Print Edition - 2014-08-24  |  Free the Words

Of politicians and generals

  • The hubris of Nepali politicians lies in their failure to understand the concept of representation
- Abhi Subedi
Of politicians and generals

Aug 23, 2014-I am a great admirer of Nepali politicians, who have a long history of struggle and people’s mobilisation, and who have fought and established a loktantric system, though not perfected yet. I have always liked whenever people from outside say good things about them. In international seminars I have encountered scholars, who have expressed their admiration for Nepali political leaders for establishing a system through difficult processes of negotiations in periods of peace and war by galvanising diverse groups of people together and convincing them about their right efforts. I have participated in such discussions and spoken in defence of politicians, even though I am not a political person. I do not want to talk about their hubristic behaviours, except for one in this article.

Admiration galore

Admiration for Nepali politicians by Indian scholars is well known. Some Indian professors’ remarks about them and their achievements have found space in Nepali and Indian media. I remember one telling incident. Professor Ashis Nandy, a special guest at one Saarc writers’ conference organised by Chair Indian writer Ajit Cour in Delhi, said, the Nepali and Pakistani politicians’ achievement is the most remarkable phenomenon. Their names should be sent to the Guinness Book of World Records for maintaining civilian rule despite several military coups in the case of Pakistan, and for bringing democracy after 19 days of uprising, and taking historical decisions together through revolutionaries and social democrats to gracefully end the insurgency, in the case of Nepal.

But I have some caveats that often make me look back at some of the issues that I wish were not the case. I recall one story, which I use as a trope for some kind of folly propelled by innocent action. Once upon a time, people were picnicking near a big lake. Suddenly, a girl child fell into the water. A man promptly jumped into the water and rescued her. Naturally, the crowd gave him a hero’s honour. He too became very happy for that overwhelming compliment. He was asked to speak a few words in the end. He said, “Thank you ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the hero’s honour that you have bestowed upon me. But finally, may I ask one crucial question—pray, tell me, who pushed me into the water?”

Representation and hubris

Sometimes, Nepali politicians behave like this ‘hero’. The Maoists have received great praise for their political power in fusing revolutionary theory and pragmatism together, which has also electrically changed the thinking of other political parties. Such admiration by Indian politicians is shared more easily because of media access. Some Maoist leaders are even reported to have said that the Indian leaders are praising us because they are happy to see us defanged. If I were writing a comedy for the theatre at this time, I would have used this dialogue, like I have in my play Thamelko Yatra. My point is, you are not defanged; you have taken perhaps, as others say rightly, the greatest political decision, which leaves others surprised. A short review of serious points is in order.

Nepali politicians’ hubris lies in their failure to understand the concept of representation, which is knowing who speaks what language and for whom and for what purpose. The Maoists shifted their modes of meaning making from an armed revolutionary practice to that of sharing modes of representation with others. They historically changed their very power discourse. Similarly, non-Maoist parties, including the communists who had chosen a non-revolutionary mode of representation, created a common discourse to address questions of state restructuring, ethnic representation, bringing marginalised people into the mainstream and so on. I say ‘discourse’ because they produced a new knowledge system in politics. That is all done by people and their politicians working together to change history, which is the name of this dynamic process. But after reading some autobiographies of the personas of the erstwhile system and some media representations, I am little surprised. For lack of space, I will take one example.

A general’s history

By publishing a book titled Rookmangud Katawal—Atmakatha (2014), erstwhile Chief of Army Staff Rookmangud Katawal has risen above the shifting presentism of time and looked at history. Reading his story, it seems, he has put the turbulent history behind him. But what about us? Have we left it behind? Everybody has the right to tell one’s story; he too has published it by finding a scribe, like some others, to write his narrative for him. Reading the story of his rise to that height is interesting. This is one person’s story. A person, who became a character in the Army and for whose reason, a Maoist prime minister had to step down, would certainly tell his story with a flourish, which he has done. But what troubles me is the sight of the historical dynamism as if it is coming to a halt with the story of this general.

I have no qualms about him; I have qualms about the mode of public representation. His story, including his claim that Girijababu had asked him to introduce military rule, his crossing of the Army disciplinary border and upbraiding politicians, and finally presenting Nepali history as revolving round him, and receiving praise from media and scholars that he was the person, the leveller, raises questions about what we think of the dynamic history of the Nepali people and uprisings. The general himself confesses that people power is supreme, but history is brought to a point where it becomes mandatory to look through this general’s prism as if nothing stands before or after him. The great dynamism of Nepali history stops for those who do not see beyond the general’s narrative.

More autobiogwraphies will be written. People have the rights to tell their stories. You cannot blame them, but how you look at a dynamic history and how you understand representation is what deserves serious attention now. But painfully, politicians’ scores are quite low in that.

Published: 24-08-2014 09:21

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