Vigilance after refugee scamThe responsible people of the political parties and the bureaucracy have established an uncanny alliance.
The Bhutanese refugee scam has revealed some disturbing themes that have always remained hidden behind the orderly Nepali political façade. The scam is about substituting real refugees with fake deceitful characters, and sending them to the United States as Bhutanese refugees. These fake characters would take the place of those languishing in the camps, or those who have remained behind for one reason or another. They live in a very miserable condition in the camps. After the revelation of the above scam, journalists contacted some of the real ones who expressed shock, surprise and dismay about this development. There is hardly anything they can do about it. Some of those genuine refugees who are conscious about their conditions would look at it with a sense of helplessness. They would be stunned to know how their condition in the awful camps has been dramatised by people who run the country and preach political ideals of socialism, democracy, communism and good governance. Those involved are people who play leadership roles in the parties, government and bureaucracy.
The most stunning and shocking matter for Nepal today is how corrupt individuals established relationships by transcending their party ideals, visions and promises of amelioration for this scam. When this news is analysed and taken up by the press outside Nepal, that will create some very serious problems, especially about the credibility of the Nepali political system, government and bureaucracy. The story of creating fake Bhutanese refugees came with the volume of money used for that purpose. As reported in the press, about 875 people from different regions have been swindled in this way. That is a huge number as they came from different regions of Nepal and from different backgrounds. What is particularly serious is the nature of the scam; it is like an organised crime and a case of human trafficking. Sending citizens to a third country by changing their nationality is alarming.
Money, money, money
The most serious part of this story is that it has been going on through all the different phases of the political and bureaucratic transformations that the country has experienced. And the roles of the major political parties in the political changes and democratic transformations, and their participation in the successful parliamentary elections have been accepted and tested by the people. But this Bhutanese scam certainly gives an uncanny sense of foreboding. A retired schoolteacher, social worker and literary writer Tek Bahadur Jirel of Jiri phoned me the other morning to express his shock at the involvement of politicians and party people in this scam. Jirel is particularly disturbed by this question: If money can change the minds of important politicians and bureaucrats so easily, what would happen to the country if in today’s world some outside powers with various interests started their activities in this country with a big sum of money. He feared that love for the country and prestige might not match the spell cast by money in such a condition. I deeply shared Tek Bahadur Jirel’s sense of foreboding.
The organised nature of the crime makes it all the more serious because of the shape of human trafficking. The act is particularly worrying because the responsible people of the political parties and the bureaucracy have established an uncanny alliance between them. The nexus is entirely guided by money that is paid by those who have become prepared to renounce their citizenship to go to a third country and those who have pocketed it to make that happen. This event has triggered important discussions about the relationship between those in power as the government, bureaucracy and political parties and the common citizens. In Nepal those in power have treated the common citizens, especially the poor and the subalterns, as those whose life can be easily manipulated. The treatment of the poor and marginalised people by the autocratic rulers has a history in this country. Some very important discourses have interpreted the history of how Nepali rulers, most of them autocratic, have treated the citizens as dispensable human beings.
What is very important to realise is that this scam has foregrounded a gap between political ideologies and reality in Nepal. That Nepal shall be a socialist country is enshrined in the Nepali Constitution. Political parties with a long history are accepted as its custodians. Political parties on their part espouse various political principles to serve as their guides. The most important elements in all these political principles and practices are the people. All those thinkers and political leaders like Marx, Lenin, Gandhi, BP Koirala and others have developed their political philosophies and their modus operandi by keeping people at the centre of everything.
An archaic Roman law, as the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in his book about homo sacer or “sacred man” has famously evoked, treated some ordinary people as dispensable. History says the tradition of dismissing people was reversed in order to restore the prestige, meaning and indispensability of the common people. This idea of establishing people, in this case the workers, is at the heart of Karl Marx’s book Capital I in which he establishes the self and personality of the worker who falls short of using the item he makes; it becomes a fetish. BP Koirala foregrounding the image of the ordinary men or women, farmers in this case, said their prestige and a right to live on a plot of land with a pair of oxen and milch cow should be established by politics and the state. I am particularly shocked by how leftist and democratic politicians apparently of the younger generation, as the visuals speak, have been treating people not only as dispensable but also as sellable humans.
The Bhutanese scam has revealed the hamartia in the Nepali democratic political system; it should be used as a very important eye-opener. It also calls for a review of how the weak and vulnerable have been treated by autocratic rulers who held power in their hands and by those who are elected by the people to govern. But turning the citizens into refugees for money by political leaders, bureaucrats and government people in a democratic system is a mysterious, uncanny and dangerous affair that has not happened in Nepali history before. The fact that the people involved in this scam are political leaders, government ministers and bureaucrats of a democratic Nepal makes this a unique and serious incident.
The most urgent thing that needs to be done because of this scam is a review—review the gap between theory and practice, sacrifice and greed, bravado full of political clichés and honesty expressed in simple and honest parlance. Eternal democratic vigilance is essential for such review work.