"The time has not yet come to be proud of Nepali citizenship though the wait has been long." Thus states Kanak Mani Dixit in the beginning sentence of his tome, Peace Politics of Nepal, An Opinion from Within (Himal Books, 2011). This opening remark strikes a chord with us who have shamefully clutched our Nepali passports at foreign immigration desks.
According to Dixit, democratic Maoists, true secularism, vigilant intellectuals, respected human rights, inclusive north-south federalism, and a liberal democratic constitution could lead us toward national pride which can envisage China and India as peers, not patrons.
When the 1990’s hard-won democracy had just begun to bear fruits through community forestry, local government, the FM radio revolution, and rural healthcare, the Maoists began the "People’s War" (1996). King Gyanendra secretly sided with the rebels to weaken the democratic parties. When he dissolved the parliament on Feb 1, 2005, the Maoists signed the 12 point accord, came aboveground, and after the 2006 uprising, began their "triplespeak" which plagues us until today.
Had the Maoists really committed themselves to a liberal, pluralistic democracy, they would have demobilised the "Peoples’ Liberation Army" (PLA) within three months. Rather, they fought the 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) election using the PLA and emerged the biggest party. The chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal had promised the presidency to Girija Prasad Koirala and Madhav Kumar Nepal, but tricked both. As the Prime Minister (PM), Dahal tried to sack the Commander-in-Chief Rookmangud Katawal and establish a "People’s Republic" with the willing General Khadka’s help. On May 4, 2009 Dahal resigned because the president rightly asked Katawal to stay on.
On the streets again, Dahal tried to bring down MK Nepal’s government with "civilian supremacy" protests and anti-Indian sentiments concentrating on "border encroachments." Diminishing national pride, he sought New Delhi’s support in his bid for the PM’s chair and even suggested that China and India devise a "strategy for Nepal." May 1, 2010 saw a Maoist-enforced indefinite strike which died out six days later when Kathmanduties gathered in their thousands to decry it. With his party’s support, Dahal made the UML party chairman, Jhalanath Khanal, the PM, early February 2011 but his secret "seven point" deal (if kept) should give him the hot seat any time before May 28.
Had Gyanendra said "sorry," the ever-forgiving Nepalis would have still kept the monarchy. To the UCPN (Maoist), Dixit suggests ways to win over the public—apologize for the murderous "People’s War," renounce violence, and change the party’s name to Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Democratic Maoist).
After kings have robbed her of democracy thrice and Maoists threaten to do so again, Nepal treads a slippery, narrow path. If the former rebels succeed, the Nepalis will rise up again to restore democracy. However, for the present, all concerned should heed Kanak Mani Dixit’s recipe.
Although appreciative of the 1990’s constitution, Dixit points out its major weakness—Nepal’s status as a Hindu state, which the constitutions of 1951/1959 lacked. The 1962 Panchayat document had the declaration that the 1990 version followed. The 2001 census indicates populations of about 80 percent for Hindus and 20 percent for "Buddhists of different sects...Muslim, Kirati, Christian, animists, shamanists, and so on. Clearly, a state which has such a large proportion and variety of non-Hindus cannot be declared Hindu." Thus, the cry for another constitution.
Vigilant intellectuals should ensure that our politicians adhere to democratic values, which Kathmandu’s learned have often neglected. Some columnists, who haven’t witnessed Maoists kill their relatives, argue that the party should retain violence to keep its distinctive. Others have remained silent when Nepali policemen have bloodied protesting Tibetan refugees, when the Shaktikhor video revealed Maoists’ plots for state-capture, and when Krishna Bahadur Mahara phoned a Chinese-accented patron for 500 million rupees to buy the prime ministerial election.
Similarly, not asking whether the document will represent a "People’s Republic" or a true liberal democracy, some civil society figures have simply demanded a constitution "on time." Others have blindly asked that the younger generation lead our politics when elderly politicians who have suffered for democracy qualify more.
Western and Indian intellectuals fared no better. They gleefully accepted King Gyanendra’s half-measure (of April 21, 2006), when he proposed setting up a government according to the wishes of the protesting seven parties, the trap which GP Koirala carefully avoided. Diplomats falsely held that the Maoists raised arms against the king (not the parliamentary democracy, the real target); and romanticized the insurgents. Maoists fooled the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) into believing that they suffered as the underdogs and had 19,000 combatants when only about 7,000 existed. UNMIN also turned a blind eye when the Maoists intimidated other parties’ candidates/voters in the CA election and their cadres walked out with weapons from cantonments.
When the Maoists butchered people, Chairman Dahal publicly justified such action as cleansing (safaya). The Nepal Army (NA), always a legal body, should have delivered its human rights offenders for civilian justice as the Supreme Court ordered. By refusing to do so, the NA degrades its status to parity with the former rebels. If the NA criminals do not face the courts, the Maoists won’t either. These former enemies now have this "unwritten agreement."
The Maoists have exploited the post-1990 liberal democracy’s openness which allowed people to air their grievances, and have responded by advocating ethnic federalism. By promising some races "priority rights" (agradhikar), they have precipitated discord. Also, the Maoists have given nine provinces race-based names, a cause for dissatisfaction among groups who cannot similarly christen theirs. Dixit pleads for a mutually supportive, north-south, hill-Tarai federalism, with five provinces based on King Birendra’s development zones. The 500 by 20 miles "One Madhes One Pradesh" has not found favor among the Tharus, Muslims, and most Madhesis.
Dixit argues for a liberal constitution, not a Maoist copy from the "Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is neither democratic nor republican..." The new constitution should build upon the gains of its 1990 counterpart. It must provide for separation of powers, secularism, pluralism, civilian supremacy, nationalism, supremacy of the judiciary, social justice, and inclusion.
Dixit’s work weakens itself by not chastising the Nepali Congress (NC) enough for its moral lapses. Vivek Kumar Shah in his book (subtitled Memoirs of a Military Secretary) recalls his 1993 Rukum visit. The NC majority government had cases against 234 non-Congress members, who languished in jails. The 30 years of Panchayat rule locked up only three in that district. Shah concludes that the Maoists erupted because the NC oppressed people.
Partially true. As a child, this writer remembers villagers crying out to King Tribhuvan, "Sarkar, the Congress has ruined us!" With its own majority governments which led to arrogance, the NC has always malfunctioned. In the Katawal issue, the NC did not even allow parliamentary discussions on the president’s action and made a mockery of democracy’s freedom of speech.
When Chiranjivi Wagle went to jail, some NC "democrats", fearing that other corrupt colleagues may soon follow him, actually protested that the Supreme Court unjustly targeted their party! The NC has also tolerated its murder-accused (during the CA election), corrupt members in its ranks. NC leaders should apply the law to their own members first, and then encourage NA criminals to face courts if they want the Maoist cadres to do the same.
After kings have robbed her of democracy thrice and Maoists threaten to do so again, Nepal treads a slippery, narrow path. If the former rebels succeed, the Nepalis will rise up again to restore democracy. However, for the present, all concerned should heed Dixit’s recipe. Then, in future, our grandchildren overseas may hold up their Nepali passports with national pride.