The guinea pigs that went to school

People's Review - - COMMENTARY - By Maila Baje

Even in ex­as­per­a­tion, Prime Min­is­ter Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli ex­cels at en­liven­ing things. “At­tempts to make the coun­try a guinea pig to ex­per­i­ment rights and make it a play­ground for el­e­ments with un­to­ward ob­jec­tives can­not be ac­cepted,” he de­clared on Con­sti­tu­tion Day. The phase of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in Nepal was over, as­serted Oli, with a pro­viso: “If any­thing is yet to be ex­per­i­mented here, they are models of speedy de­vel­op­ment.” Im­ple­ment­ing our new Con­sti­tu­tion was not go­ing to be eas­ier than draw­ing it up. Still, we are in a ditch that is deeper than any­one could have de­ter­mined. Ob­sta­cles – per­ceived and real – seem to emerge from ev­ery cor­ner. Of new Nepal's three props, re­pub­li­can­ism and sec­u­lar­ism were go­ing to be con­tentious. The monar­chy and Hindu state­hood never stood a fair chance in the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate whipped up dur­ing and af­ter Peo­ple's Move­ment II. Ad­vo­cates of re­pub­li­can­ism and sec­u­lar­ism – do­mes­tic as well as ex­ter­nal – knew they had to strike the prover­bial iron when it was hot. Even in the heat of the mo­ment, they had to sneak in such sweep­ing changes through the back­door.

True, more than 90 per­cent of the elected as­sem­bly even­tu­ally en­dorsed the Con­sti­tu­tion. But, then, this over­whelm­ing sup­port em­anated from the only con­stituency that was al­lowed any con­se­quen­tial par­tic­i­pa­tion in the po­lit­i­cal process. De­mo­niza­tion and defama­tion were scarcely con­ducive to col­lec­tive cool­head­ed­ness. The sur­prise, then, is that the con­sti­tu­tion did not re­ceive 100 per­cent en­dorse­ment. The monar­chy and Hindu state­hood, to be sure, were not es­tab­lished as a po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity based on the pop­u­lar vote. So it is disin­gen­u­ous at one level to rue their depar­ture with­out direct pop­u­lar sanc­tion. Still, a coun­try that has prac­ticed seven con­sti­tu­tions in 70 years also com­pre­hends how every­thing even­tu­ally be­comes po­lit­i­cal – in as­pi­ra­tion as well as ap­praisal. It is con­found­ing how pre­cip­i­tously the third peg – fed­er­al­ism – has fallen into dis­re­pute. Oli's present po­si­tion and scope of par­tic­i­pa­tion in the past might have pre­cluded him from greater can­dor. The oc­ca­sion and venue of his re­mark have cer­tainly am­pli­fied his mes­sage. De­bat­ing whether fed­er­al­ism was right for the coun­try was use­less, he said, stress­ing that lead­ers had to im­ple­ment de­ci­sions that had been made. The guinea pig anal­ogy is vivid enough to en­com­pass our times as well as those by­gone. Coun­ter­fac­tu­als are in­vari­ably en­ter­tain­ing. In this case, they may even be in­struc­tive. Take, for ex­am­ple, our 1950-51 rev­o­lu­tion. With the ben­e­fit of In­dian, Bri­tish and Amer­i­can archival ma­te­rial,

