely praiseworthy and historic and there is no doubt about that. King Mahendra murdered democracy and portrayed himself as a political tyrant, but his contribution to national integration and development is positive. But there is nothing in Gyanendra to command people's respect. He came to power after the royal massacre, but he left his footprint as the worst political tyrant and a crooked businessman, rather than a king. Moreover, the attempt of ex-king to raise the slogan of patriotism and national unity, too, is farce as he, himself, is running from New Delhi to Beijing seeking support for his political regain. What we need to understand is the fact that when a person is dead he/she cannot be revived. Similarly, the monarchy is already dead and abolished, which cannot be revived again, and the ex-king and his supporters must realise this more clearly. Moreover, the monarchy is an anti-democratic political institution, which cannot be compatible with the modern democratic era.

Political parties and leaders have definitely their own limitations, shortcomings and weaknesses. But it does not mean that this is the fault of the system. Democracy is the best political system which alone can solve all political problems and create positive ground for participatory development.  So there should not be any attempt from any quarter to defame the republican democratic system and malign the parties as there is no alternative to democracy in the present era. Similarly, there is no alternative to political parties in the multi-party democracy which we have adopted.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Promote Culture Of Unity

Yuba Nath Lamsal

It seems as though Nepal’s troubled politics has taken a new turn especially after the government registered a bill in the Legislature-Parliament seeking amendment to the constitution of Nepal. The amendment to the constitution became necessary to accommodate some of the demands of the Madhesis and janajatis thereby settling the ongoing political imbroglio in the country, facilitating the meaningful implementation of the constitution and finally completing the political course and the peace process initiated almost a decade ago.

Immediately after the government registered the bill in parliament, protests led by the CPN-UML, the main opposition party, and supported by other fringe parties began both in the streets and the parliament.  The CPN-UML-led opposition parties have continued to block the meetings and other procedures in the parliament and at the same time they have launched street protests of various kinds mainly in districts of Province No 5. The bone of contention is the proposal that seeks to change the demarcation of the Province No 5.
But the bill is merely a proposal, which is now the parliament’s property and can be passed, modified, changed and even rejected by two-thirds majority in the parliament. The bill is not a final document but registered for discussion and decision in the House. Unfortunately, the parliament’s meeting has been continuously obstructed, which has prevented the parliamentarians from debating the pros and cons of the proposed bill.
It is neither intended to defend the bill nor to criticise it. The bill may have both merits and demerits. The parliamentarians and the political parties have their right to express their views and vote for or against the bill. This is constitutional and democratic norm and rights of the House and its members. But the fundamental question is that the parliament must be allowed to debate and decide on it.
In a democracy, persons and parties have their own views and position on different issues. In a pluralist society and system, one cannot expect all to have similar views. The political parties and people differ on issues but they finally reach a conclusion through compromise. Conflict and compromise are the beauty of democracy. On the proposed bill too, the parties may have differences, but this should be discussed in the parliament, the supreme body of the people’s representatives. The parliament is sovereign to change, modify, pass and even reject the bill. This can be done only when the House is allowed to start a debate on the bill.
The CPN-UML is a democratic party, which has strong faith in the country’s constitution, parliament and parliamentary procedures. It does not bode well for a democratic party like the CPN-UML to obstruct the parliamentary procedures for such a long time when several important bills are pending. The government has already registered some bills concerning the local and other elections. If these bills are not passed, local elections may not be held in April-May 2017. If the elections are not held by May next year, the election for local bodies may not be held perhaps until April 2018.  It is because monsoon begins in June and will last until September and elections are not possible during monsoon. After the monsoon season is over, festival season will start. Moreover, parliamentary election must be held by mid January as the tenure of the present parliament will expire in January next year. If the elections for the local bodies are not held in April-May, we may have to wait for the local election till 2018 probably only after the parliamentary elections.
If the local election is to be held in April-May next year, a new compromise must be reached among the key political parties. We have the parliament and elected people’s representatives, who should be allowed to decide what political course and what political step should be taken to find an amicable solution to the problem. Our parliament and parliamentarians are competent enough to take the right decision for the larger interest of the country. Now we have some burning issues at hand which must be settled before we go to election. If the parliament meetings continue to be obstructed, this will only give ground to the unparliamentarily and undemocratic elements to reap benefit and defame the democratic polity. Now we are running short of time to announce the local election. Thus, the parliament should be allowed to function so that all the necessary bills are enacted to facilitate the local election in April-May 2017 and paving the way for timely election for the provincial and federal parliaments.
At the same time, the bill that has been registered seeking amendment to the constitution should also be settled because the environment for election may not be created without bringing the disgruntled Madhesi and janajati parties on board. The Madhesis and Janajatis are demanding amendment to the constitution to accommodate their genuine demands for the successful implementation of the constitution and holding the elections. Thus, the bill concerning the constitution amendment which is in the parliament must be settled.
Moreover, the Election Commission has made its position and views clear in public that it will need at least 120 days (four months) for election preparations. This means the election dates need to be announced by December if the election is to be held in April, 2017. But still much needs to be done before announcing the election dates. First the issues raised by Madhesis and janajatis need to be addressed for which the constitution amendment bill must be settled. The second task will be to finalise the restructuring of the local bodies. The third task will be to enact all necessary laws concerning the election. Only then election dates can be announced. Thus, the first and the foremost task at present is to end the obstruction in the parliament.
Now the issue is not which party will win or which party will lose. It is the nation that should be the ultimate winner. The country will win only when the constitution is successfully implemented, achievements of the April Uprising 2006 are institutionalised and peace process is completed. If not, the nation will be the loser. When the country loses, we all will be losers because we are on the same boat. We all will perish if the boat sinks no matter whichever party we belong to. Now our efforts should be oriented towards the direction that makes peace, stability and prosperity possible leaving behind our personal and partisan interests.

