Extremism breeds extremism

  • Willingness to compromise, no matter how painful, can pave the way for a constitution that will endure
- Pramod Mishra
Extremism breeds extremism

Jan 21, 2015-

Nepal is headed for hell because of the good intentions of the KP Oli-led CPN-UML and Nepali Congress coalition and the tenacity for justice of the Prachanda-led UCPN (Maoist) opposition, consisting also of the Madhesi and Janajati parties. Oli’s extremism seems to have gripped both the UML and Congress and the humiliation has demoralised and then angered the opposition.  The media and Nepali-speaking middle class—educated, entitled, and patriotic—are cheering and goading the good-intentioned extremists to remain extreme and squarely placing the blame for failure in constitution writing on the justice-seekers. In a situation like this, we who wield the pen need to use it ever more decisively for moderation and the golden mean.

A look at the Nepali media and social media can give anyone the idea that this good intention of the Congress and UML is not limited to them alone. Like the detractors of Gandhi and his fellow strugglers for justice in the British and Boar press and the public in South Africa of the 1890s and 1900s, as narrated by Ramachandra Guha in Gandhi Before India, everywhere there is the middle-class chant: peace, peace, peace! Constitution, constitution, constitution! Rule of law, rule of law! Down with Prachanda! Down with Prachanda! As if peace and constitution have become some kind of fetish, some miraculous, magical objects for the Nepali-speaking, Congress and UML-following middle-class. As if these would appear out of the blue through a sleight of hand if chanted enough. Once peace and constitution appear miraculously, everything will be okay and things will return to normal. No harm done, no privileges of language, caste, or position lost or at risk.

Violence and vandalism

When one thinks about it, one cannot help but marvel at the moral courage of all the Nepali-speaking hill caste men and women, including Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai, who have either by direct political leadership and activism or through wielding their pen have joined the struggle for justice for the majority of the Nepali people. It is their tenacity and indefatigable work at great risk to themselves and their reputation to persuade the majority in the current Constituent Assembly (CA) that would bring durable peace and constitution. Because peace and constitution are neither fetishes nor objects of black magic that would appear out of nowhere in an enchanted dreamland called Alkapuri Kantipuri Nagari. In polluted, dusty, messy Kathmandu and Nepal of 2015, peace and constitution will not emerge by Oli’s extremism nor social media shenanigans and drumbeat shamanism. It will emerge through much struggle, many more hard negotiations, and even through the breaking of furniture and the burning of cars.

Of course, violence of vandalism and arson deserves condemnation and cannot be condoned, but extremism breeds extremism. Oli’s uncouth, boorish conduct riled the negotiations not once but twice, by insulting the UCPN (Maoist) the first time and the Madhesi Front the second time. In such a momentous moment as the present, one such lapse ought to have been enough to invite reprimand from his party; when it occurred again, his party ought to have threatened to impeach him. But, on the contrary, his party seems to have cheered him on in his boorishness with the negotiating partners. His extremist stance, laced with his insulting loose mouth, instigated extremist actions by the opposition. Should we be surprised? Look at the CA members who have responded to Oli and company’s extremism with rowdy behaviour. Most are Madhesi CA members of the opposition.   

Their anger has spilled and gotten out of control. This deeply-felt humiliation of generations has broken the dam of patience at the latest insult. Of course, this behaviour is condemnable. All such furniture-breaking, car-burning passion deserves condemnation. But such things occur in the polluted, dusty, impoverished, humiliated, and demoralised world. And if such acts of violence become inevitable as a response to the extremism of noble intentions of people like Oli and parties like the Congress and UML, then we are in for a hellish time indeed.

A nascent democracy

A majority or a supermajority means nothing in situations like these. In an established democracy, where institutions have deep-rooted foundations, a majority or a supermajority must pass one bill or another, one constitutional amendment or another, at the expense of the opposition as part of the process. But in a country where democracy is still in its infancy, where democratic institutions have not deepened their roots, and civil society is divided, how can only one group, through a suspect majority or two-thirds majority, make a constitution by itself for the ages? The media drummers and social media ‘likers’ ought to look at Nepal’s first democratic experiment.  

BP Koirala and his Congress had a two-thirds majority in the 1959 parliament. Didn’t it come a cropper? Of course, what Mahendra did was wrong. But had there been a balance of power, civic institutions, no super majority, and the resultant clash of egos between an ego-centric ambitious monarch, whose monarchy had just been freed from the cage, and the popular leader equally ambitious and rightfully proud of his majority, perhaps things would have turned out differently.  Egypt’s example is even more instructive because it’s recent. The Muslim Brotherhood, led by Mohamed Morsi, had a clear majority. And in the rush of victory and blinded by ideology, the Muslim Brotherhood imposed one law after another at the expense of the secular and Coptic minority. The result: the Arab Spring turning into an Arab nightmare and the nascent democracy back into a military dictatorship.  

Majoritarianism

So, caution, flexibility, willingness to compromise, and give and take, no matter how painful, can pave the way for a peaceful future and a constitution that will endure and would have all major groups as its stakeholders. But to say that only Oli and company have Nepal’s and Nepali’s national interest at heart and all others—the UCPN (Maoist), the Madhesi and Janajati parties, esteemed civil society leaders like Padma Ratna Tuladhar, Nepali-speaking civil society intellectuals of proven integrity like Devendra Raj Pandey and Khagendra Sangraula, academics like Pitamber Sharma and Lok Raj Baral, Congress intellectuals like Pradip Giri and many others—want to destroy Nepal by offering identity-based plans is nothing but extremism of the majority. And such extremism will inevitably breed extremism, in or out of the CA. So, who is out to destroy Nepal?

Published: 22-01-2015 09:31

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