QUAGMIRE THROUGH THE “PEACEFUL-SOLUTIONISTS”
- La Verdad (The Truth)
Proof by contradiction
Mathematicians often use “proof by contradiction” in order to solve difficult problems that deny straightforward answers. When it is impossible (or too difficult) to directly prove the veracity of a statement, mathematicians tactfully show its opposite to be untrue, thus proving the statement itself to be true. We are witnessing in Nepal today, a similar proof.
During the royal rule there were many who decried the alliance between the SPA and the Maoists as “unholy”. There were many who questioned the Maoists’ commitment to “mainstream politics”. But there were more who believed otherwise. This group, consisting of most media, “civil society” organizations, and the political parties led us into believing that the Maoists were dying to join peaceful, competitive politics while an arrogant and ambitious king was only using them as an excuse to consolidate his own power. If the parties were given a chance to have their way, we were told, they would deliver us a “peaceful solution” to the Maoist insurgency as opposed to the king’s “military solution”.
More than a year has passed since the king yielded to these “peaceful-solution-walahs”. Do we have peace now? Is any solution in sight? What have been the achievements of this party-press-civil society-led route to peace, not to mention a “new Nepal”? Events in the past one year are clearly contradicting their predictions that a “safe-landing” to the Maoists would assure us peace and a better Nepal. By contradiction then, as mathematicians might put it, the opposite i.e. that the SPA-M alliance was indeed “unholy”, and that the Maoists couldn’t be trusted to enter the “mainstream”, are now being proved true. Let us examine more closely the fallout of the “peaceful-solution” route:
An immediate casualty of this misguided effort was the 1990 constitution, a document once hailed as among “the best” in the world. Why anger against a king who (allegedly) misused the constitution had to translate into wholesale bashing and trashing of the constitution itself is a million-dollar question crying out for an answer. One could hardly come across a better example of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. Nonetheless, the swift annulment of the 1990 constitution exposed the dearth of ideas (to solve the insurgency) in the SPA ranks. An agenda that was brought to the fore solely on the point of guns was thoughtlessly accepted as the “only solution”. The fact that to this day an overwhelming majority of the Nepalese people still don’t know what a constituent assembly is clearly indicates that this “solution” was mere political expediency, not popular demand. Secondly, given that the 1990 constitution was a document that the SPA had themselves helped create, its unceremonious end exposed our “leaders” faith and conviction in their own words and deeds, and the strength with which they’ll stand up to defend them.
As per the Maoists’ wishes, the UN was brought in to help resolve Nepal’s insurgency. While this was in the interests of a “terrorist group” aiming to attain the status of a “rebel force”, it would have been in the interests of all Nepalese too if the UN had been given some teeth. But when after months of waiting we finally learnt of the 10:1 ratio of combatants to arms, we began questioning the efficacy of the much-hyped “arms management” process. More recently as we watched a hapless Ian Martin wailing about the stalled arms verification process, and a growling Baburam threatening to throw out the UN, we know definitively that the rebels have outfoxed the re-instateds. While the Maoists managed to use the UN gimmick to attain international stature, the SPA has failed to use the same to provide a sense of security to the Nepalese people.
Finally, when the CPA was signed in November, the act of legitimizing the Maoists’ 10-year brutal war—a war originally waged against parliamentary democracy—was completed. In the preamble of this document, the Maoists’ insurgency is placed as a continuum in the Nepali people’s struggle for freedom since “around 1950”. Hence, a war that was waged against parliamentary democracy, against the 1990 constitution, was allowed to be re-interpreted as a war solely against monarchy and feudalism. By then, of course, the SPA had removed the terrorist tags from the heads of their Maoist compatriots, freed their leaders who had been painstakingly captured by the security forces, and opened up the whole nation for them to carry out their (until then, forbidden) politics. The opposite—enabling the rest of the parties to carry out activities in hitherto forbidden space—on the other hand, has not been fulfilled to this day. Through the “peaceful-solutionists” the Maoists managed to bag their most difficult, elusive and invaluable goal: legitimacy. What invaluable goal did the SPA wrench off in return?
The unconditional give-aways to the Maoists didn’t stop there. Thence forward, they were brought into parliament, an interim constitution formed as per their wishes, and they were even given ministerial berths to run the country. Thus those people who’d murdered innocent Nepalis, including cadres of the SPA themselves, and who had not garnered any votes of the Nepalese people were given the privilege of delineating our destinies purely on the strength of their guns. The use of violence for political gain was not only legitimized, but rewarded with a resounding thump.
The result is open for all of us to see. Every little group—student or trade union, ethnic forum, indigenous group, teachers’, dealers’, drivers’, displaceds’ anybody’s association—is using the same means to achieve their goals. The state lies effete as every interest group uses abhorable, anti-social means to achieve their narrow vested interests. Faith in industry, enterprise, discipline, hardwork, fair-play, truth and justice have been smashed to smithereens while ability to manipulate, lie, exploit, scare and terrify have been proven as the qualities that succeed. Through all the ups-and-downs of our 240-year history, Nepalese have probably never been more demoralized than we are today. The sense of confusion, turmoil, uncertainty, anarchy and anomie that exists today is unprecedented. To be sure, we are closer to state-failure today than at any point in our history.