Final phase
We are in the final phase of completing the political and peace process initiated to end the decade-long armed insurgency. If this process fails, the country and people will have to pay a huge price. Thus, this process must be successful for which a collective initiative of all political actors is a must. The country has suffered heavily due to the politics of conflict and protest. This culture of protest must be put to an end and begin afresh one to herald a new era of unity and collectiveness among the political parties for at least one more decade so as to ensure peace, stability and prosperity. For this, our parties should rise above their partisan agenda and give a little thought to the broader interest and agenda of the country. If we take the interest of the nation above our personal and partisan agenda, solution can easily be found.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Nepal's war with British India and its impact on foreign policy

Yuba Nath Lamsal
The Anglo-Nepal war of 1814 and the Sugauli Treaty marked a turning point in Nepal’s foreign policy and diplomacy. The war broke out after all peaceful and diplomatic means applied to settle the issues between Nepal and the British East India Company failed. The war lasted for almost two years in which Nepal suffered a heavy loss to the British imperial power, but still managed to safeguard its independent status.

Serious threat
Nepal had been vigorously consolidating its power and expanding territories by unifying small principalities on the southern side of the Himalayas. British imperial power in India took Nepal’s continued territorial expansion as a serious threat. Thus war became imminent as Nepal’s territorial advancement reached close to the border with areas under the control of East India Company. British had earlier attempted thrice to gain commercial rights and foothold in Nepal through other means. But these efforts had failed due to Nepal’s cautious maneuvering. As a result, British considered a war as the only means to achieve its goal in Nepal.
Convinced that only military pressure was the way to intrude into Nepal and have its political presence and commercial domination, the East India Company was looking for a suitable pretext to invade Nepal. The Butwal and Seuraj incidents served as an immediate excuse for the British to declare a war against Nepal. However, the fundamental factor behind the war was the clash between the British imperial policy to control the entire South Asia and Nepal’s desire to keep its independence intact.
 Nepal was aware of the British imperial design and was always cautious enough to keep the British imperialism at bay. More particularly, Bhimsen Thapa had seen how one Indian state after another had fallen into British control, and he was aware of the next target of British was definitely Nepal. 
Bhimsen Thapa, however, had limited options except war as all other peaceful options had already failed. The fundamental aim of Thapa’s foreign policy was to save Nepal from the ‘clutches of the British imperialism’. The East India Company had been preparing for the war as the Governor General Wellesley of the East India Company had earlier written a letter to Nepal renouncing the 1792 and 1803 treaties, which was a clear indication that the British were going to declare a war.
Thus, Nepal was left with no alternative but to prepare for the war as both war and friendship with the British had been costly for Nepal. Even if Nepal had accepted friendship in British terms, the friendship would also have been costly  for Nepal as the East India Company sought Nepal to give up several newly conquered areas. Nepal Durbar became divided as to whether friendship was to be accepted under British terms or go for war. Bhimsen Thapa argued that  war with the British was imminent as, according to him, timing for the war was appropriate for Nepal as Britain ten had been occupied in Napoleonic war in Europe and management of internal conflicts within India. Thus, Bhimsen Thapa’s logics prevailed and Nepal finally decided to go for the war.
Nepal knew that the East India Company was strong and Nepal’s own strength might not be adequate to defeat the British. Thus, Bhimsen Thapa, tried to forge an alliance with some neighbouring states against the British. In this connection, Nepal wrote to the Chinese emperor asking for support during the war against the British. China, however, rejected Nepal’s request for assistance and refused to get involved in the Anglo-Nepal war.
Bhimsen Thapa then turned to some Indian states for help in the war against the British. He sent envoys to Maratha and Sikh kings in India with an appeal for alliance against the British. But aid from the Maratha and Sikh kings was not forthcoming. Beleaguered Nepal Durbar then came to the conclusion that it had to fight with the British imperialist force alone, which was, indeed, a Herculean task. In the final response to the East India Company, Nepal wrote a letter to the East India Company expressing their will for friendship not in British terms but in Nepal’s own terms, which was obviously not acceptable to the East India Company.  Finally, the East India Company declared a war against Nepal on November 2, 1814.
Soon after the declaration of the war, British troops stormed over Nepalese forces at different points. Nepalese soldiers showed high degree of valor against the sophisticated British army. Nepalese basically fought a defensive war. The war in Kangara was the most notable as poorly equipped Nepalese soldiers could defeat the British troops which were more in number and more sophisticated in terms of weapons. In this connection, Sir Charles Matcalfe’s comment on the Kangara war and bravery of the Nepalese are worth mentioning. He says: “We have met with an enemy who shows decidedly greater bravery and greater steadiness than our troops possesses; and it is impossible to say what may be the end of such reverse of the order of things. In some instances our troops, European and Native, have been repulsed by inferior number with sticks and stones. In others, our troops have been charged by the enemy with swords in hand, and driven for miles like a flock of sheep. In a late instance of complete rout, we lost more muskets by a greater number than there were killed, wounded and missing.” (Nagendra Kumar Singh in his book ‘Nepal and British India’)
Despite gains in a few points, Nepal lost in other fronts of the war being compelled to seek a ceasefire and peace treaty. The palace sent Gajraj Mishra and Chandra Shekhar Upadhyaya as the representatives to negotiate with the East India Company for a peace treaty. However, British agent Lt. Col. P. Bradshaw demanded that Nepal should pay compensation for the expenses of the war if the peace treaty was to be signed. The compensation was so huge that Nepalese representatives were not in the position to give their opinion as it involved a large part of landmass in the Terai.
Mishra and Upadhyaya returned to Kathmandu with the message of the British for the peace treaty but the costly British proposal was not acceptable to the Nepal Durbar. Sensing Nepal’s unwillingness, the British later modified their proposal following which a peace treaty was signed between the representatives of Nepal in Sugauli and the East India Company on December 2, 1815. However, Nepal Durbar showed reluctance to ratify the treaty, which led to reoccurrence of hostility between the two powers. Nepal, finally, ratified the Sugauli Treaty on March 4, 1816, which ended the war but limited Nepal’s independent foreign policy handling.

