Feigned innocence of the ‘White Shirts’There is little need to raise eyebrows at the Nepal Communist Party holding a virtual workshop with the Chinese Communist Party.
Alternating between chest-thumping nationalism and breast-beating liberalism, the ‘White Shirts’ of Kathmandu refuse to realise that they are as much responsible for the current mess in the country as the political class. Closer in convictions to the monarchist Yellow Shirts of Bangkok than the fascist Blackshirts, the urban bourgeoisie maintains its democratic pretensions with panache.
The ‘Lost Generation’—middle-class Nepali men born between 1950 and 1960 that grew up during the high noon of Shah Regime, felt the chill of Cold War in their formative years and prospered after the 1980s under the reign of free-market fundamentalism—was at the forefront of coalescence of class interests heavily invested in the continuation of the status quo. With distinctly anti-Maoist rhetoric and clearly inimical to the rise of Madhesis, Janajatis and Dalits in public life, the ‘White Shirts’ began to flex their political muscle with the so-called peace rally in May 2010.
The group recorded its major political victory when in a hearing involving the extension of the term of the first Constituent Assembly the Supreme Court ruled that preparations be made ‘either for conducting a referendum under Article 157 or for holding election of the fresh Constituent Assembly or any other arrangements’ in November 2011. It became clear that the White Shirt rally had been a quintessential Astroturf campaign—a movement that claimed to be spontaneous but was founded, funded and funnelled by elite interests—when it added harmony and prosperity to its war cry for its second street demonstration. Mobilisation of regressive forces led to the abrupt dissolution of the Constituent Assembly.
The ‘any other arrangement’ that the Supreme Court has referred to in its landmark judgment turned out to be the formation of a council of ministers under the chairmanship of the chief justice that had issued the order. The ‘power to remove difficulties’—a political variant of ‘doctrine of state necessity’—was used to create an extra-constitutional government. The 16-point conspiracy in the middle of the 2015 earthquakes was a turning point. The scheme was hatched in secrecy and prioritised form over the substance of democratic federalism. With this document, the ideology of the Aryan, Bahun, Chhetri and Dashnami began to take shape.
The enduring relevance of Karl Marx’s diagnosis that the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas is unquestionable. However, the fact that the ruling ideology can sometimes be hidden behind the façade of pragmatism is often ignored. Progressivism is the idea of advancing the agenda of correction through persistent social and political movements that force the government to change its policies towards the empowerment of the marginalised section of its population. Regression is its inverse: mobilisation of the middle-class to resist change and maintain the stranglehold of the elite upon the society and polity.
Complementary to the comprador bourgeoisie, the comfortable class produces what thinker Kwame Anthony Appiah calls the ‘comprador intelligentsia’: ‘a relatively small, Western-style, Western-trained group of writers and thinkers who mediate the trade in cultural commodities of world capitalism at the periphery’. For hegemony of the ruling ideas to hold, the acquiescence of the subaltern is a necessary condition. In the wake of the ‘White Shirts’ movements, tenets of respectability politics were used to lure the Madhesi, Janajati and Dalit intelligentsia away from the politics of dignity. Conformism gained traction as a tactic of survival for the intelligentsia of emergent groups.
The political ideology that crystallised after the 16-point conspiracy had four important elements. It revived the ethnonationalism of King Mahendra. The idea of federalism then lost its essence. When majoritarianism rules the roost, democracy is reduced to becoming an electoral charade. State capitalism in the name of socialism ends up institutionalising plutarchy. Ultimately, the rule of law becomes an excuse for the rule by the laws that oligarchs help frame to promote their class and community interests.
Dissolution of the Maoist Centre and its assimilation into the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) two years ago was a natural extension of the 16-point conspiracy. After abandoning every political value that Pushpa Kamal Dahal had fought to establish, there was no reason for him to keep his battered outfit alive. A new name was adopted merely to appropriate the triumphant agenda of republicanism. Supremo KP Oli represents everything that the comprador bourgeoisie of Nepal had wished for between 1990 and 2010. He is an archetypical chieftain of ethnonational supremacists in the country. Ethnic chieftains rule by rhetoric and they don’t have to substantiate their whims and fancies.
Ethnonationalism is the main plank upon which the ruling regime sits in comfort. The Nepali ethnonationalism has four important components. It privileges the way of life of the majoritarian cluster in the name of traditional culture. The primacy of Nepali language is constitutionally assured. The politics of stability is an alternative name for the unchallenged continuation of the status quo. The three conditions then have a natural corollary: prosperity is the sole purpose of politics.
The definition of this culture as the mainstream one ends up externalising Madhesis by default, as they have their distinctive lifestyle. While few question the utility of Nepali in easing official communication, insinuations to the other link languages—specifically Hindi—rankle advocates of Madhesi unity. Politics of stability implies—as the 10 usual suspects of assimilation policies had claimed through a public statement—that Oli is given free rein to rule as long as he wishes.
Anti-Indian posturing is the sine qua non, meaning an element that is absolutely necessary, of Nepali nationalism. Whether it’s the adoption of the revised map or proposed amendment of citizenship laws, the aim is clearly to free Nepal from the constraints of the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1950, which among other things ends up creating multiple problems for residents of border areas, Madhesis in particular, that share kinship ties with people across the border.
Anti-Indian posturing of the ruling elite has allowed Beijing to play an outsize role in the politics of Kathmandu at least since the 1960s. It reached an all-time high when Nepal, under Chinese prodding, refused the British Chinooks official permission to perform rescue and relief missions in 2015. Chinese calls to sign on the dotted lines of Belt and Road Initiative was an offer that the beneficiaries of the 16-point conspiracy could ill-afford to refuse. Limousine liberals of Kathmandu shedding crocodile tears over the delay in the parliamentary ratification of Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact forget that, even though unstated, the concurrence of Beijing in major policy decisions undergirds BRI commitments.
There is little need to raise eyebrows at the Nepal Communist Party holding a virtual workshop with the Chinese Communist Party in the middle of the Indo-China face-off in the Himalayas. The Ximians in Nepal accepted Xi Jinping Thought and assented to the Beijing Consensus. Authoritarian politics and surveillance state are inalienable components of the package. There is no escape from current suffering in Nepal, save a popular uprising of the ‘mango people’ that Supremo Oli holds in contempt. Then only the closing lines of Hindi poet Ramdhari Singh Dinkar in ‘Samar Shesh Hai’ will come true: Those that claim neutrality, history will record their culpability.