Print Edition - 2017-07-02  |  Free the Words

Political cynicism and stagnation

  • Empty narratives of peace without the practice of justice will not result in a stable future
- Ram Kumar Bhandari

Jul 2, 2017-

Nepal has suffered greatly over the past two decades. There has been minimal progress on social transformation, transitional justice, criminal accountability and access to justice. The cyclical nature of Nepali politics and lack of progress have placed the transformative agenda squarely in the hands of narrow elites who have full control of the state apparatus.

On June 6th, 2017, Sher Bahadur Deuba was elected prime minister for the fourth time. The return of Deuba as the 25th prime minister in the past 27 years clearly shows the instability of the Nepali state. Deuba is president of the Nepali Congress, and has served as prime minister three times, from September 1995 to March 1997, from August 2001 to October 2002, and from June 2004 to February 2005, before the former King Gyanendra Shah seized absolute power. 

Self-serving agenda

Deuba is a key character in the narrative of Nepal’s political chaos. It was while he was heading the government for the first time during 1995-97 that the Maoist Party announced a “People’s War” against the state, following which the Deuba-led government and the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led Maoist Party declared each other 

“enemies”. As prime minister during the height of the civil war, Deuba called for a state of emergency and dubbed the Maoists “terrorists”. He also announced a five million-rupee bounty for Dahal as well as rewards for the capture of hundreds of other political activists, dead or alive. 

Now, after a decade of conflict, Dahal and Deuba have formed an alliance in an effort to hide the truth and wipe out the history of Nepal’s violent past. This is a clear sign that political elites tend to make agreements to protect themselves. In doing so, they run the risk of repeating the history of violence by advancing the politics of revenge and radicalising the marginalised, whose fight against injustice still continues.

Deuba’s return raises doubts and adds chaos to a political domain that was already grappling with serious challenges. Implementing the new federal constitution and managing the transitional process as well as other conflicts in the socio-political realm are challenges that need to be addressed without delay. The current system is not addressing the key demands of conflict survivors, victims of political violence, ex-combatants and political forces outside the current constitutional process; this may add to Nepal’s challenges in the future.

The agenda of truth, justice, institutional reform and just development are of huge importance. However, the cyclical nature of politics has disempowered the people’s progressive agenda. Transitional justice has been 

sidelined, and with only limited access to justice, more people have been victimised. 

Deuba’s record is bad. A majority of enforced disappearances and other crimes occurred during his political leadership. In November 1995, he launched a police operation called “Operation Romeo” in Rolpa district, the heart of the Maoist movement. The operation aimed to sabotage the radical political activists in the remote hill districts of Nepal and resulted in gross violations of human rights, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, rape, executions and disappearances. It helped fuel the insurgency.

Deuba declared a state of emergency in November 2001, mobilising the then-Royal Nepal Army (RNA) and forming the ‘Unified Command’ to fight the Maoists. Cases of human rights violations by the government increased drastically during his leadership, with untargeted aerial bombings, arbitrary detention and torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and rape. It was Deuba who introduced the infamous Terrorist and Destructive Activities (Control and Punishment) Act (TADA). Under Deuba’s leadership, Nepal went through one of its worst episodes of human rights violations in recent political history.

Changing the course

The continued presence of rights abusers in the government and in the security apparatus is preventing the institutionalisation of democratic political processes and the rule of law. The security forces and political forces that committed the rights violations during and in the aftermath of the conflict often obstructed the transitional justice process and promoted political protectionism. Deuba is a big defender of Nepal’s security forces; he denies structural violence and has never accepted the errors of Nepal’s violent past. It’s a shameful betrayal by the top leaders of the ruling parties, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists, who were once sworn enemies and prime architects of the civil war, but are now colluding to hide the truth. They are making fools of the conflict survivors, citizens and the nation through political reconciliation at the top, without addressing the structural issues of the marginalised.

There are clear-cut reasons as to why the transformative agenda of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the constitutional amendment process for wider inclusivity have been sidelined. There has been a failure to implement the promised commitments. Before Deuba’s comeback, the Dahal-led government, on May 29 (Republic Day), had rewarded some noted perpetrators from both political and security institutions. Two transitional justice bodies, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP), are defunct due to the lack of political commitment, a clear legal mandate, adequate resources and expertise. Who has obstructed criminalisation of enforced disappearance? Who defends senior security officials and political leader, and who were involved in conflict-time violations? Who are the actors or institutions that influence the transitional justice process? What are the factors that make the commissions unable to function independently and cause them to fail to deliver results? The government is to be held responsible; it has been unwilling to address the legacy of violence.

Without dealing with past violations and addressing the peoples’ agenda for change in a just way, history will not forgive and there will always be a chance that the cycle of violence and revenge will repeat itself. Thousands of conflict survivors, ex-fighters and members of marginalised communities will eventually try to find a route to resist injustice; they will not continue to live in uncertainty. Again, a more organised civil resistance and social intervention to change the course is a must. Social justice is inevitable. Empty narratives of peace without the practice of justice will not result in a peaceful future. The role of state institutions will determine whether we deal with the past responsibly or whether we will enter into an uncertain future of confrontations. The question is: how long will Nepal suffer through bad leadership due to the cyclical nature of conflict and political cynicism?


Bhandari is an activist and a PhD researcher at NOVA Law School, New University of Lisbon

Published: 02-07-2017 08:10

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