Political drama in NepalThe political spectacle concerning the ruling party that is currently overwhelming public discourse has all the components of a theatre play.
I am writing this story not as a political analyst, which I am not, but as a playwright who is associated with theatre and performance. My interests are primarily artistic and humanistic. But anything that suggests dramatic or performative quality naturally draws the attention of those doing the theatre karma. Recently, the Nepali political imbroglio has moved from simple political quotidian reality to a realm of entangled dramatic acts. The daily rounds of political debates, actions and stories of in-fighting, which happen within the ruling Nepal Communist Party, overshadows other political dramas that happen in Nepal. The opposition, Nepali Congress, generates news about the minuscule political drama that is staged sometimes in the closet and occasionally in their party office—donated by a generous woman who had a staunch faith in the democratic principles espoused by the party. The stage of the communist party is the prime minister's residence in Baluwatar, a non-descript structure that does not show much in terms of architectural originality or surprises. Normally, the stages used by political parties are the open forums and other halls where they gather to accomplish their programmes. That means the favourite forms of the political parties even before the Covid-19 situation were closet dramas; they performed them in small spaces, in the prime minister's residence or in the houses of some of the main characters of the drama.
But judging from the daily news stories, we can say these performances are mostly farcical. But there are some caveats. We are condemned to witness or follow those dramas because they are squarely related to our karma and life. The parties are the rulers and they are making decisions that affect our lives. I want to recall what Marx has said about such dramas. I want to present the gist of such a drama from his famous book The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon. Marx says the revolution has cyclic motion. And the karma of the revolutionary is to act with the belief that such drama has repetitive character. Indicating that Marx says history repeats itself. Napoleon imitated ditto the coronation paraphernalia of the previous emperors. Citing Hegel, Marx adds history repeats twice—first as tragedy and then as farce. People who repeat history indulge in all kinds of rehearsals by wearing the dresses of the past. None of these dramas are original; they are only repetitive. For that we need characters who are vying to get the upper hand in the conflict; these characters act not only in reality but also in melodrama.
The Nepali Marxists are familiar with the tragic part of the drama. But people who accepted the process of history even appeared to forget their sufferings hoping that they will ameliorate the condition of the people who will then see the tragic times differently. But what we see here, as Marx said, is that history is repeating itself as a farce, burlesque or joke. We do not have to go very far to see it. We can understand, hear this from the leaders of the ruling party each day. I am getting very tempted to write a play by using that. But underneath it all is hidden the tragic drama that the people of Nepal have experienced themselves. I would think the communist party that has such a wide network in the country should have engaged in helping the poor, the disenfranchised, the marginalised and those whose miseries have increased as a result of the rampant, institutionalised and brazen drama of corruption.
I want to draw some comparisons between the political drama that we performed and the political drama that the custodians of the current period of history are performing. Nepali political drama followed the culmination of the Panchayat system and its downfall. A group of young theatre people known as Sarwanam decided to bring the drama to the street to make the political message more obtrusive. They came up with two plays written by the young playwright Ashesh Malla and performed by a cohort of other young theatre people who later formed their own groups, which I have written in detail in my book Nepali Theatre As I See It (2007). The group decided to fully bring the theatre to the street by performing two plays—Hami Basanta Khojiraheka Chhaun and Samapta Asamapta—performed at the Coronation Garden, Kirtipur to a group of university students in 1982 (on 20 Bhadau 2039 BS). The people's movement against the panchayati raj was gathering momentum. These plays were disrupted by the administration.
In addition to these two plays were others of a similar vein at other periods in time. I wrote plays with political themes during the time of the insurgency; they were staged at Gurukul Theatre and directed mostly by Sunil Pokharel and some by Nisha Sharma, Pushkar Gurung, Shiva Rijal and Yubaraj Ghimire. Several political dramas were and are staged by different theatre groups led by the younger generation. I do not have space to discuss the continuing process.
The political drama that I am trying to mention here gives rise to a problem that we have been discussing with university students. A political drama that is created for performance is different from the political drama that the politicians create through their actions. But these creations, though they are chaotic, warrant some serious attention because they have the necessary accoutrements of a drama. For example, if you look at the drama going on now within and concerning the Nepal Communist Party, you can see the major and minor characters there. The major characters compete for domination. They speak and others either support them in chorus or express their differences. There are audiences who comprise the anxious people looking at the results of political drama. We are that audience who always look to see whether the drama is lost in chaos or moving towards a denouement. We no longer rely on the old absolute category of tragedy, comedy or farce in modern dramas because it is very hard to distinguish them. Nonetheless, we can see that these political burlesques, as Hegel and Marx say, remind us of the tragedy that people have suffered. But they are practising the drama totally unmindful of its impact.
Leaving the students to study the liminal crisis suffered by the political parties in their struggle to cross the corridors of history, what I want to say in the end is that Nepali political drama is entering zones of greater uncertainty.
What do you think?
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