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Archive for April, 2015

Narendra Modi in Nepal

Posted by chimeki on April 29, 2015

Courtesy: Business Standart

Courtesy: Business Standart

It takes centuries to build a national identity and less than few months to lose it completely. This is a lesson that the people of Nepal are to learn very soon. Nepal, because of its geo-political location, has been always a place of political and diplomatic maneuverings for the regional powers but never before was it done so openly and brazenly as it is being done now.

Under Narendra Modi India has become dangerously assertive in Nepal. Since he took over as the prime minister of India he had made it clear that India would actively involve itself in the affairs of South Asia. The method would vary country-wise. In Nepal, he is trying to launch a powerful assault on the Nepali identity by evoking the Hindu identity. Interestingly, there is a complete lack of concern among the Nepali politicians and academia who, until recently, would jump the gun over anything they perceived as a threat to Nepal’s sovereignty and nationality.

While he talks Gandhi and secularism to his Western audience, his regular conjuration of the Hindu identity in Nepal has become a matter of serious deliberation among the concerned Nepal watchers. Post 2002 Gujarat communal carnage, Mr Modi projected himself as the man of development in India and abroad, but for Nepali people, he has become a religious zealot, a crusader who felt it his duty to make them conscious of their religion.

Mr Modi has betrayed his obsession with Nepal quite often in the last few months. His fixation with Nepal is hardly a secret now. In his first visit to Bhutan he mistakenly referred the Bhutanese parliamentarians as the Nepali law makers. Later he praised Nepal in his maiden Independence Day speech to the nation.

In between these two references he toured Nepal and offered prayers in the Pashupatinath temple. The photograph where his forehead is smeared in the temple’s holy ash created a sensation in the country. Even the hardcore nationalists saw it as a signal from India to have a good relationship. When he spoke in the Nepal’s Constitution Assembly, the first head of any state to do it in recent memories, he repeatedly evoked shared Hindu identity by the people of the two countries.

Taking the step further, he planned a road trip to Nepal in November this year to attend the 18th SAARC Summit. Thankfully it didn’t happen. Mr Modi’s itinerary included Janakpur, a town considered to be the birth place of Ramayan’s Sita, Muktinath and Lumbani. He had plans to address the people in all the three places.

Nepal and Identity:

Birth of Nepal as a nation-state coincided with the expansion of the British Raj in India. In the south of Nepal, the two powers constantly disputed over trade and border issues in the last and the first decades of the 18th and 19th centuries. Finally, in 1814 the more than two-decade-long tension culminated in a fully fledged war. The Anglo Nepalese War of 1814-16 in which Nepal suffered a humiliating defeat sealed the fate of Nepal for more than a century and a half. That defeat also made Nepal extremely conscious of its existence. Over the years Nepal’s foreign policy and relationship were moulded with a specific aim of protecting its existence. That was the reason, many believe, Nepal whole heartedly supported all British moves in Asia and the world.

During the first war of Independence in India in 1857, Nepal played a very crucial role in reestablishing English supremacy in the region. Then Prime Minister of Nepal Jung Bahadur Rana, who established the Rana autocracy or Ranacracy in Nepal, personally led the Gurkha army to crush the armed uprising in Lucknow and other parts of Northern India. Karl Marx called Jung Bahadur Rana ‘the English dog-man’. Even after the rebellion was thoroughly crushed, the Rana regime continued to aid the British establishment in India. Thereafter, the Ranas would not allow any anti-British activities from Nepal. In the following years Nepal was the source of a large number of Gurkha recruits and slaves for the English rulers. The successive Rana rulers continued to aid the British with Gurkha soldiers in the missions in Burma, Afghanistan, China, Malta, Cyprus, Malaya and Tibet. In the two world wars more than 2 lakh Gurkha soldiers fought along the British lines. During World War II there were 112000 Gurkha soldiers in the British Army, the highest ever.

Post British rule in Asia, precisely after India got freedom, when India’s new rulers set the task of assimilating as many independent states as possible into India’s fold, Nepal had to wake up to the new political reality. The hastily concluded Peace and Friendship Treat of 1950 with the new Indian government has signs of a desperate attempt by the then Nepali rulers to switch loyalty. Although the Rana rule ended soon after the treaty was signed, the treaty remained in effect. It still is. Since then this treaty is the core around which Nepali politics moves. The political trend in Nepal is that every political party would criticize the treaty when she is in opposition or leading an armed movement and go mum as soon as it would come to power or become part of the system.

