BY M.R. JOSSE
NEW YORK, NY: As I pen this column, the first phase of Nepal’s two-step elections for seven provincial and one national assembly has been concluded with the next scheduled to be held on December 7.
Before proceeding further, recall that these polls represent the very first of their kind held under a new, people-written constitution adopted in 2015.
It introduced sweeping changes, beginning with the transformation of Nepal from a unitary Hindu monarchy to a secular federal republic – of course, with generous and gratuitous help from foreign quarters, principally, from India which hosted a made-for-Nepal Maoist insurgency to topple the monarchy at the cost of an estimated 17,000 human lives.
Later, other interested parties – naturally, in the garb of disinterested do-gooders – got into the act, including a bunch of Western countries and Christian lobbies, the former with a view to advancing their ‘contain a rising China’ agenda and the latter burning with evangelical Christian zeal of abolishing the world’s only Hindu state.
Without going into the Byzantine twists and turns of Nepal’s recent madcap political history, it should suffice to mention that there are ostensibly two principal sides contending for power.
The first is the so-called ‘Democratic’ option led by the Nepali Congress under PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, and the other, the Left ‘Nationalist’ alliance, which brings together the Maoists under Prachanda and the UML, led by K.P. Oli who, since the infamous five-month Indian blockade, now wears a ‘nationalist’ mantle for his initiatives towards China.
As I briefly survey the political scene in Nepal I have taken note of a number of singularities. This includes such anodyne media hopes that the polls will now accelerate regional development, although, as of now, the powers that be have not even been able to provide names to the seven provinces to whose assemblies representatives are to be elected!
On the other side of the ledger, there are not a few media pundits who fear that the new arrangements will spark violence rather than spreading development, good cheer and camaraderie all around. The significance of pre-election violence must be taken into account, in this regard.
Another viewpoint of note – articulated in India’s ‘Hindu’ by Prashanta Jha – is that the outcome of the polls will determine whether India continues to be the decisive or dominant actor (euphemism for vice-regal) actor in Nepal, or whether it’s shift northwards deepens.”
Since I have, for ever, argued that Nepali politics cannot be fully grasped without taking into due account the fierce if largely subterranean tussle for influence in Nepal between India/supporters and China, that granite-hard geo-political reality can hardly be denied.
NOT CHINA’S EQUAL
Indeed, it is as salient to the late Girilal Jain’s ‘India-meets-China-in-Nepal’ discourse as the allied truism that China, with its high Tibetan plateau along Nepal’s northern flank, has an overweening strategic military advantage over India in any potential or hypothetical clash between the two behemoths over Nepal.
I am hopeful those with an open mind in Nepal, and this includes her politicos, are aware of the above, as also perhaps that, in terms of sheer overall power – military, economic, diplomatic or technological – India is no match for a China that has more or less been acknowledged as the world’s second superpower.
I would now like to refer to Yubraj Ghimere’s account in the Indian Express where he mentions that “All the while, the Nepali people felt sidelined that they were not allowed a direct role in deciding the country’s unanticipated shift to a secular republic from being a Hindu kingdom 11 years ago.”
On the other hand, international observers seem not to be too perturbed by credible reports in the Nepali media about such egregious shenanigans as the Indian ambassador Manjeet Singh Puri brazenly ‘campaigning’ for the Nepali Congress!
No less telling is Ghimere’s claim that over 5 million, or nearly half of Nepal estimated 14 electorate, are not only not voting – they are mainly the blue-collar youth who are working abroad, including in the Gulf, and whose repatriated funds contribute massively to the national coffers – but, significantly, that this outrageous ‘disenfranchisement’ has not been viewed as a matter of deep concern by professional election observers, 123 alone of which have come in from all over Europe!
Finally, above and beyond the curiosities about the recent and forthcoming elections in Nepal, I find a number of very basic political contradictions running through it all.
Firstly, there is the fact that ideology has been given short shrift. This is evident from the fact that alliances have been formed between groups that were not only daggers’ drawn until the other day, but whose differences even today – say between the republican NC and those who favor a return of the monarchy – are just too wide to be brushed aside.
In a multi-party polity – one secured at such a horrendous cost in blood and treasure – if political ideology is to have no value, what is the difference – pray!- between an ideology-bereft polity and the party-less system of governance of yore?
Secondly, what does the claim that the NC-led grouping represents the ‘Democratic’ option actually mean? Is it to claim that the rival side is anti-democratic? How can that really be, if we are to believe that with a people-written Constitution now secured all political parties are on the side of the angels? In other words, there are no bad guys in the political firmament anymore – or am I being terribly naive?
Thirdly, the Left alliance’s claim to represent the ‘Nationalists’ is equally absurd, since giving it credence would suggest that their rivals – the ‘Democrats’ – are anti-nationals! Besides, who doesn’t know that Marxism-Leninism or Communism is, if anything, an internationalist political creed, as anyone with a basic grounding in political science knows.
The elections could open another Pandora’s Box, rather than prove a panacea for all of Nepal’s problems.