Thursday, August 28, 2008

New Democracy in Nepal

Nepal’s Historic moment of Liberation

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

August 15th, 2008, will go down in the history of Nepal as a true red letter day when Pushp Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ was elected leader of Nepal by its constituent assembly, which met on this historic day to elect a new prime minister. The victory of the Maoist in Nepal nearly four months ago had clearly indicated that there would be a clear shift in the priorities and policy shift of the new nation. Nepal, which was subjugated for years under the tyranny of a monarch who claimed to be the incarnation of Hindu God Vishnu who was persistently being supported by various regimes in Delhi in the name of Nepal’s internal affair despite well known fact how Indian interventions in Nepal’s were visible even in those days.

Nepal’s election threw unpredictable results in the constituent assembly. Even when the Communist Party of Nepal won a mandate from the people, the way behind the scene activities happened in Kathmandu reflected the growing influence of both India and America in the domestic matters of Nepal. It is alarming that political parties played the same role of their unpredictability till the last vote counted. The first Secular democratic government of Nepal had two new faces as President and Vice President. While there was nothing much to celebrate once Dr Ram Narayan Yadav took over as president of Nepal but when the vice President Pandey took oath in Hindi, the matter did not remain as fact of choice. Nepal burnt for many days as youths took over the streets, burnt tires and protested against a vice president who they felt was symbol of Hindi imperialism. Pandey comes from Madesh and Hindi was not his mother tongue, secondly, in the Nepalese constitution, the head of the states and other ministers have to take oath in Nepali. A petition is already there in the Nepal’s Supreme Court, a member of newly elected Constituent Assembly informed me. ‘ What was the need for a vice president to take oath in Hindi when it is not even his mother tongue, said the Member of Parliament.

It is not that Nepalese have developed hatred to Hindi. Hindi channels, Hindi books sales in large number. Hindi films are hugely popular here but today Hindi is not being seen in terms of a widely understood and spoken language in Nepal but a symbol of Indian imperialism in that country. Nepalese youth are exerting their pride and Hindi simply coming as an obstacle for them. Between English and Hindi imperialism, they would definitely go with the previous one which offer them much greater market and space to develop as latter have treated them in the worst ways.

Unlike his predecessors, Nepal’s Prime Minister Prachanda started his ‘career’ with visiting China. It was a ritual for the every new Nepalese government to pay a curtsy visit to Delhi which enjoyed king’s patronage which gave Nepal outdated and unequal water treaties in 1950. Now, the Indian administration is unduly worried. Problem with Delhi’s thinking is that any assertion of Kathmandu is taken as anti Indian stand. How can a country so close to India in culture and values turn over night anti Indian. The dependency of people, their relationship, the close people to people contacts make Nepal India’s natural ally but that does not make India to lord over Nepal for every action that it want to take to protect its integrity and interest. It must have a right to decide about the fate of its people and its territory.

The members of the new constituent assembly know better about relationship with India. After all, whether it is Maoist or anybody else, close relations with India are part of Nepal’s culture but that should be treated on an equal footing and not as another ‘ Sikkim’ as many in Nepal perceive. This attitude of mini United State in South Asia will make India highly unpopular like the United States under George Bush itself. If the Indian class perceive itself as leader of South Asia it is highly questionable as in today’s free world, the days of colonization are over and people will always rise up and revolt against any dominating power. Hence, Indian authorities will have to understand those sensibilities in Nepal. Second, Nepalese people do understand how the Indian authorities made very effort to create confusion till the last date of the election of Prime minister in parliament. Though, things are not seen in open yet people of Nepal did not like India’s overzealousness in what was entirely their internal affair. The irony of the entire situation is that while Indian Ambassador in Nepal was over busy related to political situation there, Indian media discourteously downplayed the entire event. How can media which claim to be a free media ignore such a big event in our neighboring country which has wide ranging implications for our foreign policy? A country which over threw monarchy and where the new leadership is emerging from the ground can not be ignored. Nepal need kudos from all those who believe in equality of law and secular democratic values that it chose secular democratic constitution. And those who have any doubt should see that in Nepal’s Constituent Assembly there are about 55 members hailing from Dalit communities and 22 of them are women. There are debates on proposed constitutions. The newspaper industry is booming and political debates talks of the town. In the local buses, in schools and colleges, at the FM channels, we find talks of the new constituent assembly and proposed constitution. Unlike our corporate media which is depoliticizing the people, glamorizing Bollywood and cricket as if all other issues of dignity and livelihood have been resolved, Nepal’s focus on issue need appreciations from us. Ofcourse, the new Constituent Assembly can take a few lessons from India. The first and foremost is that India did not abolish right to hold property. There was no big reference in our constituent Assembly as major members of the assembly were themselves holding huge lands and property. Nepal must constitutionally abolish big properties and put a ceiling law into practice. In India to avoid ceiling, our leaders and religious thugs are doing big business. They have started acquiring land in the names of mutts, temples, Gurudwaras and churches. Nepal must do away with this. While, it would be futile to say to demolish religious institutions but there should be a clear limit that these religious places need land for worshipping and not for business. Nepal must come out with progressive land laws.

