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Nepal Monitor: The National Online Journal

Will Kathmandu Politics Change?

KRISHNA SHARMA has some questions for the Maoist leadership in the new Republic of Nepal.

Monarchy is gone but it appears that its legacy of racism would keep haunting Nepal's young democracy for many years to come. Every succeeding monarch's main mantra of "brothers and others" is well on place in Nepali politics. What constituted at the core of the direct rule of Shah Kings were favoritism and racism. Enquiring about a person with "who is he or she?" rather than with "what he or she does or has done?" still remains an ingrained standard in Nepal's political bureaucracy.

Race, more referred to in terms of casteism and ethnic discrimination, always stood as a hindrance to democratic process in the Himalayan nation which is but rich in diversity of ethnic communities. Race card was the favorite game for the Kings to derail democratic governments. In the name of 'inclusive society' the Kings always appointed those people to power who were loyal to them. The trend continued until the last Shah King ruled the nation for nearly three years from 2004.

Now that Nepal has undergone a sea change in terms of political and social settings, what is urgent is her willingness to totally abandon the culture of monarchical politics of divide and rule. This has to be accomplished by earning the support of minorities and binding them in harmony.

As odd as it may seem for a rebel who came to power through a politics of violence and confrontation, Puspa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda)'s leadership may prove instrumental in changing the Kathmandu politics, the centralized politics of a handful of people who were guided by the so-called elites, tax evading businessmen under whom the whole bureaucracy revolved, and corrupt leaders who had the blessings of party presidents and other high ranking officials. It was the Kathmandu socialites who had been benefiting financially during the coterie rule of kings and the Congress party leaders.

However, the challenges before Prachanda to break away from Kathmandu politics and introduce a new kind of politics for the entire Nepali population are many. Even the sweeping change emphasized for drastic structural modifications of the country's polity, the Maoist persistence for the downtrodden, their ambitious call for an economic revolution, their new posturing vis-à-vis the country's relations with China or India, their continued duality as regards the ultimate goal of their revolution, and not to mention the seemingly trivial, their departure in their clothing habits—western garbs instead of the traditional topi that still continues to represent the majority of the downtrodden in the country, could prove superficial if not backed by action. If past slogans are any indications, for a change to sustain and to make a real difference, it has to be substantial; it has to deliver to the governed.

For example, security still is a major concern. Is Prachanda willing to embrace good governance and rule of law by totally dissolving and disarming his party's revolutionary youth wing called Youth Communist League which is still creating havoc and anarchy? Is he willing to decentralize the political power which is one of the basics of democracy? Is he willing to convert the army into national guards and stop making it ceremonial? Is he willing to give a certain section of the army the task of nation building?

Is he willing to bring the corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and others to book without any political prejudice? Is he willing to salute and compensate the families of the victims of the war he waged since 1996?

Is he willing to introduce revolutionary tax system that would not leave anybody from obligation and make it a national priority? Is he willing to make the judiciary a totally independent entity where there would be no room for the guilty to escape? Is he willing to regulate the private schools which have disrupted the public school system due to the deaf ears of the past governments and made people poor in the name of quality education?

Is he willing to welcome foreign investment in critical areas of development efforts so as to cash on human resources that have been wasted for so long? Is he willing to stop brain drain and non-stop overflow of Nepali youths to gulf nations due to lack of employment and other opportunities back home? Is he going to create jobs within the country for the nations unemployed millions?

There is no doubt that the Maoists, for their penchant for blustery speech and grandiose depictions of a future Nepal, will introduce (as already evidenced by Babu Ram Bhattarai's budget speech last week) many a new slogans to address such questions. But few would hope that their words will suffice, largely because there are many contradictions in the Maoist vision, chief among them is the party's ambivalence towards liberal democracy and even republicanism. That was clearly evident in Prachanda's recent disclosure that his goal after all has been a people's republic. Nothing wrong in making any republic synonymous with the people. But the ideology behind People's Republic is far from its literal meaning. Would the Nepali people, for their love for the banner of "people" give up their individual freedoms and rights for a collective, authoritarian utopia?

To emphasize collective action, Prachanda would no doubt convene a meeting of experts and ideologues (some from foreign countries) to advise him on drafting the policies and programs for the nation. In practice, containing the extreme tendencies of his cadres and ideologues as well as the right wing elements will prove a tough task to Prachanda the Maoist chairman. And learning to walk a moderate walk to wheedle the majority of the population and the international community will prove a tough task to Pushpa Kamal the Prime Minister.

We should not forget that there were good policies and programs even during the times of Gyanendra, not to mention the past democratic rules. What the nation needs now from the very dawn of democratic republic is the light of impartiality and integrity to show the day of new possibilities. Nepali people need the programs translated in the field, not in papers.

To begin with, Prachanda needs to stop what Kathmandu has been doing for so long. But he has so far been not able and willing to bring about a new dawn of political integrity and has already displayed his love for 'old politics' that has been in practice for so long. He brought his own clans, husbands and wives and the same old faces to his jumbo cabinet. Will there be any changes from the past in the way Bijay Kumar Gachhedar or Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta would be running the administration of their respective ministries? Will Bamdev Gautam stop using police administration to fulfill the party interests? Will Dr. Baburam Bhattarai ensure that the families of those whom his rebel militia brutally killed during all those 12 years will be fairly and adequately compensated? Will Prachanda, who says whose party's main goal is to ultimately establish communist republic, create favorable atmosphere for foreign investment?

I remember Mahatma Gandhi saying, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

The world changed itself to see what change really means. But it seems Nepal is yet far behind. If it were ready for the change, Prachanda would not have replicated the Kathmandu politics in his cabinet. He would not have taken so long to act. He would not have taken so long to even say what he would do to change the face of Nepal.

Krishna Sharma is staff writer of Nepal Monitor.


Posted by Editor on September 25, 2008 9:56 AM