British-centric policy

The Anglo-Nepal war and the subsequent Sugauli Treaty had far-reaching impact on Nepal’s foreign policy and diplomacy. Nepal’s expansionist and aggressive foreign policy came to the final end and Nepal became, as once observed by Prithvi Narayan Shah, truly ‘a yam between the two boulders’. While the 1792 treaty with Tibet-China had limited Nepal’s scope to enlarge its influence in the north, the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 with British India put Nepal’s adventure of territorial expansion to a complete halt. Since then, Nepal’s foreign policy and diplomacy became totally British-centric, which lasted until the political change in Nepal in 1951 that ushered in a democratic era.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Together We Stand

Yuba Nath Lamsal
A rainbow is something that can be seen but not caught. It is beautiful only to behold and observe but not to feel. Nepal’s contemporary politics and leaders also appear like a rainbow - only to be seen but never to be found in result and action.
 Academic undertone
Politics revolves around the leaders everywhere in the world. People are said to be at the centre of politics, especially in a democratic polity. But this is merely a theoretical and academic undertone. It hardly materialises in practical politics. Leaders have the final and decisive say, whereas people have the least say, except at the time of a referendum or election. But that, too, is often manipulated and engineered. People’s desire is not always reflected in the polls.
 Let us take this year’s US presidential election results. In the election, the Democratic Party’s candidate, Hillary Clinton, secured more popular votes than her Republican rival Donald Trump. But Trump won the election and was declared the new president of the world’s most powerful and democratic country. The electoral system is such that even one who gets more popular votes can lose the election. Nothing can be more ironic than this.
None expected Trump to win, but he did. All pre-poll predictions failed. The American election result is an indication that politics is taking a rightist turn in the world. Brexit and the rise of Theresa May in British politics is yet another manifestation of emerging rightist politics in the world. This trend started visibly with the rise of the BJP in Indian politics in South Asia, which now has global repercussions. These events are just symptoms of the newly emerging global phenomenon that is witnessing the revival of rightist politics once again.
Nepal is a small country, and political developments in Nepal may not have any significant impact on a global scale. But what has happened in Nepal is just a repercussion of the emerging global phenomenon. Nepal’s politics is also likely to return to rightist mode once again, which may be reflected in the upcoming elections.
Nepal has a huge leftist vote bank, but rightist or non-leftist forces remained in power for a long time. Until 1990, Nepal remained under absolute monarchy with no democratic rights and freedom. The political change in 1990 saw the abolition of absolute monarchy and re-establishment of multi-party system in Nepal. The 1990 political change was ushered in by the successful movement, jointly launched by the Nepali Congress and the communists, but the commander of this movement was the Nepali Congress leader, Ganesh Man Singh.
The Nepali Congress, therefore, had a dominant role in the 1990 movement, which was also reflected in the post-1990 movements of Nepal. However, the presence of leftist forces in the country was also strong, and its impact started to become visible in Nepalese politics slowly.
In the 1991 general election, the Nepali Congress won a majority in Parliament and formed its government, while the CPN-UML emerged a strong opposition party in Parliament. Despite winning a working majority in Parliament, the NC failed to complete its five-year term, paving the way for a mid-term election in 1994, in which the CPN-UML emerged the single largest party in Parliament, but short of a majority to form its own government.
The Nepali Congress was reduced to becoming the second largest party. This was a clear indication that Nepal’s politics was taking a left swing. However, neither could the leftists keep their vote bank intact nor could they be united. The communists continued to split and disintegrate, the benefit of which went to the non-leftist parties, namely the Nepali Congress. The CPN-UML split in 1998, allowing the Nepali Congress to won a majority in the next general election.
