Rum progressivism

From The Kathmandu Post (25 April, 2011)

In responding to Suhas Chakma’s opinion article (“Krishna’s call,” April 20, Page 6), an initial clarification: that it is quite appropriate for a non-Nepali to comment on the political affairs of Nepal. Especially when universal values such as non-violence, human rights and pluralism are concerned, there can be no nationalistic barrier to the presentation of analysis. The only expectation is that the analyst exercise due diligence and apply the same high standards as he would for his own society.

In his article, the director of the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights does not deal with human or civil rights. His is a critique of New Delhi’s interventionist policy towards Kathmandu, but Chakma seems perfectly happy if that interference were to favour the UCPN (Maoist). It is right and proper for an activist to speak for the underdog, but the Maoists are by now very much part of the political establishment of Nepal, more than capable of running their own show.

It is galling that the writer does not recognise the agency of the Nepali polity to select its own government, clearly buying Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s line that India is the sole arbiter of Nepal’s destiny—the nokar-prabhu relationship that the latter broadcasts. The writer seems unconcerned by the ‘revolt’ agenda passed by the Maoists at their sixth plenum in November; and that the Maoist private army remains intact in the cantonments. Similarly, he seems not to recognise the party’s inability to build trust with the others because of its street action, attempts to buy votes at a crore per MP, cohabit with the ex-royalty as required, and so on.

Of course New Delhi is a player in Nepali politics, and this unfortunate situation has mainly to do with the weakness of Kathmandu’s bickering players. This condition has to be reversed, but the UCPN (Maoist) seems to be the wrong choice for the campaign. The Maoist leaders would switch off their anti-India ultra-nationalist campaign at the blink of an eye and convert to an obedient vassal if they were to just get a wink and a nod. From his vantage, Chakma would do Kathmandu readers a favour if he told us what the Maoists leaders were doing in safe-houses in India while their cadre fought in Nepal, and whether that has any bearing on the party’s future strategy and tactics.

Twice in his piece, Chakma suggests that the Maoist-led government was ‘purged’ in May 2009. He does seem to know something more than the rest of us about the reason for the resignation of Dahal as prime minister, in which case he should come clean. The rest of us are still trying to understand that hasty decision to leave government during ‘the commander-in-chief episode’ when there was no demand for it—most likely the chairman resigned as a result of an internal power struggle within his party. As for the intra-party matters, Chakma is dismissive of Baburam Bhattarai but is a week late in his analysis. In the shifting sands of Nepal’s transitional politics, Chairman Dahal has apparently left the embrace of the so-called radicals and moved in with Bhattarai.

In truth, Chakma wants New Delhi to take matters into its own hands when it comes to the Nepali peace process, and India should rely on its experience with the Bodo, the Asamiya and the Mizo insurgencies. Is the writer suggesting that the Indian establishment, with all the security agencies at its command, treat Nepal’s post-conflict scenario as an internal security matter? Continuing this line of thought is the suggestion that India deal with Nepal through its home minister, finance minister and national security advisor rather than through the “lightweight” foreign minister. Mr Chakma, would it not be better for the Indian authorities and civil society to learn from the peace process of Nepal?

On one point, the article cannot be faulted, that Nepal policy should be taken out of the hands of Indian bureaucrats. However, this cannot be through a show of Indian magnanimity. It is the Nepali political players who should aim high, and today we sorely miss the leaders of the stature of ‘BP’ and ‘GP’ and ‘KP’, who had direct contact with India’s leaders going back to the Independence generation.

Chakma writes approvingly of the transformation of the communist movement around the world, away from class warfare and speaking for “indigenous cultural communities”. In this connection, he is in thrall of the “master-stroke” of the UCPN (Maoist) declaring of 14 provinces, seemingly unconcerned about what ethnically defined federal units may do to inter-community relations in Nepal.

Amidst the uncertainties of the constitution-writing deadline, the writer sees the possibility of President Ram Baran Yadav taking drastic action with India’s backing. He warns that anything done by “a president with an Indian-sounding surname” would be interpreted as an extension of Indian hegemony. This is insensitive towards Nepal’s sovereign space, the first president of the republic, the spread of cross-border communities in South Asia, and the place of the Madhesi community in the Nepali realm.

Whether one is based in Maharajganj, Kensington or Vasant Kunj, the genuine progressive seeks the advance of the poorest and the most marginalised through democratic politics, non-violence, economic growth, inclusion and equity. Gullibility without accountability in the face of demagoguery, when it holds the potential of hurting lives, must be rejected.

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