The cabinet of Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has named Pushpa Kamal Dahal as head of a ‘national directive committee’ for the development of Lumbini. Dahal is leaving for New York on Saturday, reportedly to meet UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The establishment of the committee itself is institutionally faulty, an attempt by the prime minister to appease Dahal, who holds the future of the government in his hands.
Individually, Dahal carries political and ethical baggage that now threatens to smear the very idea of Lumbini, and he will be seen as representing the values of the people of Nepal. The record of an unrepentant, utilitarian Dahal is as yet far, far removed from the lofty values of peace and ahimsa which the world attaches to the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam, Sakyamuni.
CZAR OF LUMBINI
The central Tarai of Nepal, including the three districts of Nawalparasi, Kapilbastu and Rupandehi, is a historical and archaeological treasure-house that has barely been excavated. Strategically placed along an ancient trading route, this tract gave birth to not one but three historical Buddhas – Krakuchanda, Kanakmuni and Siddhartha Gautam.
As a site for the spiritual rejuvenation for the worlds’ seekers, Lumbini is already blessed with a Master Plan prepared in 1978 by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange. The Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) is the mandated authority to implement this framework, to protect the sanctity of Lumbini for the sake of all humanity while developing it for the economic benefit of the people of Nepal. Unesco is the international agency tasked with protecting this World Heritage Site. There is an International Committee for the Development of Lumbini at the UN in New York, established by Secretary General U Thant, which needs revival in order to guard against attempts to despoil Lumbini.
As if none of these plans and institutions existed, along comes the Maoist chairman wanting to act as the savior and czar of Lumbini. Truth be told, he seeks to exploit Lumbini in order to emerge as the unchallenged political powerhouse of Nepal, already backed by the clout of his party and its amassed lucre, over which he maintains exclusive control. Lumbini would inject an emotional faith-based element to Dahal´s image, and for him the trick is to achieve this without having to express remorse, and evading accountability for having unleashed a ‘people’s war’ on the people.
The ‘people’s war’ killed more than 13,000 and destroyed the economy over 15 years, leading to a silent exodus of the poorest Nepalis by the millions to India and overseas. At the very least, the Maoist chairman could concede responsibility for what he wrought. But he concedes nothing, and Kathmandu’s civil society stalwarts, terrified into submission, refuse to ask Dahal to prove his humanity.
The attempt to hijack Lumbini is nothing but a very wily man’s bid for a fake cleansing in the eyes of the world without abandoning his plans for a totalitarian grip over the society.
The record itself is quite horrific, enough for Dahal to be worried about being pursued by the International Criminal Court, despite assurances from some ambassadors that the court´s jurisdiction is not retroactive. Together with the other two bahuns of the Maoist triumvirate, Dahal sought to destroy a democratic parliamentary state and constitution in 1996. He authorized selective humiliation, torture and killing of local leaders as a way of terrorizing the public into submission.
Once above ground in 2006, Dahal conceded in a live broadcast on the BBC Nepali Service, that the order was to “eliminate” citizens as required, only without torture. He later told a group of editors at the Shanker Hotel that the party directive had been “a straight bullet through the forehead (kanchat)”. And thus the people were silenced in a country where the state was absent in large parts.
Proof abounds that Dahal has not converted into a peacenik. His reliance on violence and impunity was evident in the appointment of Agni Prasad Sapkota as influential minister in the last cabinet, a man sought for the murder of Arjun Bahadur Lama of Kavre. Acting as judge and jury, last week Dahal was in Birgunj claiming that the defrocked minister Prabhu Sah was not guilty of murder as charged by the Nepal Police.
Even as we speak, Dahal’s party seeks presidential pardon for Bal Krishna Dhungel, awarded a life sentence by the Supreme Court for murder. As the Maoist party seeks to subjugate the law-and-order superstructure, Dhungel struts about as a member of the Constituent Assembly.
SECRETARY GENERAL BAN
Amidst instances of adventurism too numerous to recount, over 2011 Dahal became a front for the murky Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF), replete with false Hongkong address and telephone number. The organization sought to bamboozle the Nepali polity by dangling a US$3 billion carrot before a penny had been raised, but the media proved its worth with fine international reporting to expose the organization.
The APECF project was an attempt to simultaneously make Dahal invincible in Nepali politics, invade the space of Lumbini for the benefit of carpetbaggers, and help destabilize geopolitics at the cost of Nepal. Dahal willingly became a vice-chairman of APECF, at par with the ex-royal Paras Shah. He let pass an amazing attempt at extra-territoriality, when the UNIDO office in Beijing (whose job is industrial development) signed an agreement with APECF without knowledge or participation of the Nepali government.
One would hope that, at their meeting, Secretary General Ban will seek the Maoist chairman’s explanation for the three years of manipulative prevarication by the Maoists on the peace process, which has held the constitution-writing hostage. The Secretary General should be briefed well enough to inform Dahal that there is little need for parallel institutions; it is the LDT which must be energized and made politics-free, that Unesco is the proper international authority for oversight, and that the UN Committee on Lumbini will be revived to shield Lumbini from extremists of all kinds. The values of U Thant and Kenzo Tange must override the ambitions of Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
ASHOK & BALMIKI
More than 2,300 years ago, Emperor Ashok arrived at the hallowed precincts of Lumbini to repent for the mass killings he had promoted and participated in. In extreme contrast, Chairman Dahal is a master utilitarian trying to use the nativity site as a public relations cleansing pond without having uttered a word of remorse. The humanitarian values of the people of Nepal, as reflected by the glorious 2006 People’s Movement and its stand against autocracy and for non-violent politics, is not reflected in the cunning visage of the Maoist chairman.
As and when Dahal does contemplate a turn to peace, he will perhaps mull over the Buddhist calling, Sangham Saranam Gachhami. He would then submit to the community, in this instance to the will of the people of Nepal. And the will of this sangha is to be allowed to live a life of dignity, in democracy, security, economic growth and equity.
Certainly, a resplendent lotus (kamalpushpa, incidentally) can bloom amidst the muck of the stagnant pond. Balmiki was a murderer and robber who corrected himself to become a sage poet. The Nepali citizenry would never concede that ‘might’ equals ‘right’, and it would not want an unremorseful leader chieftain of the ‘people’s war’ to be the chaperone of the birthplace of the Sakyamuni.
To be eligible for such a dignified role, the Maoist chairman must have his party, the UCPN-Maoist:
a) Make a public declaration abandoning violence as a tool of politics;
b) declare, with humility derived from memory of the more than 13,000 killed from 1996-2006, that it was immoral to have started the ‘people’s war’ and;
c) bring the peace process to a close according to the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Accord.
On the personal level, beyond the bluster, deception and threat of violence which have been his tools in engaging with the public, Dahal must convince us that he regrets having got citizens to kill citizens for the sake of his party’s advancement.
To be deserving of the people of Nepal and the high value of Lumbini, going beyond geopolitics and power-politics, Pushpa Kamal Dahal must internalize the very first sloka of Sanskrit literature written by sage Balmiki, addressed to a hunter who had killed wantonly:
Maa nishada pratisthatwam agama saaswati samah
yat krauncha mithunadekam avadhi kaamamohitam
O slayer, you will find no rest in all eternity
Because you have killed a tender, loving being.