The leftist vote bank is still strong, and should all the leftist parties unite and contest the election on a common platform, they can form a majority in Parliament. But this is not the case because there is always ugly rivalry among the leftist parties, and the communists seem ready to form alliances with non-leftist parties but not with the leftists.
The CPN-Maoist launched a decade-long armed insurgency, which again enlarged the leftists’ influence in Nepal. In the election held in 2008 for the Constituent Assembly, all leftists combined won over 62 per cent seats in Parliament, but, in the absence of unity, they could not make any significant impact in governing the country. Communists kept on playing against one another, which benefited the non-communist forces.
In the 2013 election too, the leftists combined had significant presence in Parliament. But their role has not been effective because they are divided, paving the way for anti-leftist forces to have greater say in the political decision-making.
Although the Nepali Congress is a centrist party with social democratic ideology, it has hardly practised what it preaches. Instead, the policies and programmes the NC has adopted seem to be more rightist than centrist, which is in sharp contrast to its official doctrine. Similar is the case with the communists.
The communists are no longer communists, and the NC is no more a centrist or social democratic party. The NC is moving on the rightist path while the communists are leaving leftist ideology and slowly shifting towards the centre, and in certain cases into rightist opportunism.
The recent developments in Nepal are a manifestation of opportunistic politics not based on ideals, ideology and principles but on personal, partisan and political gains. This is the reason why politics has drawn public apathy. The crux is the mismatch and inconsistency between the principles and practice.
Nepal’s politics now revolves around POD (Prachanda, Oli and Deuba). They are the principal leaders of Nepal’s three largest parties. Sometimes circumstances develop in such a way that politics is not even in their hands. The Madhesi parties and leaders may think that their role is crucial in Nepalese politics, but they, too, are not in the scene as far as practical politics is concerned, although their agenda and demands keep on festering both from within and outside.
Then what is wrong with our politics? We blame external forces for meddling in our internal politics. But it is we who have given the external forcers ground to meddle in. We do not try to find a solution to our own problems in Kathmandu or somewhere within our own country but prefer to seek it in foreign capitals. This has been the case since the 1951 political arrangement upto now. Herein lies the fundamental flaw.
Unless we depart from that mentality and build confidence in ourselves, Nepal’s politics may slip out of our hands, the symptoms of which are already starting to be seen. Nepal is a diverse country composed of many ethnic groups, cultures, linguistic communities and geographical regions. Nepal belongs to its citizens—irrespective of where we live within this country, irrespective of our ethnic and cultural identity. We may live in the mountains, mid-hills or Madhes, but our common identity is Nepali. If we lose control of our politics and decision-making, we will all become losers.

Harmony and unity
There may be attempts to reap benefits by dividing us in the name of ethnicity, geographical region and cultural and linguistic identity. We must be alert and guard against such attempts and maintain our harmony and unity. Our future is bright only in our unity.  This country belongs to all, and we must ensure that we all have equal share in the opportunities, for which constitutional and legal mechanisms must be framed. This needs to be taken into account with utmost seriousness as we are in the process of constitutional amendment, which should not be taken as a win for one section and loss for others.

Our entire purpose should be directed towards the move that will ensure the victory of Nepal. If Nepal wins, all of us will win, and if the country loses we all will be losers. We must remember: ‘together we stand and divided we fall’.