By Maila Baje
With the government aggressively assaulting the past and present in the name of newness, dissenters are emerging from different quarters with matching defiance. That’s bound to happen when predicting earthquakes and doing satirical film reviews on social media begin landing you in jail.
A bill seeking to replace the existing Press Council with a media council led by a government-appointed chief with extensive powers to impose fines up to Rs 1 million on editors, reporters or publishers found guilty of defamation has consumed Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli’s administration for the better part of two months.
In its innate sense of wisdom, the government decided to add fuel to the fire by unveiling a Guthi bill that seeks to amend the law governing religious and private trusts in order to bring their property and management under a government-controlled authority.
What’s more, the Guthi bill has drawn dire predictions of the demise of the existing system from ruling-party circles. Normally, such controversies tend to go to the extent of threatening the government of the day. Yet the government is reacting in a way that risks hastening systemic termination.
True, Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokharel, acting on behalf of his boss traveling in Western Europe, has sounded a more conciliatory note of late. But the pronouncements of Prime Minister Oli and his Communication Minister, Gokul Baskota, in particular, have acquired a repulsiveness and explosiveness otherwise inherent in suicide vests in another part of the world.
More and more Nepalis seem to be realizing that republicanism, federalism and secularism were not part of the agenda of those who rose up in April 2006. Even the few that still argue the agenda of Nepali newness did contain those three pillars concede they didn’t expect the ancien regime to cast such a long shadow.
Royal regalia looks nice on royalty, not commoners elected to the highest office. Federalism was supposed to decentralize power, not raise the people’s taxes and officialdom’s perks. Secularism was never meant to elevate the various schools of Christianity at the expense of Hinduism and other faiths. When Muslims say they felt more secure practicing their belief under the decades of official Hindu statehood, that says a lot.
External powers are no less peeved by our poses and postures. The Chinese don’t like the way we’re hyping the imminent arrival of trains from the north and, more broadly, the extent of Beijing’s overall support to Nepal vis-à-vis other international and regional powers.
The Indians, who drove the current process over a dozen years ago to align Kathmandu more closely with New Delhi, don’t like the way Mandarin is being made mandatory in certain schools. (And Prime Minister Narendra Modi hasn’t even spoken at any length on Nepal in terms of his second term, as if relishing in the way we are roiling in our fears and hopes.)
Just a couple of months ago, the Americans flustered us by extolling our potential contribution to easing Washington’s tensions with Pyongyang, now don’t like the way the North Koreans are behaving in Nepal. Does anyone like anything here anymore?