“Only the fear or hatred of an external enemy—and, thus, the continuance or fabrication of inter-state anarchy—could give a government adequate authority in the eyes of the requisite individuals to induce them to willingly submit to its power,” writes Michael C. Evans. The professor of political science at Georgia State University is summing up a central tenet in the political philosophy of James Madison, the fourth American president and the ‘father’ of its constitution. A hardcore republican like Madison who played a vital role in the ouster of the British occupying forces from the US was also among the first political theorists on democratic nation-states.
The democratic actors of republican Nepal can no more ascribe every evil in the country to autocratic monarchs. When their failure as responsible democratic actors becomes impossible to hide, they thus like to invoke the evil designs of foreign forces—or a foreign force, namely India—to cover up their mistake. As Madison argued, summoning an external enemy may be necessary for all governments to get people to ‘willingly submit to their power’. It is indispensable if such a power is being blatantly abused and public criticism against the government is growing.
Nepali communists have been experts at raising the specter of external enemies, mostly to cut their opponents down to size. In the middle of the Maoist insurgency in 2003, party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ urged his rank and file to dig up trenches to prepare for a war against “an expansionist India and an imperialist US”. What Dahal wanted to achieve through this bizarre campaign was to silence Baburam Bhattarai, his most vocal ‘pro-India’ critic in the party. In 2009, Dahal, following his forced resignation over the botched sacking of army chief, again tried to play up his nationalist credentials by demonizing India and its henchmen in Nepal.
Much before that, in 1998, Bamdev Gautam divided the CPN-UML against the party’s decision to endorse the ‘anti-national’ Mahakali treaty with India. Again, Gautam, never a patient man, was itching to take over UML leadership, and saw the aftermath of the Mahakali treaty as the perfect time to bring dislodge general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal.
Now, the ruling Nepal Communist Party is again on the verge of a breakdown. Prime Minister KP Oli, having failed to govern and feeling besieged in his own party, has been going at India hammer and tongs. He has accused other senior NCP leaders of plotting with India to bring down his government. Without a shred of historical or even anecdotal evidence, he claims Lord Ram was born in Nepal and not India. His opponents in the party are in a spot of bother. If they punish Oli for his incompetence, they will forever have to live with the taint of capitulating before India, a capital offense in Nepali communist movement.
But for the first time in the democratic history of Nepal, a ruling party is being chastised, not for cozying up to the traditional bully in India but to the increasingly meddlesome Chinese. As China’s engagement with Nepal rises, there is a possibility of creation of a powerful and vocal anti-China camp. Yet as of now, Oli can live with it. In Madison’s formulation, “only the fear or hatred of an external enemy”, real or fabricated, will rally people behind it. Perhaps no other head of government in Nepal has perfected this difficult art of using an external actor to his advantage more than KP Sharma Oli. His communist comrades can only quietly marvel.