Just as we do when talking about domestic politics, hyperboles are the order of the day when discussing international events. We talk of eroding democratic ideals the world over in an age of disinformation and creeping authoritarianism. As it gets harder to separate fact from fiction, people, we see, are plumping for nationalist autocrats who are experts at mining their attention. A newly-rich China is successfully exporting its illiberal ideals near and far. India, our closest friend and neighbor, is sliding towards sectarianism. What hope is there for Nepal, then, precariously lodged between the two?
So PM Oli runs roughshod over the democratic process and the new constitution, with covert support of the Indian establishment, according to some. (Earlier, it was China that was backing him.) Oli seemed to have cemented his hold on power by dissolving the sovereign parliament. The court, apparently, was already in his pockets. The constitution, meanwhile, was headed for a complete failure. Then came the Supreme Court verdict upending all his plans.
An interesting aspect of the recent anti-Oli protests following his parliament dissolution were the symbols and slogans borrowed from abroad, most recently from Myanmar of all places. After the restoration of democracy in 1990, Nepal has been no stranger to mass anti-government protests. But the Burmese coming out on the streets against the all-powerful military rulers was a rare sight. Reminiscent of Nepal during the second Jana Andolan, Burmese civil servants have refused to work following the most recent military coup in the country as doctors have un-looped their stethoscopes and laborers have downed their tools.
Thailand is another case of an aging ruling establishment being out of step with the globe-trotting youths. Despite the country’s brutal lèse-majesté laws, millions have been protesting against the new monarch, a free-spending playboy who prefers to live in distant Germany. Coming back to India, the raucous democracy of over a billion souls has always been tough to tame. Nor are its civilizational democratic ideals easy to crush. The Modi era, as entrenched as it is, will pass, and sooner rather than later.
China’s role in the spread of illiberalism can also be overblown. Most of its international relationships are strictly commercial, and not underpinned by any higher ideal. These ties can be sustained only so long as China can keep spending abroad lavishly. Even in Nepal, although we see some influence of Chinese money in our politics, we are far from being Hun Sen’s Cambodia.
In fact, compared to other countries in the region, Nepal has always been a tolerant society, welcoming of outsiders. Perhaps a part of this owes to our variegated geography, which makes broad cooperation obligatory. In ancient times we acted as a bridge between two great civilizations, and we will continue to do so in greater or smaller capacity. Given our age-old coexistence of diverse faiths and beliefs, nor will it be easy to subdue our egalitarian sprit for any length of time.
We have a vibrant civil society. New restrictions have been placed on sharing information online and on press freedom, and yet we continue to speak and engage openly. All kinds of innovative businesses are sprouting up, even amid the gloom of the Covid-19 epidemic. We now have motor roads connecting all districts and near ubiquitous access to mobile phones. Absolute poverty is in rapid decline, if only due to remittance. And because we are open by nature, we also continue to learn and adapt from events outside our borders. Our politics cannot but reflect the society we live in.