The new Nepalese government must be careful of this international Hindu brotherhood which is taking its wings in Nepal. It is already learnt that former Royal family is not yet a gone case. They have strong loyalist in Nepal as well as outside Nepal. They will wait for right moment to strike back. And since now Nepal is opting for a secular constitution, the Hindu Right wing supported by India, will take deep root there. Already, there have been cases of violence in Madhesh and other regions. Nepal must issue stern warning to all such forces which want to disturb peace and brotherhood in the region. It must respect different ethnic groups and give them representation in power structure. The Dalits in Nepal need special protection in the form of not only powerful land reforms but also in terms of representation in government jobs and bureaucracy and judiciary. It would be advisable that all these areas must have representation from such communities otherwise they will spoil every political action that the new government takes in public interest. Special provisions like abolition of untouchability and discrimination and provisions for stringent penalties and criminal charges against those who exploits the Dalits in the name of age old traditions.

Untouchability is a blot on Nepalese society. India that way had a better record in terms of social revolts like Ambedkar, Phule, Periyar and others. One does not know fully how much Nepal’s Maoist leadership understand the struggles of Dalits and Bahujans in India. They will have to mix up their Maoism with Ambedkarism to fulfill their long cherish desire to bring a complete change in the Nepalese system. A mere change of head of state and government will not change the social structure of Nepal and working of the governance. Nepal needs a social resurgent movement and this is the right moment to do so. The people of Nepal can not keep quiet because there is a new government. They have to put continuous pressure so that these rebels of yesteryears do not become ‘belagam ghoda’ i.e. uncontrolled horses, who destroy every institution.

Let Secular Socialist Democratic Republic become values of Nepal and be part of its preamble which no authoritarian regime could change. Also important will be people’s right to be secular. While each of our government says we must defend religious freedom, what happen to those who do not believe in these organized religions? India has become a jugular’s state where all this ‘religious’ freedom exist except those who disagree with them. Hence those of who voice our concern and condemnation against religious hatred face the music. A painting of a painter hurt our religious sentiments, writing of an author make Islam under threat and many more things, one hope that Nepal’s secularism will not become a joke like Indian multiculturalism where every thug is enjoying except the common man, in the name of religion. Nepal must allow people a choice to opt for atheism or secularism beyond their conventional religion, a choice already given in Europe and other countries.

Nepal and India need to work together on equal basis. Today, we all are witnessing the fury of river Kosi which has brought a new Tsunami in Bihar which is unprecedented and need emergency help. Though this is no time to discuss the issues of who did it but definitely the government of India can not keep silent on its own follies on those out dated water treaties with Nepal which did not allow efficient functioning of dam as well as made India highly unpopular in Nepal. Today, we are seen as people who are misusing Nepal’s water and other natural resources while thousands of people die every year because of flood fury which originates from Nepal. Hope Prime Minister Prachanda has this in mind. His foreign Minister is expected in Delhi soon and we hope they will discuss all the issues. While differences in democracy will always be there even then a new democratic Secular republic of Nepal will be of greater strength for not only its people but also for India.