If you are an outsider in Nepal, the handout your outpost provides you must have elaborately covered the seismic dangers. But it probably needs a complimentary explainer about this equally volatile realpolitik zone. This is my attempt.
For the sake of clarity, let’s cover it in three bullet points: do not trust the elites; forget everything that you know about political and ideological categorization; and, federalism as a political experiment, so far, has misfired.
Let’s tackle them one by one.
As all forces, internal or external, needed the elites of Kathmandu to manage the country, these forces danced to the tunes of the powerful. But the vice versa was also true, up to an extent. These forces helped King Mahendra overthrow an elected government and have consistently been partners in crime in every plunder that has taken place in this country. As a result, one can observe with some discretion that Nepal has become a country run by selfish elites without devotion or dignity.
Writers experienced in statecraft, like Rishikesh Shah and Lokraj Baral, have hinted about the parasitic and disgraceful nature of the elites of Kathmandu and how this has proliferated all the state machineries. (‘Essays on the practice of governance in Nepal’ by Shah; ‘Nation state in Wilderness’ by Baral).
By showing neither the gumption nor the determination to be the pathfinders, the elites have betrayed the nation. They have been the silent observers in every political change but have jumped in the fray to benefit the most after every transition.
Strangely, this nature of the Kathmandu elites hasn’t changed even after the democratic movements and the mainstreaming of the Maoists. The revolutionaries took the place of the elites, but borrowed their character too and got sucked into the bandwagon of shameless skullduggery.
The servitude to influential powers has increased and the attitude to always look for the low-hanging fruits is more evident than ever. For example, the finance minister of the Nepal Communist Party recently said that the government would encourage the youths to go abroad.
Connected to this is our second point: forget everything you learnt about political ideological categorization. It’s confusing in Nepal.
The Maoists, who launched a decade-long armed struggle, came to mainstream politics aligned with the other democratic forces to overthrow the king. In the past seven decades, Nepal hasn’t really seen a revolution. It has always creeped from one change to another, without truly delinking itself from the past, and yet pretending to have adopted some newness.
The three milestones in the journey towards progress in the past 70 years—1950, 1990 and 2006—are significant as a whole but not revolutionary on their own. The 1950 overthrowing of the Rana regime came as a compromise that left room for the coup. The 1990 people’s movement came merely as a score settling of the 1959-60 coup, and the feudal and Kathmandu centric equilibrium made the Maoist war possible.
The overthrowing of monarchy came out of the blue, but the elites failed in institutionalizing the change. The constitution was a result of a compromise between descendants of different ideological interest groups and the lines were blurred beyond distinction over the long years of transition politics. The state hasn’t yet come out clean on war crimes and justice, nor has the issues of institutional discriminations been fully addressed. In fact, the polity has been on a downward spiral since being hit by a worldwide wave of populism.
So, this lack of an ideological commitment lies at the center of the political decay in Nepal today. Nepal has become a nation ruined by crony capitalism with words like ‘socialism’ used for cosmetic purposes in the constitution.
As Nepal lacks an elite class that can stand for its dignity, and political forces deeply committed to their ideologies, all the political experiments here have backfired. Our latest attempt at finding the ‘One Cure’ for all the ailments led us to federalism. But the indicators suggest it is turning out to be a disaster.
Local governments are not running any better than in the earlier set up. The constitution has put the governments of the three levels on an equal footing with coexistence and collaboration as the binding principle, but in practice the center controls the resources.
This paradox has turned federalism into a costly misadventure. State governments everywhere are jobless and purposeless, adding to the financial burden without making an iota of difference in people’s lives or nation building. This federal government, with a huge mandate, had the historic responsibility to institutionalize the change and stabilize politics. Sadly, it has failed its people, many times over.
When we connect the dots, we see a grim picture. Nepal seems to be in an endless downward spiral of political decay that is accentuated by a head of government who seems to have no control over his faculties.
If you are an outsider in Nepal, this for you is grim but probably not heart-wrenching. But for those in this country, it’s a different story.
We need to find the dignity and the devotion to tackle it.