The question that will continue to vex most observers in 2018 is still the same: What makes Nepal tick despite all its absurdities?
It takes some genius to come up with a neologism as meaningless as covfefe and then turn it into the topic of mainstream discourse. In that sense, only a dotard could have dug out that forgotten epithet to portray the alt-right progenitor of political absurdities. Far away from the Trumpian world, covfefe captured the essence of the year gone by in Nepal too. It was a year of Brechtian hullabaloo with a twist of Shakespearean inevitabilities of sound and fury signifying nothing.
The year ahead is unlikely to be much different. The Trumpards of the Nepal’s very own GOP have failed to realize that alienating Madhesis and not other grand narratives being manufactured to justify the ruinous course of the party was its greatest folly. When the chasm between communities is wide and deep, the politics of middle course inevitably means drowning in midstream. Wallowing in the separate cesspool of their own making, middle-aged politicos of the Nepali Congress have begun to masquerade as Young Turks. Collectively, they are completely bereft of the courage to accept that their party lost the game with its complicity in the 16-Point Conspiracy in June 2015.
Awestruck by President Xi Jinping and his political instruments of ‘Sharp Power’ such as the Harmonious Society template, the Peripheral Diplomacy design and the Beijing Consensus model of development, the Ximians in Kathmandu refuse to recognize that Mao Zedong has been long dead and there is no way his ghost can be resurrected to help create a society of uniformity south of Mount Chomolungma. The Oliological—a quality that’s neither logical nor illogical but purely demagogic—ideology of ethno-nationalism in a plural polity is inherently dangerous. Sooner than later, shock-troops of Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) are sure to learn that lesson.
There was a time when every Maoist endeavored to ape mannerism, language and intonations of Chairman Prachanda, which even Comrade Prakash has now stopped doing altogether. Their flock has taken to Oliological politics of xenophobia, bigotry, chauvinism and jingoism like fish to water. Every apparatchik, however, isn’t a sheep destined to follow the shepherd to the slaughterhouse. The Aahuti and Kirati duo may appear like leftovers of leftwing politics for now, but grievances of Janjatis and Dalits are real and remain politically unaddressed. This constituency will soon be ready for mobilization and agitation.
On the economic front, it’s most likely that the exodus of unskilled labor to even more dangerous destinations will continue. While launching Sujeev Shakya’s polemical tract Unleashing Nepal in September, 2013, Ambassador Andrew Sparkes had quipped, “Nepalis are naturally, temperamentally suited for the service industry.” In plain English, the sentence implied that the object was ideal slave material and destined to be so forever. Remittances will continue to feed what sociologists call the ‘culture-ideology of consumerism’ where shopping malls triumph over manufacturing mills.
Before the Nepali New Year—the Bikram Sambat is approximately 56 years and eight months ahead of the Gregorian calendar—one more coalition government is likely to be installed in the Singh Durbar that was damaged in the Gorkha Earthquakes and that still awaits retrofitting. In the Maoist political tradition, wishes of the Supremo is the supreme law. The UML is the Maoist party of 1970s and the Maoist Center disengaged itself from Maoism as recently as June 2015. However, they are yet to learn that stability in a democratic polity is a process and not a condition. No matter how compatible, a marriage of convenience in politics is susceptible to tussles for the spoils of office.
Regime stability in itself isn’t the guarantor of either peace or prosperity anyway. The Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was awarded China’s equivalent of Nobel peace prize for ‘injecting fresh energy’ into the global quest for harmony. In that sense, one must be careful about what one wishes for lest it comes true. Political stability with ethnocentric communists in the saddle is something to be feared rather than hoped for.
Somewhat like their ultra-royalist predecessors of Kirti Nidhi Bista (1927– 2017)—may his soul rest in peace—the ex- and lapsed-Maoists seem to be under an impression that the Chinese glue of transportation corridors across the Himalayas will not only bind them together but also keep their unity intact forever. By merging his party with the UML, Chairman Dahal will be joining a galaxy of former prime ministers waiting for their turn to lead the party.
Chairman Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli will have to accept that bargaining with a colleague is far more complex than haggling with a competitor. It will indeed require oodles of Chinese adhesive to keep the reactionary ‘Left Unity’ working efficiently. Like with magnets, similar poles repel each other in politics.
Communism may just be a brand name for the UML and the Maoists, but labels matter in international politics. The media watchdog FAIR.org defines Trumpwashing as “whitewashing, obscuring or rewriting the broader US record by presenting Donald Trump as an aberration,” but it’s extremely unlikely that the bastion of McCarthyism will let go of its long-held position to humor renegade revolutionaries waving red flags or brandishing hammer and sickle.
It’s not the bearish Stock Market that the revisionist Comrades of the conjoined communist party should worry about but the capital flight due to the fear of frigidity in what’s euhemeristically called the international community. Profit repatriation is a legitimate method of withdrawing from a market amidst apprehensions of stagnancy.
The Oliological regime, however, need not lose sleep over international isolation.
About Nepal’s northern neighbor, ace anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista writes, “China, in particular, has been seen in the past as the father of Nepal, and for this reason there is little fear that China’s action with regard to Nepal would be anything but beneficent.” If there is some truth in that pithy observation, October 1 will be as good a time to mark National Unity Day as Prithvi Jayanti! Dragon-watching will continue to engage the diplomatic community in Nepal not despite but because of the drift of its regime northwards.
In addition to fanning fears of McCarthyism, all that the NC had to dangle before the electorate in 2017 was cheap promises of superfast prosperity. The slogan has become so stale that it raises a stink rather than ring a bell. King Birendra exhorted his loyal band of royalist Panchas to engage in “Politics for Development” throughout his reign. It produced misery in the country. Post-1990 order embraced liberalization, globalization, and privatization to promote prosperity. The result was a massive outflow of unskilled labor to do dirty, dangerous, difficult and degrading work in some of the most hazardous places on planet earth.
Development of institutions, infrastructure and services can be planned; but prosperity ‘happens’ when an environment conducive to equitable growth is created in the political economy of the country. Plutocracy is a rule of the wealthy. Oligarchy is a social system where a chosen few ride over the many. Together, plutocracy and oligarchy constitute what has been called a plutarchy where politicos run the realm for the benefit of moneybags of society.
Despite its unstoppable degeneration, the NC is still a conservative rather than a reactionary party. If the leadership fails to keep ethnocentric cadres in check and if the long-distance nationalism of overseas sympathizers isn’t ignored, the NC too will soon begin to resemble its nemesis—the UML—and cede its political space to the latter.
Politics doesn’t allow two reactionary parties to coexist. The UML has already swallowed most ex-Panchas; degenerate Congressis are likely to be their next nourishment.
The question that will continue to vex most observers in 2018 is still the same: What makes Nepal tick despite all its absurdities? The ethno-national chauvinism, caste hierarchy, religious intolerance, groundless xenophobia, and jingoistic bigotry are cultural traits of the HAMNS where bribery is accepted as an essential component of doing business. There is no word for corruption in Nepali vocabulary. Sleaze has to be described as ‘fallen behavior’. The PEON uses democracy merely to legitimate itself.
An EU diplomat discovered the reason behind celebrated resilience of the Nepali state despite rampant rent-seeking and widespread injustices when she Tweeted, “Pride is good, Pity you can’t eat it.” A holler of protests in the social media ensued. Most Nepalis not only eat pride, they also drink and breathe the same thing in the name of sovereignty. That will continue to be the enduring theme for eternity in this country. On that proud note, Happy New Year!