The suspicion for India grew after Sikkim became the 22nd state of India in 1975. Many in Nepal saw it as a forceful annexation. This event added a new word in the Nepali political lexis, Sikkimikaran or Sikkimization. The merger made Nepali people more attached to their Nepali identity.

In the coming years, this attachment to identity first developed into cynicism and then transformed into socialism. The socialists in Nepal become the flag bearer of sovereignty and Nepali identity. This transformation happened due to the recognition and support Nepal got from the socialist China. China offered Nepal an olive branch to stand on its own, for itself against its mighty southern neighbor which, for many Nepalese, had followed the British legacy of expansionism and assertion.

Since 1950, there have been many attempts, deliberate or unintentional, to dilute the Nepali identity by the Hindu fundamentalists from the both sides of the border. Like today many Indian leaders had tried to influence Nepali masses by evoking common religious belief in the past too. However, Nepal for long remained unmoved from these assaults. In the last 60 years, Nepal has successful defied the Hindutva agenda of blending Nepali identity with the larger Hindu identity. Nepali people had always challenged the hegemonic rhetoric of its southern neighbor. Also, whenever they felt that the leaders or the kings couldn’t be trusted in safeguarding the sovereignty of the country they had come out to protest. Often these protests have led to big political changes.

On the other hand, the kings too found it necessary for their own survival to keep the Nepali identity separate from the broader Hindu identity. Often they fuelled nationalistic sentiments to check growing Indian interventions in the country’s sovereign affairs. The first king of Nepal Prithvi Narayan Shah warned his subjects from crossing the border and mixing with the Indian population. Later, the Rana rulers consciously chose not to be seen as an extension of India. However, from the second half of the 20th century, the idea of state-sponsored Nepali nationalism was challenged by the new and more inclusive form of nationalism i.e. socialist nationalism.

Nationalism(s) in Nepal

From 1950, there emerged contesting views of nationalism in Nepal. One view reflected the state sponsored top-down nationalism based on national pride centered on the Shah Monarchy and Hindu (not Hindutva) ideals while other view advocated bottom-up nationalism based on class unity of the marginalized and toiling masses. The former was intrinsically anti-woman, anti-dalit, anti-religious minorities and also against the people of Tarai (plains) known generally as the Madheshi. The latter view defined nationalism in Nepal’s context as the unity of all the exploited people and demanded restructuring of Nepal based on the principles of socialism and democracy.

After a prolonged struggle the people of Nepal succeeded in uprooting the monarchy in 2008. The first Constituent Assembly saw the largest number of representation of hitherto suppressed minorities, nationalities, gender and castes. It looked as if Nepal was on the threshold of resolving the contradictions it had been in since the emergence of modern Nepal. However the first Constitutional Assembly failed to write a constitution in the stipulated time and had to be dissolved. The second Constitutional Assembly, which came into existence in November last year, is not as representative as the first. The number of women, dalits, Madheshis and other marginalized communities and minorities has come down to one third of the previous number. Nevertheless, the people still hoped for a better Constitution than they had previously.

However, things have been changing fast in Nepal since the Baratiya Janta Party came to power in India. This has also coincided with the weakening of the nationalist consciousness among the Nepali people. Nationalistic feeling subsided because people feel cheated by the nationalist leaders. There is a feeling that the leaders cultivate nationalistic sentiments to further their self interests. It is not long ago when the Maoists were seen as the watchdog of national sovereignty. But they too proved to be the same old wine with a new label. It was during the premiership of the Maoist leader Dr Baburam Bhattarai that Nepal signed the worst bilateral trade agreement, the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA), with India. Several studies have already proved that these agreements have always harmed the interests of the weaker economies. Besides, the Maoists have shown reluctance to speak on India’s growing intervention in Nepal. In the name of pragmatism, they dared not offend India’s goodwill.

Not long ago the Maoists would stop Indian motor vehicles from crossing to Nepal calling it the right of sovereign people. There were nationalists who burnt posters of Indian film stars and politicians they thought had hurt the Nepali sentiments. These leaders are now completely silent over the most ill-timed intervention by the head of India. The passivity is bound to cost Nepal very much.

The question of nationality is still relevant for the neo-colonized countries and nationalities. Although, it is considered an obsolete idea to emphasize on nationality and identity at the cost of the larger class question nevertheless the weakening of socialist movements across the world and rising assault of capitalist imperialism has made it inevitable to fall back to the Marxist line which, along with the class question, addresses the question of nationalism in the newly colonized or neo-colonized countries of the world. For these nationalities, as Lenin would see in various forms of struggles, the nationalist or identity struggle is a process of crystallizing the class struggle. In the last decades of the last century, the socialists in many countries of the world creatively blended the Marxist class line with the issue of nationalism and were not only able to win over the large masses of people but also sustain their power for a longer period.