Then and now
Without doubt the Maoists have made good of the break offered to them by the “peaceful-solution” beatniks. Compared to where they were in early 2006, they have moved up in leaps and bounds.
By early 2006, the PLA had been reduced to a hit-and-run outfit that could only snap at the heels of a strengthening and maturing national army. The Maoists’ money-bags were fast drying up since they’d been swept clean out of the cities, the centers of extortion. A sense of impending defeat, and disillusion with Maoist ideology were leading their guerillas to surrender in hordes. The impossibility of military takeover and inevitability of the shattering of the PLA changed hardcore believers of armed struggle into pragmatists who latched on to the SPA, their original enemies, for survival. Spurned by the king, and egged on by the “peaceful-solution” idealists, the SPA took the bait.
The current situation is a stark reversal of fortunes. The Maoist cantonments are over-stuffed with fake recruits, while their guerillas have reincarnated as the YCL. The common Nepali’s tax-money is paying for the sustenance and salary of these fake guerillas while extortions have resumed afresh in the cities. Fake soldiers in cantonments have become a bigger bargaining chip than guerillas in the jungles could ever be, and what’s more, we, the people, are paying for it! Property seized during the conflict have not been returned to rightful owners, instead Maoists are busy amassing more property – royal, public or private. While arms management was the loudest, clearest call of the Nepalese people before, during and after the Jana Andolan, it is the one demand being pushed off all the time, while Maoists continually obtain whatever they ask for.
What did “the people” gain?
The current state of affairs naturally begs the question as to what the Nepalese people have gained by bringing the Maoists into the “mainstream”? The absence of war, as we all know, is not peace. The party-leaders are comfortably ensconced in their ministerial berths with associated privileges while the people are left high-and-dry to face the city-dwelling guerrillas. We have no services, no security, and no future to look forward to. The fates of 26 million Nepalese have been held hostage to the whims of a senile old man operating out of his bedroom in Baluwatar. Every little decision requires the attention of His Healthiness Prime Minister Girija himself in his Baluwatar Durbar. As far as centralization of power goes, even Rana prime ministers couldn’t have done better, and yet we are told we have loktantra! The lok fends for itself while the leaders divvy up the spoils of state is all that loktantra has meant for us.
The existence of parliament is a farce. The parliamentarians haven’t been able to go back to their constituencies. Anytime any party organizes an event in the districts they’re chased away by the legitimized guerillas. To say that “the people” are being “represented” is but a cruel joke. In fact, the parliament only exists to rubber-stamp decisions taken by the top leaders of the eight-party oligarchy behind closed doors. If the army is to be accused of being a royal lapdog, then the parliament is no more than a poodle to the EPA’s corrupt and crooked leaders.
Most recently, of course, the tactics of the street has infiltrated into the parliament as well. As the parliament remained disrupted for months, we may just have obtained a glimpse into the future. For now, the Maoists need their poodle to legitimize their illegitimacies. Once the parliament has outlasted its use, however, we can depend on the Maoists to deepen the turmoil so as to convince the people that a parliamentary system will never deliver peace, stability or prosperity. Hence our original goals (peace, stability, prosperity) and even democracy are more elusive today than ever before.
And that’s not all. State, security, services, representation, governance, morale, peace, stability, prosperity and democracy are not the only things we’ve lost. We’re losing our sovereignty too. Through the re-instated (but not re-elected) parliament, our “peaceful-solutionists” have managed to snatch the crown off of Gyanendra’s head, camper off across the street, and lay it down dutifully at Mssr. Mukherjee’s brotherly Indian feet. The petting and goodies, accompanied by fresh instructions of course, must be a continual affair as explained by our leaders’ regular trips to New Delhi. It’s just as well. Along with a “new Nepal” they’ve got us a new capital too! As mere spectators to one after another “historic” development in our land, we, the people, need take note of only this: the role that the palace used to play in the past (of playing one party against the other for its benefit) will now be taken over completely by New Delhi. While threatening to storm Naryanhity was sufficient to make the monarch buckle in 19 days, it’ll be interesting to watch, in future, what ingenious tricks our highly-experienced demonstrators will come up with to make New Delhi buckle, and in how many days?
The balancing ballast
It’s about time we faced it. The “peace process” is going nowhere. Even if the CA elections are held, even if they are held fairly, and even if the Maoists get their desired result i.e. a republic, do we seriously believe that we will have peace? The Maoists’ struggle—once limited to the jungles, and slowly receding—will continue all over the nation, and we’ll continue to suffer with it. At a time when the rest of South Asia and neighboring China are booming, Nepalese will watch as brainwashed youngsters from the jungles mangle this country. We will watch as party cadres challenge each other in street-fights while “revolutionary” leaders drive away foreign investors and donors alike, as is already happening. By the time the Maoists (and let’s not forget the SPA) learn their lessons our best and brightest will have migrated abroad, and we will have been left far, far behind by the rest of the world including our neighbors.
