Kanak Mani Dixit’s new book “Peace Politics in Nepal” was released on 19 April, 2011 at Patan. Kul Chandra Gautam presented the following remarks on the book at the release programme.
“Many of us thoroughly enjoyed Kanak Dixit’s Dekheko Muluk when it came outlast year. I remember saying to Kanak at that time, I wish there were an English translation of it, so non-Nepali speakers could read what it said.
Well, in coming out with this new book Peace Politics in Nepal, he did one better. While capturing much of what Dekheko Muluk contains, it adds some new chapters and updates developments of the past year for the benefit of English speaking readers, particularly for our friends from the international community who take much interest in Nepal.
Let me warn you right at the outset, as Kanak himself admits, this is not a scholarly book, and Kanak is not a diplomat. In this book, he uses language that is blunt and straight-forward. He dares, and even relishes to speak truth to the power and populism.
For some of us – scholars, intellectuals and diplomats included, who are trained to be politically correct, sit on the fence and play it safe, it even makes uncomfortable reading.
If I were to give another title to this book, I would call it “Inconvenient Truths of Current Nepali Politics”.
As I was reading the manuscript, I kept thinking who is this Kanak fellow, where does he come from and where does he stand? I have often heard a caricature of Kanak that portrays him as part of the Kathmandu elite, an upper-class, upper-caste Bahun, who is strongly anti-Maoist, perhaps a little right-wing and a status quoist.
You know, what you see often depends on where you stand.
If you see Nepal in simple, black and white terms – as the Maoist, and some Western academics like to portray it – as a country that is sharply divided, between feudal, conservative, pratigami, stooges of imperialist, capitalist, foreign-agents, dominated by the upper-class Bahun-Chhetris who purposely and deliberately dominate, oppress and conspire to perpetuate a deeply unjust, unfair, discriminatory and oppressive system against the poor, the marginalized, the deprived, Janjatis, Madheshis, Dalits, women, etc. and you feel that you can only change it through revolutionary violence, and radical restructuring of the state, that caricature of Kanak might not be incorrect.
A logical conclusion of that would therefore be, as King Mahendra said in justifying the Panchayat regime, that a Western-style liberal democracy is unsuitable to solve Nepal’s problems. In fact, many right-wing royalists, radical leftists, and some ethnic activists argue that the 12 years of democracy between 1990 and 2002 actually proved the unsuitability of liberal democracy in Nepal.
Well, Kanak, argues otherwise. One may or may not agree with him, but we cannot dismiss his thesis that it was precisely the open society, political freedoms, respect for pluralism of views that multi-party democracy of the 1990s allowed and encouraged that enabled us to bring to prominence the issues of the deeply entrenched disparities and discrimination, inequalities and injustices.
It even allowed the freedom for a radical Maoist movement to rise in Nepal, at a time when Communist regimes were collapsing all over the world following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet empire.
Democracy, as Winston Churchill said, is the worst form of government – except for all the rest. So before we jump to the rest, Kanak asks us to take a deep breath and reflect dispassionately on whether we want to let Nepal turn into yet another testing ground for other approaches, like certain “people’s democratic republics”, that have actually been tried and failed elsewhere.
Democracy takes time to evolve and correct its own shortcomings. Kanak argues that the infant and imperfect democracy of the 1990s was not given enough time to evolve, and correct some of its shortcomings.
The populist thesis in vogue in Nepal right now, and one that seems to be subscribed even by some diplomats and donors of Western Democracies, is that the 1990s Nepalese experience in democracy was an utter failure. Kanak asks us to think again, look at some of the successes of the 1990s, before the Maoist insurgency derailed them, and not to throw the baby with the bath water.
Knowing Kanak has a reputation for being a little partisan, I read the manuscript carefully to detect how his partisanship manifests itself. And yes, I can confirm to you that indeed Kanak is very partisan – he is partisan and non-apologetic in favour of non-violence, liberal democracy and pluralism – which many of us would not find as big sins.
Kanak seems to have a gripe that many members of the international communitydo not have a deep enough understanding of Nepal’s complex history, and subscribe too easily to the populist black and white characterization of Nepal as so deeply divided by entrenched caste, class and ethnic divisions that to solve such problems, Nepalese should be prepared to accept, at least temporarily, some radical, less than fully non-violent and undemocratic solutions which they would
not accept in their own countries.
He sees diplomats, donors and consultants of many Western countries, and even some UN officials as having a rather romantic view of the Maoist agenda for social change. He faults the analysis contained in reports of organizations like the International Crisis Group as showing a subtle bias that castigates the old parliamentary parties of Nepal, particularly the Nepali Congress and UML as status quoist, and the Maoists as the true agents of progressive change, that Nepal desperately needs.
I must say, when I was myself at the UN, I used to rely heavily on reports of ICG, the Carter Center and the UN to better understand what was happening in Nepal. These are all institutions that I respect deeply. On the whole, I continue to find their analysis solid and serious.
So let me suggest this – for those who rely heavily on their reports, it would be beneficial to have Kanak’s new book handy to consult as a counter-check and to provide some context.
Every chapter of this book is interesting and insightful, and easy to read. I do not have the time this evening to highlight everything. So I recommend that you read it yourself with an open mind.
I want to say a few words on 3 chapters – one that made me really sad; one that I found very courageous and revealing; and one on which no matter where we stand on the ideological spectrum, we would all agree if we think of ourselves as just human beings with human empathy.
The chapter that made me really sad, was the one dealing with the UN Mission to Nepal (UNMIN), which Kanak has rather unkindly titled as “Uncivil Mission”.
As someone with my long association with the UN, I am instinctively pro-UN and defensive of the UN – with all its flaws and foibles. I was indirectly involved in promoting the establishment of UNMIN, and championed it at a time when the powers-that-be in Nepal and our neighbouring countries opposed it.