The Maoists in Nepal must remember Lenin’s warning when he said, “The bourgeoisie ‘want’ to curtail the class struggle, to distort and narrow the conception and blunt its sharp edge.”  Narendra Modi seems to be doing exactly this. He is trying to blunt the edges of the volatile class struggle in India and Nepal with a narrow nationalistic sentiment based on Hindu supremacy. The nationalists in Nepal, including the Maoists, must remember that nationalism is ultimately an idea. It cannot be saved, by stopping foreign goods and vehicles from crossing the border, shutting cinema halls playing foreign movies and other such rituals, useless the idea itself is saved.

V.S.

(Published at Sanhati.com on December 13, 2014)

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Nepal Peace Process on Track

Posted by chimeki on April 29, 2015

Nepal Peace ProcessIn Nepal, the constitution writing process is back on track. On September 2, the big three parties, Nepali Congress, UML, UCPN-Maoist, have agreed to engage with Mohan Baidya ‘Kiran’ led Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist. The CPN-M is the biggest party outside the Constituent Assembly and has been proposing an all party conference to resolve the contentious issues of the Constituent Assembly. It has warned of consequences for the government if it tries to ignore its alliance.

The breakthrough has come just four days before the deadline set by the working calendar of the Constituent Assembly to build a consensus on all disputed issues. On 5 April, the Constituent Assembly had formed the Constitutional Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee under UCPN-M leader Dr Baburam Bhattarai and mandated it to underline the bone of contention among the parties in and outside the Constituent Assembly. On May 16, the committee sent a list of 145 points related to the constitution writing process that, it said, needed addressing. Accordingly, the committee held talks with 45 parties outside the Constituent Assembly on 7 and 8 July to put on record their demands. However, the CPN-M, which, along with 33 other parties, had boycotted the second Constituent Assembly election held in November last year, refused to sit for talks saying that it didn’t recognize the new Constituent Assembly. It demanded a direct talk among the parties and all the stakeholders in Nepal.

Since then the writing process had stuck in limbo. It looked as if the Sushil Koirala government had made up its mind to bypass CPN-M and parties outside the Constituent Assembly while working on the constitution. Had it happened it would have set a wrong precedent.

Since last November, the political landscape in Nepal has completely changed. There have emerged alternative voices in every major political party. In the CPN-M, one strong voice is represented by Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplab’, a charismatic young leader with an influencing following. The party which, till recently, had claimed to be above factionalism is facing an existential crisis. Biplab has serious reservations on the line taken by the party leadership since the second Constituent Assembly election. He has attacked the leadership for not being able to formulate concrete line in the changed scenario. He believes that the line of the party chairman Kiran and other senior leaders, which tells that the Constituent Assembly is still relevant, has exhausted and the party should change its course of action. In a recently concluded meeting of the central committee, Biplab had presented an alternative proposal challenging the Chairman’s.

Biplab’s proposal to the party is: go back to the People’s War. His emphasis is on getting out of the peace process and going underground. He has strongly rejected Kiran’s argument for a peaceful struggle until the time is mature for a ‘people’s revolt’. He is of belief that there is no scope for peaceful struggle for Socialism in Nepal and that line of ‘People’s revolt’ is the excuse of the status quoist forces in the party! Biplab seems ready to say goodbye to fellow comrades if they don’t make amendments in the party’s present line. If this happens, the peace process in Nepal will certainly collapse. The leaders must understand that the consequences of the collapse will not be Biplab’s sole doing instead more responsibility will be of the government.

For better part of its term, the government had seldom shown seriousness in fulfilling its commitment to the Nepalese people of giving them a new constitution. The peace process which began 8 years ago often looked an unending exercise. The Constituent Assembly is yet to present the first draft of the constitution! Experts believe that the real process will begin after the first draft is made public because only then people will actually join the debate which has been going on behind the curtain for all these years.

The agreement to hold talk with the CPNM is a welcome step. It sends a clear message that the government is serious for a meaningful and constructive dialogue with all the voices without caring much for their size and standing. It is also a message to Biplab and his supporters that their fear that there is no scope for peaceful and democratic solution of Nepal’s problem is without merit.

V.S.

(Published in The Citizen)

Posted in Nepal | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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