Increasingly it is turning out that the king and army, for all their other flaws, were right all along about the true intent and nature of the Maoists. It is clear as day by now that the CA elections demand was just a trick. No party really wants it, and the Maoists have even admitted it. In their own words, they don’t really care about the CA elections as long as they get a republic! The People’s War was never really about people’s sovereignty, just about parties’ power. The king and army had enough sense to see this. And they were also cautious that the CA elections could open more problems than it might resolve.
Suspecting the commitments of the Maoists, and divining the complexity of CA elections they had offered the alternative of holding parliamentary elections first, which if held, would have delivered a legitimate government by now. The process of transforming the state could have proceeded through this route too. A legitimately elected government had full recourse to constitutional amendments to address the aspirations and grievances of the people. This would have saved us the current fiasco. Moreover, it would have instilled faith in the legitimate method of getting to government: through the votes of the people, as opposed to revolution from the jungles or streets. This method would have reinforced the concept of people’s sovereignty, as opposed to the might of little interest groups. It is this method that would have made the people more powerful over all political actors in the country.
But the parties, goaded by the “peaceful-solution” beatniks and perhaps their own lust for power, fell into the Maoists’ trap. Turns out even Lenin had a name for such helpers: “useful idiots”. Nepal’s “idiots”, however, have proved not only Lenin right, but Gyanendra too. You can beat that man, Gyane, as much as you like, but it doesn’t change the fact that he had correctly surmised the Maoists.
In fact, he was right about the parties too. The parties don’t have it in them to resolve the Maoist crisis. They’ve given up way too much to the Maoists and got back way too little in return. As a result, Nepalese have a dim future to look forward to. After pleading to the people that they wouldn’t repeat their “mistakes” we’re back to the ugliest form of 1990s politics, the raison d’étre for the Maoist insurgency. More than a year after Gyanendra gave up power yielding to the “SPA’s roadmap to peace”, we can finally be sure that such a roadmap never existed, it has not been chalked out in the one-year since, and it never will be. The only roadmap that exists, if any, is that of the Maoists. This nation is an 8-captain ship on its stormy voyage to utopia (read nowhere).
The fact that we haven’t sunk yet, and probably will not soon, ironically, is owing to the one institution whose demise is gaining ground by the day. The person of king Gyanendra may have screwed up, but the institution of monarchy is holding this nation together. Every time the wrangling captains are ready to sink the ship, the disciplining factor of so-called regressive takeover plays the balancing ballast delivering the ship through the tidal wave. The monarchy, as an institution, has been the check-and-balancing factor of Nepalese politics through these tempestuous times.
It is the monarchy that finally brought the bickering seven parties together in 2005, and it is still the monarchy that is keeping the SPA-M together now. Say what you want of it, there is no denying the invisible but instrumental role the monarchy—unintentionally perhaps—has been playing so far. It has served to bring discipline, responsibility, a sense of a higher goal, and yes, unity to our tirelessly belligerent, bickering politicos. Until such a time that our parties and people truly understand the order of priority in national politics: “Nation, party, me; not the other way around” there will continue to be a role for the monarchy in this country.
The performance of the polity in post-Jana Andolan Nepal has been discouraging. More and more it is evident that the SPA-M was an alliance of convenience with no discernible agenda (on the SPA’s side) to deliver lasting peace to the people of this country (forget about development). The Maoists have capitalized on the break offered them. But their behavior provides no evidence of their commitment to pluralistic and liberal democratic principles. Foreign players have now obtained a stronger foothold in our country.
This begs the question as to what were the bases for selling the mainstreaming-the-Maoists-through-safe-landing agenda? Was this view furthered on the basis of solid information, on the basis of fear, under foreign influence, or just plain prejudice, bias, ignorance, and greed for power? A veritable question-mark hangs on the intent, responsibility, and credibility of the sections of Nepalese media, civil society, and intelligentsia who espoused the “peaceful-solution” route, as it is the Nepalese people who are bearing the brunt of this half-cooked, ill-examined, but vehemently espoused solution for peace.
The quagmire this has brought us into could take many years to resolve while our neighbors steadily outpace us. The utter lack of vision and repeated failures of the SPA make the monarchy seem as the more mature political actor, whose “roadmap”, had it been taken more seriously, may have delivered a better solution than the one we took has delivered. Despite its tarnished image and uncertain future, however, there is no denying that the monarchy has been playing an instrumental balancing role in the tempestuous Nepalese politics. The Nepalese people and our international “friends” (the real ones) need to get wiser now, and be extra-careful of “peaceful-solutionists” who incessantly talk tall but unfailingly deliver small.
June 4, 2007
Published: People’s Review, June 6, 2007.
(Note from the Nepal Horizons Editorial Team: The views and opinion expressed in this article are that of the author and not of NHC. We request individuals with interest in Nepal to submit their views on contemporary Nepalese issues to the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Pictures of contributors or images that relate to submissions are welcome)