Flashback: All Worked Up By Works In Progress

People's Review - - COMMENTARY - By Maila Baje

If re­al­ity is a work in progress, our polity surely en­cap­su­lates the per­pe­tu­ity of the process. With too many ex­per­i­ments go­ing on at the same time – in par­al­lel as well as in con­flict – every ap­pear­ance of ar­rival only ad­vances our des­ti­na­tion. Af­ter plod­ding on for a dozen years, the as­sorted ar­chi­tects of our col­lec­tive destiny fi­nally seemed to have reached an equi­lib­rium. On the be­drock of repub­li­can­ism, sec­u­lar­ism and fed­er­al­ism, Nepalis could find their equipoise. Sure, the Con­stituent Assem­bly turned out to be a Pan­dora’s Box – and twice. We’re still not sure what came out of it or what’s still in­side. But the lid was shut. Prime Min­is­ter Khadga Prasad Oli has a hard time keep­ing it shut. Oli heads a uni­fied com­mu­nist party that pre­dom­i­nates that end of the spec­trum as well as a gov­ern­ment that en­joys two-thirds ma­jor­ity sup­port in the elected leg­is­la­ture. Yet those you’d ex­pect to be hail­ing this re­lief from frac­tious­ness of the past see in Oli a sin­gle suc­ces­sor to the dozen ‘po­ten­tates’ that re­placed the ma­ligned monar­chy. The prac­ti­cal di­men­sions of fed­er­al­ism have pro­vided the first val­i­da­tion of crit­ics of this vari­ant of de­vo­lu­tion and de­cen­tral­iza­tion. Prov­inces are still named nu­mer­i­cally, as in the Rana era. Provin­cial of­fi­cials com­plain of poor com­pen­sa­tion and lack of con­veyance. Cen­tre-state con­flicts have been largely in check be­cause the peo­ple haven’t be­gun speak­ing yet. Early on, sec­u­lar­ism en­er­gized the faith­ful. Af­ter an ini­tial vic­tory run, Chris­tian­ity seems to be on the de­fen­sive, if you read for­eign Chris­tian pub­li­ca­tions. Hin­duism was never this ebul­lient even when Nepal was the world’s only of­fi­cial Hindu state. Where we have bucked the global trend is in the placid­ity of our Mus­lim brethren. In term of in­clu­sion and rep­re­sen­ta­tion, we have come out ahead nu­mer­i­cally. That should count for some­thing when we don’t have any other yard­stick over the short to medium term. Yet the Oli gov­ern­ment is be­sieged. The Supreme Court tends to re­verse al­most every de­ci­sion it makes. And that’s even be­fore we have a per­ma­nent chief jus­tice. Civil so­ci­ety tends to act as if noth­ing has changed since the fi­nal decade of the party­less Pan­chayat sys­tem. A prom­i­nent me­dia house changes its key edi­tors in a de­ci­sion ten­u­ously linked to the sup­posed ap­point­ment of a se­nior In­dian man­age­ment ex­ec­u­tive and we be­gin de­bat­ing how that af­fair might af­fect our na­tional destiny. An ac­tivist med­i­cal doc­tor with a pen­chant for Gand­hian de­pri­va­tion of nu­tri­tion chooses a re­mote dis­trict to make his valiant stand against the gov­ern­ment. And the gov­ern­ment and the doc­tor’s sup­port­ers both act as if the sky is about to fall. Oli & Co. should be en­thused by the new re­spectabil­ity their ide­ol­ogy, at least its so­cial­ist vari­ant, is com­mand­ing among mil­len­ni­als in the West. In­stead, our elected com­rades are be­ing de­mo­nized as crude in­car­na­tions of Stalin, Mao, Be­ria and Kang. The roots of this ap­a­thy lay in the amor­phous­ness of the April 2006 Upris­ing. For all out­ward ap­pear­ances, it was a mas­sive pop­u­lar upris­ing. The prin­ci­pal trig­ger was the peo­ple’s de­sire to see the monar­chy shed its au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and the Maoist rebels come into the main­stream. Be­yond that, it was a blank can­vas. Di­verse in­ter­ests drove their own nar­ra­tives which eas­ily set the na­tional agenda. The ex­ter­nal di­men­sions of the dis­tor­tion were starker. By the end of it all, the Chi­nese – who backed the monar­chy against the Maoists un­til the last mo­ment – wel­comed the new con­sti­tu­tion in 2015. The In­di­ans, who set the ball rolling through the 12-Point Agree­ment on their soil, couldn’t come out with any­thing more than a tepid ac­knowl­edge­ment of the change in Nepal. The Amer­i­cans, Eu­ro­peans and, yes, the Rus­sians couldn’t be ex­pected to re­lin­quish the ground they in­vested in so care­fully since 1950. For some fur­ther afield, our land­mark elec­tions were not rep­re­sen­ta­tive enough. Oth­ers don’t see enough new rights up­held. Still oth­ers have their fin­gers firmly on the pulse to de­tect the out­break of Cold War 2.0, if it hasn’t al­ready. How could Nepal not be part of this Se­cond Com­ing? The In­di­ans and Chi­nese want to turn their con­test over Nepal into a neigh­bor­hood brawl. When they try to split the dif­fer­ence, oth­ers far afield are nat­u­rally ag­i­tated. What they lack in ge­o­graph­i­cal prox­im­ity, they more than make up through money and other in­stru­ments. Like us, the ex­ter­nal play­ers don’t like what Nepal has be­come. Again, like us, they don’t know what they want it to be­come. A work in progress by def­i­ni­tion em­bod­ies even­tual achieve­ment of clearly de­fined and im­ple­mented ini­tia­tives. Equally, it can be an un­der­tak­ing sub­ject to the va­garies of at­ti­tudes, in­ten­tions and re­sources. With per­plex­ity so en­trenched in the in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal en­vi­ron­ment, how can we not be so worked up?

(Orig­i­nally posted on Satur­day, July14,2018)

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