My new year’s wish for Nepal
- In a ‘post-truth’ world, Nepal’s marginalised groups need to push their narratives more than ever
Jan 5, 2017-
One would like to forget 2016 for many undesirable events on the world stage, not the least of which was the summary defeat of liberals, multiculturalists, pluralists, cosmopolitans almost everywhere by the parochialists, alt(ernative) right nationalists, Brexiteers, and in Nepal, Oli and his extremist nationalists. But the year has salvaged
‘post-truth’ from its wreckage. So in politics, more than rational and evidence-based arguments, appeals to emotions by weaving a populist narrative of national collapse or past or future greatness sway national events, including elections.
We will see what surprises 2017 throws at us, but the struggle for justice and equal access to the state will not end this year. That much we know from the way Nepali politics has been unfolding in the past few years.
The whole pie
The strategies of the justice seekers have not worked so far. Intellectuals, multiculturalists and the marginalised of all stripes have been arguing, cajoling, enjoining and warning. But all verbal somersaults have proven ineffective to persuade the political parties and their leaders, especially those who represent the establishment, to embrace the epochal changes of the 2006 people’s movement. That’s why a serious review of tactics and strategies is in order.
To be sure, the robust presence of the marginalised and their supporters in the first Constituent Assembly unleashed unprecedented ambitions among them. And at first they wanted the whole pie for themselves. The Madhesis wanted one province in the Tarai and the Janajatis asserted control over jal, jungle and jamin. The Limbus, for example, wanted the entire nine districts in the east for Limbuwan. This certainly scared the hill caste Hindus. As a result, even the moderates, many among the Maoists themselves, revised their original stance. By the time the first CA ended four years later without much to show for itself, the sublime hopes and idealism turned into the ridiculous sloganeering of ekal-pahichan vs bahu-pahichan—single identity federalism vs multi-identity federalism. This dichotomy was ridiculous because it turned genuine multiculturalists into monoculturalists and the real monoculturalists into multiculturalists. The wolf wore the sheep’s skin and the sheep was made to wear the wolf’s skin in public perception.
So, with the collapse of the first CA and the emergence of CA II, the loud ambition to eat the whole pie turned into a whimper. As in many Panchatantra stories, the marginalised got outfoxed by the dominant forces who had experience and expertise on their side. And mother earth also came to the fox’s support. The earthquake mellowed the already diminished Maoists—whose priorities were suspect anyway right from the beginning—and brought the three mainstream parties together under the 16-point agreement. The method and manner of writing the constitution and the subsequent series of events leading up to the present obstruction of parliamentary proceedings by the KP Oli-led opposition and insistence by the Nepali Congress and the diminished Maoist Centre clearly show that the dreams and ideals of a restructured and just Nepal lie in tatters.
In its place, one has witnessed the resurgence of the Oli-led alt-right forces reverse not only the gains but also the trend of forward movement. (In Nepal’s context, Kamal Thapa’s party is the party of the right.) KP Oli’s past and present public statements about federalism, republicanism and secularism and his populism as the leader of Nepal’s alt-right movement are evidence enough of this trend reversal.
But given Nepal’s demographics, Mr Oli’s pumped-up rhetoric can at best be only gaseous, sooner or later subject to deflation. Still the staying power of this Oli balloon has been astonishing. Reviewing my columns since 2009, I find that in more than one I had predicted the imminent collapse of this shrill hill caste nationalist rhetoric of the mere 30 percent, minus the liberals and multiculturalists, given the Madhesis, Janajatis and Dalits were all demanding their rightful share in the state. But why has that not been possible? Were the Janajatis misled by the Maoists’
rhetoric of ekal pahichan sahitko sanghiyata (federalism with single identity)? Did they really believe in it? Did they think they would have only one identity validated in the state in their population areas? If so, was it not reverse Mahendrism of one language, one dress? If not, why did they allow the Maoists to package their demands in such an extremist form, which left a big hole for their opponents to exploit? No wonder, then, that the UML and others now claim that the Madhesi parties don’t truly represent the Madhesis nor Ashok Rai’s party the Janajatis.
More importantly, after the whipping they received in the second CA election, where have all the Janajati (hill and Tarai alike) activists gone? What happened to Raj Kumar Lekhi and Laxman Tharu, the
rabble-rousers from 2008 to 2012? Why isn’t there a single Rajbanshi or Dhimal from Jhapa and Morang visible in public? Is the media deliberately suppressing their news? If that were the case, why have they been publishing my and many others’ pieces both in Nepali and English? And how long can the caste Madhesis alone fight for all the marginalised—hill and Tarai Janajatis, Dalits and women? When Upendra Yadav merged his Madhesi Rights Forum with Ashok Rai’s Federal Socialist Party, I thought this event came as a turning point in Nepali politics. This is because the only way the marginalised in Nepal could ever hope to wrest their rights from the dominant minority of 30 percent, many of whom are their allies, is if they form alliances and work together. But where is Ashok Rai these days? Nobody hears anything, either from or about him anymore. Did he leave the UML to choose silence and exile?
When you live in a post-truth world, you have to weave your own national counter-narrative. It’s not just events or elections. Before you win an election or exercise control over an event, you have to win the war over whose narrative the people accept. The fact that even the watered down version of the constitution amendment has become stuck due to the UML’s obstruction without fear of consequences shows that the struggles of the new republic are not going to end any time soon. The only way it can end soon is when all the marginalised form working alliances among themselves and with other like-minded groups, establish a common front and win the battle of perception over narratives. This is my new year’s wish for Nepal’s struggling forces.
Published: 05-01-2017 08:07