The decline of social solidarityNo organisation has felt it necessary to add its voice to the cry of the complainants from Banke.
This is one of those things that happens only in the land of the one-horned rhinoceros—the pachyderm of the plains that former premier KP Sharma Oli insists must be called by its Nepali name. In an arrogant display of raw power, the local administration arrested a couple of peaceful protesters, put their leader on a flight back home, and left the rest of them on the streets after a few hours.
Mercifully, the Supreme Court ordered that the leader of the protesting party be presented in person within 24 hours. The suffering of hapless protesters should have awakened the consciousness of every jaded citizen. They had covered over 500 km on foot from Nepalgunj to bring their grievances to the capital city of the country that is famous for its thick-skinned herbivores with one horn and infamous for even more thick-skinned omnivores in public life without visible protrusions on their heads.
The protesters aren’t asking for Dashain grants. All they want is that the death of Nakunni Dhobi and the disappearance of Nirmala Kurmi under suspicious circumstances be investigated, which the local administration in Banke has refused to do. Denied a hearing in their district, demonstrators have brought their story to the federal capital. They could have stopped by the provincial headquarters, but even a politically illiterate person knows by now that all the reins of government in Nepal remain under the tight control of Singh Durbar. Somewhat like ivory tusks, provincial governments in Nepal only look impressive.
However, the absolute failure of the entire episode is the complete lack of sensitivity and concern for the plight of the protestors among the residents of Kathmandu Valley. So far, no political party has raised its voice in solidarity. No organisation has felt it necessary to add its voice to the cry of the complainants from the lowest rung of Nepal’s notoriously Bahun-dominated society. An “imagined community” gains strength only through a process of empathy and commiseration for the suffering of fellow beings with no direct connection other than the shared identity of territoriality, sovereignty and a vague sense of common destiny. That doesn’t seem to be happening, and Madhes remains a foreign land in the majoritarian imagination of Khas-Arya nationalists.
Forming a political state out of warring tribes, contending communities and inimical ethnicities has been violent throughout history. When he first laid his covetous eyes upon the riches of Kathmandu Valley from Chandragiri, the ambitious warrior from the impoverished principality of Gorkha probably had no idea that he would end up wounding one of the most evolved cultures of South Asia. Once the victorious Shah appropriated the Serpent Throne of the Malla kings in 1768, the sophisticated courtiers of an earlier era were replaced in their entirety by the largely rural and mostly warrior clans of Gorkha.
The extractive state that the republican order inherited in 2008 has been in the making for over two centuries. The Shahs made a mess of the only proven resource of their domain as they parcelled out productive land in the conquered territories to their priests and soldiers who had little interest in ploughing the field in faraway fiefdoms. The Gorkhali tradition of distributing land to their faithful is so entrenched in the imagination of the mid-hills that people queue up the moment they hear that a resettlement programme for the landless has opened up again in the plains. From Shah-Ranas to Leninists and Maoists, every usurper has used the bait to lure unsuspecting commoners into their trap, with the unfortunate incident of Butwal being the most recent example.
The Ranas found even more accessible ways of making a fortune and keeping the loot in the family. For over a century, they ran one of the most efficient private military services in the world that served the most powerful empire of its time. Clearing the forest required even less ingenuity. Till the 1950s, the state existed solely to serve the interests of the Shah-Rana clan and a few of their flunkeys.
The developmental state between 1960 and 1990 wasn’t any better in laying the base for the emergence of a modern state. The dominance of Thar-Ghar aristocracy from Gorkha was given continuity. The lasting damage to the evolution of tertiary solidarity between people of different backgrounds was done when political parties were proscribed. Since they had to operate underground like secret fraternities for three decades, most political parties in Nepal resemble caste-based platforms, and function like appeasement machineries of garnering support from their traditional loyalists.
Perhaps there is a reason passers-by in Kathmandu look at protesters from Banke and find little or no similarity between their own self-interest and the wails of ‘outsiders’ that have descended upon the peaceful capital of ‘their’ democratic republic. They have more interest in discussing a dysfunctional government than dissecting the deformed state.
When vacating Baluwatar, Sharma Oli had neither the moral authority nor the political legitimacy left in his politics. That he continues to be the leader of the opposition despite all the humiliation heaped upon his antics says more about the state of democracy in the country than the reams of learned commentaries of political scientists.
Having been complicit in every act of omission and commission of Sharma Oli, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had no moral authority to lead the successor government. Even the political legitimacy was thrust upon him by the Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court. The difference between the ousted and the incumbent prime minister is that of the degree of their respective amorality. Perhaps the saving grace of Premier Deuba is that, unlike Sharma Oli, he lacks the confidence of ignorance to harbour totalitarian dreams in the formative stage of a democratic republic. He keeps affirming his faith in democracy to bolster his republican credentials.
Retrofitting a deformed state and making it fit for the future is a work of generations. It isn't easy to improve governance without restructuring the state in line with the shared dreams of its diverse population. However, social solidarity is the necessary condition for rebuilding the state in a democratic manner, though not sufficient by itself. Please discard the toxic positivity of the balmy autumn and discuss ways of celebrating the diversities of a republic-in-the-making in a free and frank manner. With that cautionary note of imploration, Dashain Greetings!