By Dr Gyan Basnet
Politicians have deceived people of Nepal many times in the past and have now done so again. They are forced to confront the terrible reality that they the people are regarded as nothing more than simply voters. The Constituent Assembly (CA) was dismissed without promulgating a constitution in 27 May, and its failure was a massive setback for the country’s fledgling peace process. A huge opportunity for progressive change was lost, and now they are going through the worst political crisis since the country entered into the peace dialogue in 2006. The death of the CA spawned many rumours. Some blamed its death on foreign influence and domination and on the fact that some of their political leaders are nothing less than undercover agents for whom the wellbeing of their nation is not their sole interest. No country should suffer interference and meddling from foreign powers, but Nepal seems suddenly to be faced with just that. Some political leaders appear willing to sell themselves and the country to outsiders amid unprecedented levels of corruption, mismanagement and chaos.
Many of their political leaders are accused of being nothing more than agents of foreign powers. Rumours have it that some are pro-India, some pro-China, and some even pro-America. There are strong rumours that some are working for India’s intelligence Research and Analysis Wing. They must ask themselves some important questions: Are their leaders really guided by the interests of their own nation or are they just the puppets of outside powers? How independent are they today as a state and as a nation?
Why are they silent on these issues? Why do politicians always enjoy immunity? It is time for theirs leaders and the political parties to provide proper answers to the people.
I come straight to the point. Nationalism has justifiably an important influence in domestic politics and in determining relations between states. It provides a moral basis for the existence of states within the international system. Nationalist issues have provoked people of Nepal many times in the past, and today Nepalese nationalism is reflected in strong anti-Indian sentiments felt by their people. Many resent domination from the South in every aspect of their political development. New Delhi’s frequent interference in their internal political affairs is made to seem normal today because of the double standards of some of theirs political leaders. Critics argue that if those leaders had not relied on India for their own personal political advancement, Indian encroachments would not have been as severe as they have been. If such criticisms and rumours are true, people deserve explanations from those politicians.
There have been many worrying incidents in the past, but I wish to cite only a few recent examples here. Before the sad demise of their historic Constituent Assembly, it was alleged that a diplomat in the Consulate General of India’s office in the Tarai low land town of Birgunj, one of the major cities of Nepal, encouraged Madhesi politicians (Political Parties based in the Terai) to ‘create a storm’ in opposition to a recent pact on State restructuring. The diplomat urged the political leadership of the central Tarai to instigate a protest in support of the Madhesi people. Critics argue that the creation of Madhesi-based parties, the Madhesi movement and the Madhesi agenda are directly linked to India’s long-term strategic design for Nepal. Some of their major political parties showed concern and sought clarification from New Delhi, but mysteriously their protest, if any, was but superficial while the other parties remained conspicuously silent on the issue. Now all is silent and forgotten. The government of Nepal officially neither bothered to investigate the incident nor sought to identify who was responsible for the incident in Birgunj. Could it have been the Nepali Congress Party, the Maoists or the Madhesi leaders themselves? This recent incident is sufficiently serious to provide a very big question for them to think about today: are they really as free an independent sovereign state as they should be?
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai himself has often been blamed for being Delhi’s keenest stooge ever. It is alleged that he was elevated to the Prime Ministerial chair with open support from India as part of that country’s ‘Guinea Pig Republican Experiment’ in Nepal. However, he has never sought to provide any justification or denial regarding this issue. Is it not time morally for him to offer some rational justification? Otherwise should his right to remain in the highest public position in their country not be questioned?
The greatest attack, however, on Nepal’s sovereignty comes from the frequent border encroachments by Indian forces. They hear time and again in the news that Indian armed police forces have terrorised Nepali people living in the border area. Without permission they enter their country with weapons and threaten their people. Every day they read that their people suffer from these kinds of atrocities, but they seem to do nothing about it. Why are the people of Nepal so helpless? What is government for? There are rumours every day that India does not respect the independent status of their country. It interferes excessively with their internal politics, which appear now to be guided by Delhi alone. Why is this happening? Why is the oldest independent country in South Asia so helpless today? Who is responsible, and why do they not look for proper solutions?
Their loss of self-esteem and self-respect may be due entirely to the ‘do as they are told’ culture adopted by their politicians. On any national issue of importance, it seems that they can no longer make decisions on their own. Their greatest failure may be due to the fact that some of their politicians are obsessed by the politics of the ‘chair’ on which they spend much of their valuable time. It seems that they may be too ready to compromise in order to hold on to power: they cease to work solely for the nation’s good. As they understand nothing except power why should they worry about the people and the nation?
No nation can survive as a foreign poodle. Protecting Nepal‘s right to autonomy will entail change and modernization within their democracy, strengthening thus the functioning of both state and society. Those ways alone will the nation be able to provide, for its citizens and their progeny, security and safety as well as status and prestige. At the same time there must be a strong commitment to respect, protect and fulfil individual rights within a free and fair society. It is vital that state policy is aligned to human rights in order to maintain its stability and self-control.
As they are seeking now to re-define and re-structure themselves politically, socially and economically on the way to making their society more inclusive and accountable, they have a golden opportunity to re-visit, re-analyse and re-assess their foreign policies and diplomatic relationships. They should seek to preserve the best of the past and abandon the worst. Experience shows that leaders and politicians talk and make vague promises but seldom react forcefully to what they see and even talk about. Their great need now is to find a united voice and a single policy on major issues that can unite their political parties and civil society alike.
National identity has been described as ‘fundamentally a matter of dignity’. It is revealed through the respect that they show to each other and by the way in which they behaves among themselves. Chanting sentimental, nationalistic slogans does little to promote and consolidate their values, their identity and their national pride. Nationality and birthplace naturally give rise to sentiments and emotions, but if the people of Nepal are really to enhance their nationalism and pride, they must become more pragmatic and more visionary.
The politics of compromise and the culture of ‘doing as they are told’ must cease in their country. They as voters as well must learn to be more responsible in the choices that they make. Bad politicians must not be given a chance to reach power, and those elected must reveal to the electors what goes on inside public affairs. Transparency and accountability are essential in politics. Politics should be about talking to and listening to people. Telling the truth earns respect, even when people disagree. It is time now for their politicians to offer rational explanations regarding these various issues so that they can establish a vital fresh beginning for clean and tidier politics in their country.
The quality of leadership is tested in difficult times, and no time is likely ever to be more difficult than the present. The choice is theirs. Nobody should underestimate the capacity of their people, but for their sakes politics must be synonymous with service in defence of the national interest. Theirs leaders must cease prostituting their services for personal gain.
Dr Basnet, who holds a Ph.D. and an LL.M degree in International Human Rights law at Lancaster University, U.K, is a Columnist, Researcher in International Human Rights Law and an Advocate in the Supreme Court Nepal. He can be contacted at [email protected]