I do think UNMIN tried hard and did make some valuable contribution for peace in Nepal. So my natural instinct was to disagree with Kanak in his harsh judgment of UNMIN. But I must confess, knowingly or unwittingly, UNMIN’s presence and analysis was not as conducive to pressuring the Maoists to give up violence and intimidation; to convince the other parties that it could be counted on to firmly stand on the side of democracy; and that its reporting would provide the most objective basis for the Secretary-General and Security Council to understand Nepal.
Kanak makes some sweeping remarks about UNMIN’s bias, but does not
quite document it. I would commend to you a Note Verbale that the Permanent Representative of Nepal circulated to members of the Security Council last year documenting point by point how the report of the SG and the statement introducing it by the SRSG was biased and inaccurate.
Coming from a very seasoned professional diplomat, it was an unusually blunt and bad indictment of the SRSG’s analysis.
Kanak also alleges that the UN’s Department of Political Affairs was very dismissive of all views that were critical of it and of UNMIN. I saw this in a very curt letter that was written on behalf of the Secretary-General in response to a joint letter by four former Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Nepal.
Knowing the Secretary-General personally, as I do, I can tell you the S-G would have shown greater respect for those Foreign Ministers if he were asked to personally clear such a letter on his behalf.
So sadly, even if I like to disagree with Kanak, and I do so in some of the choice of his words, I do agree with the substance of his critique of UNMIN.
Now on to chapter 30 entitled: The Right Federalism, which I found very courageous. As we know, of all the subjects on the drafting of the new Constitution, none is more emotionally charged than the issue of federalism.
I commend Kanak for daring to address this issue which most sophisticated Bahun-Chhettri intellectuals consider a taboo subject for fear that it will draw the wrath of the advocates of ethnicity based federalism, who are quick to portray any questioning of the rationale for federalism with certain ethnic agradhikar as an expression of reactionary, status quoist, bahunbad.
While fully supportive of economically viable federal structure that ensures greater inclusiveness and better representation of marginalized groups, Kanak questions the rationale for creation of certain ethnic bantustans as being regressive rather than progressive.
There is a lot of hypocrisy on the discourse on federalism in Nepal. Many leaders – including some Maoists – and not just Bahun-Chhetris but many thoughtful Madheshis and Janajatis – privately tell you that they do not consider ethnic federations or ek-madhesh-ek Pradesh as a sensible idea, but they keep mum in public.
Kanak is to be thanked for opening up this subject for a thoughtful, dispassionate debate which is what we need – on all subjects – in drafting a national Constitution.
Finally, I turn to chapter 29 on Victims and Justice which all of us with certain human empathy will readily agree on, but which is currently being pushed under the carpet.
Nepal’s peace process cannot be considered complete, so long as the thousands of victims of conflict do not get justice. There is a real fear, Kanak argues, that both the Maoists and the Nepal Army would rather that we “forgive and forget” the terrible atrocities committed during the conflict, and just move on.
This is an issue we must look at from the victims’ perspective, not that of their victimisers who will find many reasons to justify their actions. Instead of “forgive and forget”, Kanak argues, and I hope most of us will agree, “forgive perhaps, but investigate, prosecute, and never forget” should be our message to both Maoists and our national security services.
Beyond “Truth and Reconciliation” , we must go on to genuine help for the rehabilitation of the victims of violence, and a massive post-conflict reconstruction and development that will help Nepal recover from 15 years of economic stagnation. That has been the real curse of the “People’s War” and response to it, of which all of us Nepalis have been victims.
There are many other chapters and sections in this book that are full of
many “inconvenient truths” and interesting insights. I hope I have whetted your appetite enough to want to read the book.
Let me conclude by referring to the last chapters of the book in which Kanak concludes on an optimistic note that in the end the Nepalese genius for finding sensible solutions will prevail, and we will have a progressive, democratic constitution.
But he worries about some continuing, undemocratic revolutionary romanticism.
And he insists that the new Constitution must be an advance from the 1990 Constitution, and not a further regression.
When reading that, I said, “Come on Kanak, is there a real fear that we could have a less democratic Constitution than that of 1990 – after the great people’s movement and revolution we have gone through? You must be kidding!”.
Then I re-read the 1990 Constitution, juxtaposing it with this draft “Constitution of Peoples Federal Republic of Nepal – 2067” that was presented by the UCPN(Maoist) as containing the most progressive ideas for a 21st century “Peoples” constitution. And yes, I can see that, God forbid, it is possible for us to go backwards even as we recite progressive slogans.
Then, just for comparisons sake, I went on the internet and read the 1998 Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea which I found very revealing. Let me quote a couple of articles from that Constitution:
Article 66 says: “All citizens who have reached the age of 17 have the right to elect and to be elected irrespective of sex, race, occupation, length of residence, property status, party affiliation, political views or religion”.
Wow, although I have been to North Korea many times, somehow I had missed that it allowed different party affiliations and political views….
And I quote article 67 that says, “Citizens are guaranteed freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, demonstration and association. The State shall guarantee conditions for the free activity of democratic political parties and social organizations”.
Please note, North Korea too apparently allows multi-party system, provided they are “democratic”, as determined by the ruling vanguard Party, of course.
This is the danger I see in a multi-party system suggested in the UCPN(M) draft, without the acceptance of pluralism.
We cannot really address issues of social justice, equity, inclusion and all the other advances we seek in our new Constitution, in a sustainable manner, if we do not accept pluralism.
I hope this book will inspire us, even in a small way, to strive for and insist on, a model of New Nepal that seeks both socio-economic justice and political freedoms, in a non-North Korean style and substance.”