Former Indian foreign secretary Shyam Sharan’s remarks on the Rukmangad Katwal episode and recent claims made by Indian professor S.D. Muni through an article have exposed the short-sightedness of both the Indian and Nepali establishments and politicians. How the Indian government wants to perceive Muni’s article—particularly while dealing with a neighbor that lives in an age of the competing characteristics of traditional, modern and post-modern societies—is for it to ponder over, but Nepal on its part has several things to reflect upon.
Nepal’s political class has so far failed to grasp the undercurrents of realities that are constantly changing the social, political and cultural landscapes, and have been solely relying on southern, northern and western diplomacy in order to influence ‘politics and power’. This has been one of the fundamental problems ailing our political class since the inception of modern Nepal.
No one can deny the facilitation role played by India in helping realize the Twelve-Point understanding. However, such an understanding would not have been possible without a conflict between the mainstream political parties, particularly Nepali Congress, and the palace. Most importantly, it would not have materialized without a historical shift that rendered the institution of monarchy redundant. Nepal’s transition to a ‘federal, democratic, republic’ set-up is not the by-product of India’s facilitation alone, but has been built upon by the successive political, social, and cultural movements spearheaded by common men and women of this nation yearning for freedom and a better life.
The seeds of progressive thoughts of our time were, therefore, not sown through the Twelve-Point agreement alone. Rather, it dates back to the ideas and values of the 1950s which culminated into twelve points, and will keep unfolding in various forms through different political languages. As suggested by Edmund Burke, the society, after all, is a partnership between the dead, the living, and the unborn.
As our leadership lacks both ideas and confidence to manage the changes, they are fueling polarization in society. The polarization based on the differences on federalism has not only led to the demise of the Constituent Assembly (CA), but the political sphere has now also reached near-stagnation. The polarization that seemed quite natural until recently, now seems like a redundant and unviable discourse. The fact is that political ideologies have come to an end with the signing of the Twelve-Point agreement and no innovative ideologies have been devised yet to differentiate between various political parties.
More importantly, it is less likely that any new philosophy or a grand narrative will emerge since eroding ideologies is the reality of our age. Liberalism, conservatism and socialism in its entirety is no longer functional to address the complexities of a traditional, modern and post-modern society like ours.
Having submitted the framework of ‘democracy’, the Maoists have nothing new to offer. Further, there is a massive structural change taking place in the ‘left’ of the political spectrum and it is, therefore, getting fragmented among the diverse currents of thinking. Though the ‘left discourse’ has the capacity to lure the masses in the name of progressivism and complete freedom, the traditional left is likely to collapse in the near future. On the other hand, a traditional democratic party like the Congress, though reluctantly agreeing on the framework of ‘structural change’, is likely to share a common ideological platform with the rest of the ‘re-invented left’ and ‘regional’ parties of Nepal.
The challenges posed by the new social and cultural movements have compelled Congress to inculcate new values, and therefore, it is struggling with the political nature of its own past. Congress, unlike the Maoists, is in its transition, and sooner or later it is likely to destroy those characteristics that have been preventing its transformation. Thus, it may not be unwise to claim that Nepal’s political parties and social and cultural movements now share a common ideological platform in the present context, and hence differences and polarization created between them look like fake constructions to suit the petty interests of parties, agencies and actors.
Construction of differences based on ‘natural’ and ‘social’ theories are two distinct approaches that have evolved over a period of time in both the biological and social sciences in order to view ‘difference’. Difference based on ‘social’ theories that emphasize a divide based on caste, class, ethnicity, gender, region and religion have largely been deconstructed in our context. And hence, the process of new reconstruction has begun, based upon egalitarian principles and values.
Sadly, the coalition of the present government led by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has recently announced the creation of pro-federal groups, which in fact, stems from a belief that there ‘naturally’ is a difference between various ethnic groups. This kind of construction in the words of Tunisian essayist Albert Memmi, is ‘an essential step in the racist process’. After all, a sense of togetherness developed by establishing the relevance of war is the most frightening aspect of humanity. Indeed, there is a need to deconstruct the social construction of difference based upon ethnicity while reconstructing ‘differences’ that could unravel human potentialities.
As we are striding through the most difficult phase in our history, there is a need to begin patching up the differences that has been created on false premises. The government, parties in opposition and social and cultural movements need to understand the complexities of the current context and act responsibly. And they can do so by forming the ‘government of National Unity’. Such a government can help stabilize politics, thereby distributing political powers among themselves and paving the path for fresh elections. However, in the absence of a Parliament, it is the prime minister who must initiate the patch-up process. It is his act that is going to decide the fate of our nation. Will sense prevail upon him?