The intent of elite imitationMost movements that have sprung up in Kathmandu since 2015 have been staged by the urban bourgeoisie to show their presence rather than register genuine grievances.
Of the three Madhes Movements, the first one is ceremoniously observed. The martyrdom of Ramesh Mahato in Lahan in 2007 catapulted Upendra Yadav, a small-time political operator from Biratnagar, to the national scene. He marks the day every year to renew his political capital.
The second Madhes Movement, in 2008, was more of a pressure tactic rather than an uprising. Along with the resolution of outstanding issues of the first movement, it sought to ensure representation commensurate with the population before the Constituent Assembly elections. Since the campaign was non-confrontational, broad-based and accommodative, no particular day marks this movement. Mahantha Thakur emerged as the moral face of Madhesi politics in its aftermath.
The reminiscence of the third Madhes Movement is somewhat more complex. The indefinite postponement of federalism was at the core of the 16-point conspiracy hatched during the intense aftershocks of the 2015 Gorkha Earthquakes. With reduced strength in the second constituent assembly, the abandonment of the transformative agenda by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and the desertion of Bijay Kumar Gachhadar, there was little that Madhesi parties could do to withstand the political hurricane.
People of Madhes, however, immediately recognised the design of the ruling class. The implementation of the scheme was aimed at denying them their hard-earned rights. The vision of restructuring the state through proportionate inclusion, a representation based on population and substantive federalism was in the process of being smashed through blatant majoritarianism. The Madhesis erupted in spontaneous protests.
The reprisal was fast and fierce. Not just the agitators, but innocent onlookers and terrified commoners were shot dead from close ranges. The state seemed to have decided that the Madhesis needed to be taught a lesson to forestall any further uprisings. Repression grew increasingly brutal as protests intensified until the promulgation of a divisive constitution. It seemed that the ‘the 9/11 in Madhes’ shall remain etched in the memory of an entire generation.
Public memory, however, is phenomenally short and instinctively selective. Very few public figures marked the iconic martyrdom of Madhesis on 9/11 this year. Perhaps they will show a little more gratefulness and resolution on the Black Day to register their reservations over the controversial constitution. Recognition of the statute is necessary for survival, but it doesn’t imply the acceptance of the charter in its entirety.
In contrast to the organic outbreak of mass protests in Madhes, most movements in Kathmandu since the declaration of the republic in 2008 have been staged by the urban bourgeoisie to show their presence rather than register genuine grievances.
The White Shirt rally in 2010 was one of the first astroturf mobilisations patterned after the Tea Party movement of 2009 in the US. The first constituent assembly had declared Nepal a federal, democratic and secular republic. It had produced a Madhesi head of state, a Maoist head of government and a Janajati chair of the legislature.
The permanent establishment of Nepal had decided to sabotage the process and vowed to prevent the repetition of the spectre of subaltern awakening. Almost all Gari Khana Deu (Allow us to earn our living) demonstrations during the term of the first Constituent Assembly were patterned after the Tea Party movement and were rudderless, leaderless and purportedly apolitical.
The Occupy Baluwatar was a copycat movement of the Occupy Wall Street to such a degree that it didn’t even pretend to find a name that would have been more appropriate for its stated purpose of demanding justice for a victim of violence against women. It petered out soon after the ouster of the most inclusive government in the history of the country in 2013 and installation of an extra-constitutional executive headed by the chief of the judiciary.
Indignities heaped upon Dalits in Nepal have always been as bad as in the ‘cow belt’ of India. But let alone someone of the stature of BR Ambedkar, even politicos in the mould of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati are yet to emerge in Nepal due to the stranglehold of ‘Bahunism’ upon state and society. It took the re-ignition of the Black Lives Matter movement to shake some youngsters off from their torpor and make them shout Dalit Lives Matter.
Unable to garner sustainable support from the social elite, the Nepali version has begun to flounder despite a disturbing rise in violence against Dalits. For the ruling regime in Nepal, supposed unifier of ‘class interest’ pushes all other discriminations based on gender, caste, religion, community and ethnicity into the background.
That’s exactly the assumption that some twenty-something activists made in launching their recent protests. While ‘enough is enough’ in the US was clearly against systemic racism and excesses of the state, it’s clone in Nepal was aimed at ensuring some form of responsive governance from a regime that is using all its energy to manage internal conflicts.
The fresh fad to hit the political scene through the ‘asocial media’ is the call: #StopDemocidePMOli. Mostly digital, the anti-government prototype for the latest campaign seems to be Yale psychiatrist Bandy Lee’s characterisation of the US facing ‘a democide of genocidal proportions, because we have handed power to someone who is anti-human in psychology’. While similarities between the occupants of the White House and Baluwatar abound, nobody has described the latter in such harsh terms.
All imitations, almost by definition, are copies of the form rather than a simulation of an idea or event. The problem with post-2015 protests in Kathmandu is that none of them have dared to accept that the ethnocracy—a neologism that describes ‘societies where democracy exists for the dominant ethnic groups, but is less available to cultural and religious minorities’—sought to be institutionalised through the controversial constitution is unlikely to produce any government better than the present one.
In ethnocracies, structures of the state and society such as the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the media and the civil society are mostly controlled by the dominant group, which then uses its authority to protect, promote and propagate its interests. Supremo KP Oli is the progenitor of the ethnocratic charter and as long as it exists, none of its products are likely to be much different from his style and essence.
From a cursory crawl of the ‘asocial’ media, it's apparent that the sympathisers of the Nepali Congress are trying to push #StopDemocidePMOli with indifferent impact. The so-called ‘IT Cell’ of the ruling regime is far more assertive than the voluntary posters of the nominal opposition. In addition to that, the complicity of the Grand Old Party in establishing an archetypal ethnocracy in Nepal is too deep to be ignored.
The origin of the term democide, a disease of democracy first identified by RJ Rummel, can be traced to the passions of the masses when the demos (the people) is conflated with the ethnos (belonging to the same ethnicity) as it often happens under majoritarian regimes. Sociologist Michael Mann has convincingly argued that when a dominant ethnic group forms a political majority, chances are that it will rule ‘democratically’ but also ‘tyrannically’ so. Since it’s written in the constitution, folks are fated to endure its implications for the foreseeable future.
That said, when the government is unresponsive, dissent is duty and peaceful protest is an obligation of every responsible citizen.
What do you think?
Dear reader, we’d like to hear from you. We regularly publish letters to the editor on contemporary issues or direct responses to something the Post has recently published. Please send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Letter to the Editor" in the subject line. Please include your name, location, and a contact address so one of our editors can reach out to you.