Provisions of positive discrimination are meant to benefit under-represented groups and its very purpose is defeated if an already dominant ethnicity is brought under its ambit
The brouhaha over the final report of the European Union Election Observation Mission to Nepal (EUEOMN) is baffling to say the least. Apart from an obvious lack of effort in exercising restrain while dealing with a prickly regime, there is nothing amiss in the document. A recommendation to which Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken particular exception states the obvious: Provisions of positive discrimination are meant to benefit under-represented groups and its very purpose is defeated if an already dominant ethnicity is brought under its ambit. No ifs and buts are required to explain one of the fundamental assumptions of proportionate representation.
Perhaps the ruling coalition under Premier Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli is equally correct in taking offence. The rationale of creating a synthetic Khas-Arya category in the constitution was to safeguard the HAMNSA (Hindu, Aryan and Male Nepali Speakers) hegemony and give continuity to the stranglehold of the PEON (Permanent Establishment of Nepal) over culture, economy, polity and society of the country. The two Madhes Uprisings of 2007 and 2008 had badly shaken the status quo. The charter intends to retrofit the socio-political structure of Nepal in such a way that it will be able to absorb all such shocks in the future. In the eyes of the PEON, the EUEOMN committed the cardinal sin of critiquing HAMNSA authority and by extension questioning the very basis of Khas-Arya ethno-nationalism.
A quick reflection over the way the controversial constitution came into being is in order here. The half-baked statute was drafted in a hush amidst aftershocks of the Gorkha Earthquakes through the 16-Point Conspiracy that tried to put the clock back and reengineer a centralized state minus the monarchy. Protests erupted in Madhes, which was dealt with a heavy hand by the partisan instruments of the government. Threatened with an ouster by a no confidence motion of the combined force of CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center), the dotard in Baluwatar signed on the dotted line and sealed the electoral fate of his own political party.
The Oliars—a xenophobic category of Khas-Arya ethno-nationalists, comparable to Trumpards in the USA and Bhakts in India—made common cause with Bahunbadis of communist parties. With the metaphorical gun of an impending impeachment motion pointed at his head, the symbol of sovereignty of all Nepalis surrendered his sovereign judgment and agreed to bow before majoritarian dictates in a visibly hysterical manner.
Politics tested the mettle of President Ram Baran Yadav at least thrice. First, he could have dealt with the Katuwal Kanda, in which a dismissed chief of the army was restored by presidential missives at midnight, differently and put the precedence of civilian control over the military on a firm footing. Second, when a ‘coup by the court’ created a power vacuum, he had the option of withholding sanction to the PEON chicanery in the name of political consensus and giving continuity to the incumbent government till fresh elections were held. Third, resignation was perhaps an alternative open for a dissenting head of state when the head of government was bent upon digging his own political grave. History will perhaps be kinder to the first President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal—circumstantial compulsions of a Madhesi in positions of some power are too numerous to list—but the present assessment of RBY’s term is unlikely to be charitable.
There is more than a grain of truth in the saying that we all do what we have to do and it’s possible for the accuser and the accused to be correct at the same time according to their own set of values, beliefs and conduct. Ideals of inclusive democracy guide actions of missions such as the EUEOMN. The nebulous concept of state sovereignty continues to hold majoritarian ethno-nationalists in thrall for three reasons. First, state sovereignty exempts the ruling elite from external scrutiny. Secondly, state sovereignty is a subterfuge to produce the hegemony of ruling elite, which can then continue to exploit resources and control local population with minimum use of force. Thirdly, what better way to appropriate foreign aid and use it to benefit the ruling clique than the idea of non-interference in internal affairs?
No matter how powerful is the regime, it invariably needs an ideological apologia to justify its actions. Unless backed by persuasive arguments, coercive threats begin to lose efficacy. The Ranacrcay between 1846 and 1951 ruled with an iron hand under the pretext of protecting independence even when it loyally served the British Empire. The Shahs quickly embraced the American claimants of the British mantle during the Cold War.
A ‘civilizing mission’ was inherent to the British colonialism. When Americans took over the leadership of the Western world after the Second World War, they came up with their own justifications. The Developmental Project, premised upon the principle of meeting capital shortfall of emerging countries with loans from Bretton Woods Sisters and curing their democratic deficit with the leash of bilateral advisors, reigned supreme for nearly half-a-century. It unraveled with the collapse of Soviet Union and what was once termed as the ‘End of History’ doctrine.
If Rudyard Kipling’s hymn to the civilizing mission in “The White Man’s Burden” survives as a celebratory epitaph to the British Empire, requiems of the developmental illusions of the US hegemony over the world are much more prosaic. The ‘Chicago Boys’ that Augusto Pinochet brought into the picture after 9/11 of 1973 in Chile; the ‘Berkeley Mafia’ that General Suharto mobilized to ‘cleanse’ Indonesia of alleged communists; or the Harvard Hacks of the Ford Foundation-funded Harvard Advisory Group (HAG) in Pakistan can now be found only in official records and sanitized textbooks. The Basic Democracy model of Pakistan, the Guided Democracy prototype of Indonesia and the Panchayat template of Nepal in the 1960s were based upon ideals of creating socio-cultural homogeneity through political engineering to entrench the dominant ethnicity in power.
There is a reason apparatchiks of Xi Jinping’s ‘Harmonious Society’ concept in China are examining records of US ‘Soft Power’ minutely as they fashion out components of the Beijing Consensus and associated ‘Sharp Power’ formula for global outreach. Howsoever ideologically non-interventionist it may appear, no economic assistance program comes without an accompanying political package. Experiences from Burma, Sri Lanka or Maldives and the emerging scenario in Pakistan show that there indeed are political preferences of the Belt and Road (BAR) Initiative. The BAR bosses would like clients of their developmental largesse in recipient countries prioritize homogeneity over heterogeneity, stability over dynamism, unitary authority over federalism, centralization over autonomy, order over law, conformism over dissent and compliance over competition.
The EU has little clout to counter BAR Code of politics. Its leverage is mostly moral, which doesn’t hold much appeal for demagogic regimes. Diplomatic negotiations are with member countries of the EU, which are more or less one in endorsing Khas-Arya ethno-nationalism in Nepal.
The government is not alone in censuring the EUEOMN recommendations. The Nepali media takes pride in being of, for and by the Khas-Aryas. Little wonder, the media has proven its Oliar credentials with panache and is competing with each other in denouncing what are essentially reformist recommendations intended to bolster the regime. Allured by what Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. calls promises of “the security and comradeship of a crusading unity, propelled by a deep and driving faith”, the HAMNS intelligentsia began to rally behind ethno-national calls of Premier Oli in 2015; they have maintained their loyalty to the regime and haven’t shown the sagacity to stand for inclusive democracy.
Analogous to the Uncle Tom Syndrome—described as “a ritualized, accommodating, sycophantic style of behavior in African Americans toward Caucasians” where the subject “acts in a docile, nonassertive manner to appear non-threatening to European Americans”—Toadyish Tendencies prevalent among prominent members of the Madheshi, Janjati and Dalit intelligentsia makes them affirm whatever the HAMNS elite proclaims to be in the ‘national interest’. Outside of this small but highly visible circle of conformists, almost the entire marginalized population of the country has welcomed EUEOMN’s recommendations despite their diplomatic and political insignificance.
A dominant majority suffering from persecution complex is a dangerous breed that can easily yield to totalitarian temptations. The innocuous denouncement emanating from MoFA needs to be taken with seriousness it deserves by the conscientious society and the international community rather than being dismissed as rants of a superciliously vain regime.