it would be fair to won­der whether King Trib­hu­van would have been re­stored to the throne had Bri­tish and Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ca­tion and for­warded eploy­ment abil­i­ties been able to com­pen­sate for In­dia's ge­o­graph­i­cal ad­van­tage. Con­versely, had the Bri­tish and Amer­i­cans pro­ceeded to act on the im­per­a­tive that Nepal was vi­tal to up­hold­ing their com­mon in­ter­ests in South Asia in the af­ter­math of the Raj, might the In­di­ans have kept quiet? In the worst case, would the 1950 Treaty have re­ceded into the ir­rel­e­vance Nepal's full in­cor­po­ra­tion into the In­dian Union would have dic­tated? His­tory has a cold logic that en­gen­ders an abun­dance of ‘what ifs' that looks back­ward and for­ward. Nepal has not lacked for a string of seem­ingly un­re­lated events in and around the neigh­bor­hood that have cre­ated fer­tile ground for ex­per­i­men­ta­tions of all sorts for those with the will and where­withal. As the Red Scare pro­voked the Free World to con­trive an al­ter­na­tive that drew enough from tra­di­tion to pre­serve the present and pin­point the fu­ture, the two com­mu­nist be­he­moths weren't sit­ting idly by ei­ther. If in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nism could co-ex­ist with the monar­chy in Nepal, could those staid and stolid com­rades be that all that bad? Ba­sic democ­racy, guided democ­racy, party­less democ­racy were all lo­cal vari­ants of ini­tia­tives funded – if not en­tirely fash­ioned – by the lead­ing democ­ra­cies in search of a half­way house in a tur­bu­lent world. Stalin and Mao had their com­munes, we got our Amer­i­can-funded co­op­er­a­tives. Such con­sid­er­a­tion makes it eas­ier to com­pre­hend the cor­re­la­tion be­tween spe­cific episodes of dé­tente and those of lib­er­al­iza­tion of our Pan­chayat polity. When the Berlin Wall came crash­ing down, things per­force took an­other turn. Amid the hubris of the ‘end of his­tory', de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion had to be pur­sued at all costs. Again, the im­per­a­tive was to strike when the iron was hot. China af­ter the Tianan­men Square mas­sacre and a Rus­sia smol­der­ing in the wreck­age of the Soviet Union pro­vided a rare win­dow of op­por­tu­nity. If lib­eral democ­racy could suc­ceed in places like Poland and Nepal, well, then, his­tory could be deemed to have truly ended. Struc­tural ad­just­ment and macroe­co­nomic sta­bi­liza­tion were bold sup­ple­ments. Ex­cept that the Fukuya­mans failed to ap­pre­ci­ate that the Rus­sians and Chi­nese weren't go­ing lay low for­ever. Nor were the likes of RAW and ISI to lack new mis­sions. As the Maoists com­ple­mented the Marx­ist-Lenin­ists in our com­mu­nist con­tin­gent amid democ­racy's dis­con­tents (while Poland's com­rades rein­car­nated them­selves as the Demo­cratic Left Al­liance), new think­ing was re­quired. Could de­vel­op­ment and se­cu­rity be some­how in­te­grated to the sat­is­fac­tion of all? How about a sep­a­rate Armed Po­lice Force to main­tain in­ter­nal se­cu­rity? Might an in­te­grated com­mand of se­cu­rity forces work bet­ter? We tried those and more and ended up with a still un­ex­plained mas­sacre in the heavily for­ti­fied palace. Long be­fore King Gya­nen­dra dis­missed him the first time, Prime Min­is­ter Sher Ba­hadur Deuba ended up a help­less by­stander as US Sec­re­tary of State Colin Pow­ell pro­ceeded to dis­cuss Nepal's needs di­rectly with the monarch and the mil­i­tary chief. The global war on ter­ror was as am­bigu­ous as it was all en­com­pass­ing. De­fen­sive im­pe­ri­al­ism and en­abling the state were ideas des­per­ately in need of a lab­o­ra­tory. When the axe did fall on Deuba, most in­flu­en­tial for­eign gov­ern­ments sup­ported the palace. Our ground had lost none of its fer­til­ity. But, this time, ex­ter­nal agents were more than will­ing to and ca­pa­ble of ex­per­i­ment­ing at cross pur­poses, and far be­yond Nepal's car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity. No sur­prise, there­fore, that Deuba's sec­ond dis­missal prompted such se­vere con­dem­na­tion. In view of those and sub­se­quent de­vel­op­ments, Oli per­haps want us to pause and pon­der. If we want to keep con­triv­ing vic­tim­hood, man­u­fac­tur­ing griev­ances and in­vent­ing new rights, we cer­tainly won't lack ex­ter­nal pa­tron­age and pelf. We can still marvel at how a move­ment against au­to­cratic monar­chy ended up pro­duc­ing re­pub­li­can­ism, sec­u­lar­ism and fed­er­al­ism and where else it might take us. But at some point, we need to get real. We have what we have and must at least try to make it work. As for guinea pigs, they have to be very for­tu­nate to sur­vive the ex­per­i­ments and live the af­ter­math. Hu­man be­ings – and na­tions – need more for­ti­tude.

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