The topics of discussion in NepalIt seems that petty politics has once again overtaken urgent matters—such as the handling of the pandemic.
What are people in Nepal discussing today? This question struck me this morning. The reason why this struck me is that the rate of churning out topics of discussion is fast and a little confusing. If we browse through the available printed, digitised, audio and visual media we can say that Nepal is discussing everything under the sun today. The structuralism of the topics is shaped by some unforeseen and spontaneous generation of themes that do not necessarily cohere with one another. For example, one would expect that the country should be discussing the crisis of the pandemic—the spiking of Covid-19 infections in different parts of the land including the capital—but the ruling elites appear to be interested in discussing the politics of inner-party feuds instead. The other topic of discussion as we can see is the burgeoning shape of corruption in the country. News about people testing positive for the novel coronavirus, some sadly dying, hospitals running out of beds, and the chaos in terms of following the precautionary measures both by the government agencies and the public themselves go parallel with the news of corruption and in-fighting.
The other topic is the border with India. Such topics are handled like gossip rather than as serious subjects of discussion with the neighbour. Turning the serious topics into gossips reflects the casual way problems are handled by any government of any country. The Nepali administration too appears to be gradually turning serious discussions into gossips. Such process gives two advantages to the administration, or to individuals in leadership positions. Gossip gives you the advantage of avoiding the seriousness of the subject though that may be daunting in character. The other advantage is that gossip, which has a folkloristic character, can churn out topics for mass consumption. I can only mention a few examples in this article.
The modus operandi as demanded by the subject of the border with India is diplomacy. But turning that into gossip supported by conspiracy theories will make it more complicated by the day. Judging by the media stories there, I can say the same thing is happening in India as well. Both Nepal and India should refrain from churning out conspiracy theories and turning important topics into gossips. At a time when the whole of South Asia is dealing with the post-colonial spectres of cartography, Nepal and India should confess that their relationship with the open borders, a great sharing of experiences of history, culture, linguistic tradition, art and economy, demands realistic and urgent discussions with a clear conscience. Using the Puranas, Buddha's birthplace and Ayodhya as the topics of contention can present the supreme examples of costly burlesque.
The other topics that Nepal is discussing today are the socialist ideologies of the Communist and Congress parties. These metaphors sound empty because the advocates and followers of these principles sound as though they are talking about dreams that are surreal in nature—removed from reality. Merriam-Webster Dictionary had announced ‘surreal’ as its official word of the year for 2016. It defined the meaning of the word by evoking its classical definition as ‘marked by the intensity of a dream’. That is, of course, the meaning of the word. The year 2016 was rife with the discussion about surrealism, followed in the following year with the theory of post-truth. The publication of a small but widely read book, Post-Truth: The New War on Truth and How to Fight Back written by Matthew d'Ancona, is one example. The concept of post-truth is widely discussed even today. A concept of alternative truth came out of the American power discourse making inroads into the global discussions about truth after that.
Without going into the details I want to put my simple arguments in the context of Nepal. The communist party leaders and the government use the Marxist metaphor without realising that they are drifting away from Marx's teachings. When the poor, the disenfranchised, the subalterns—far from experiencing better conditions of life even under a communist-led government—find themselves mired in the age-old feudalistic trap, it is clear that the gap between theory and practice is vast. We become sceptic about the validity of the principles of socialism repeated by the Nepal Communist Party and Nepali Congress when the conditions of the poor farmers, workers and the subalterns get worse. When that does not happen, the ruling elites take resort to the surrealistic promises ‘marked by the intensity of a dream’ to evade that reality. Now they have added theology to that system of dream, which in Marxian terms would be known as a retrogressive phenomenon.
Health is the biggest topic, naturally. How to cope with the havoc wreaked by the pandemic is naturally the problem faced by countries around the world. The other day, I saw the Nepali health minister evoking ‘Lord Krishna's power’ at a Janmastami day celebration to give his critics wisdom not to do so against him. I have watched a number of similar stories on the other TV channels of this region. A bizarre blend of theology, gossip and working methodology is gripping the minds of the government leaders in South Asia. Communist Nepal is not an exception.
The other topic Nepal is discussing is related to land grabbing by agents who are reported to possess the power of influencing the administration. What alarms me most is the absence of any measures of safety, restoration, retrofitting and preservation of the buildings that have become heritage sites. I published an article in Kantipur (August 8, 2020) about the old pioneering Tri-Chandra College in Kathmandu, a heritage in its own right, becoming a target of demolition.
The topics of debate in Nepal now have both local and regional characters. But most significantly, the political topics of power struggle dominate the discussions everywhere. This question becomes intriguing as such topics combine ideology, love of power and money. They are theoretically incompatible categories. That the political parties who are elected by people to govern and establish practices of economic management, good governance and welfare of the people by mobilising available resources to help people in the time of crisis should be acting otherwise is not an encouraging development.
Media is playing a role in foregrounding the incompatible categories of such topics, and we should appreciate them for that. We should turn our attention to generate hope, create energy, and for that engage in critical discussions with the elites who rule the roost.
What do you think?
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