‘Surreal’ is the 2016
- word of the year
- Editor’s Note
Dec 29, 2016-
The chilly month of December has often had ominous portends for Nepal. On 15 December 1960, for example, King Mahendra suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament and imprisoned B P Koirala, Nepal’s first democratically elected prime minister.
This marked the beginning of the thirty-year long party-less Panchayat system where the king reigned supreme, and the political class consisted of courtiers, their kin and others who relied heavily on their proximity to the monarchy for power and legitimacy.
BP, the committed democratic socialist from faraway Biratnagar, remained distant from these groups. While a staunch supporter of individual liberty, he also believed that in a poor country like ours the state needed to play a strong role in ensuring that all citizens got equal opportunities. Immediately after he took office, BP began implementing land reform measures and he immediately got into trouble. The landed aristocrats who surrounded the Palace began campaigning against his party, the Nepali Congress, which held a two-third majority in parliament.
King Mahendra did the rest.
Exact parallels cannot be drawn between contemporary Nepal and that of 1959-60. At that time, we were far poorer, far more agrarian, far less educated, and far less exposed to the outside world and ideas. Yet the world now stands at a strange confluence of history that reminds us of that time.
Never has liberalism and established democratic norms been so openly questioned as in the past year. From America to Europe to India, nationalist leaders have championed a new brand of politics. And people are listening to them, frustrated that they are with the political class.
Donald Trump’s victory in America stunned the world in November; Britain earlier voted for Brexit; Germany and France are expected to face similar electoral backlashes in 2017. The West, America first and foremost, will face hard questions around the world when they seek to promote their values and institutions, which have been depicted as bulwarks of liberalism for hundreds of years. A rising China and assertive Russia will demand their fair share in defining the new world order. Witness Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the South China Sea.
In a sign of the widespread anxiety provoked by such events, the Merriam-Webster dictionary selected ‘surreal’ as its word of the year.
How will all this play out in our own country in the new year and the years to come? It’s hard to predict yet. But the fate of federalism has never looked shakier since 2006. The political fault lines run deep. One group advocates that Nepali nationalism will become weaker by abandoning its traditional value system, whose centerpiece has been Khas language and culture.
This group is deeply apprehensive of re-delineating federal provinces to give the Madhesi/Tharu population greater demographic strengths in provinces.They believe that this will release uncontainable centripetal forces. The second group meanwhile demands greater representation for the disenfranchised population so as to reduce hill domination in our national and political life.
The two groups possess starkly contrasting worldviews. The CPN-UML has emerged as the staunch leader of the first group while the Nepali Congress and CPN Maoist (Unity Centre) appear to be in disarray – their constituencies divided or hesitant which position to support. The rise of Modi and the RSS in India has emboldened the Nepali right, which finds its manifestation not just in the RPP-Nepal but also across other political parties.
Other than political party leaders, there were two other major newsmakers in the year 2016. Dr Govinda KC, an orthopedic surgeon at Teaching Hospital, almost single-handedly took on the ‘medical mafia’ and their political masters whose ‘syndicates’ run across all sectors of Nepali society. These deeply entrenched interest groups have held the country’s development and reforms hostage—from private sector enterprises, to infrastructure development projects, hospitals, schools, colleges and universities. Nepal’s unionised labor and militant labor unions have severely damaged our business environment and the cost of doing business has shot up.
Lok Man Singh Karki, the chief of the anti-corruption body CIAA, has been suspended on charges that he severely abused his authority himself. But even after his fall, which looks imminent, the fight against corruption needs to be carried forward. On December 22, the day that the hearing on his case began in the Supreme Court, supporters of the breakaway Maoist party led by Netrabikram Chand smeared black soot on his face. Some on social media celebrated this event, indicating the widespread public frustration towards the political class.
But Chand’s group hardly represents a positive challenge to the system. Rather, his supporters continue to openly extort from businesses and threaten violence and lawlessness.
2017 will be an interesting time to watch if and how we reconcile our deep differences and observe how world politics will impact our own.
The Kathmandu Post
The Kathmandu Post
Published: 29-12-2016 10:05