Hazardous hypocrisyTo save Nepal from future troubles, the Madhesi and Tharu issue needs to be resolved through negotiation
The blockade chokehold at the Nepal-India border for the past month is thankfully easing with the installation of KP Oli, one of the most rightwing ‘communists’, in the prime ministerial chair. But the interpretation of the blockade in the media, by journalists, intellectuals and politicians made it appear as though it were a complex work of art that yielded myriads of meanings, depending on the interpreter’s political inclination and ideological orientation. In fact, one can say that the complex interpretation of the blockade revealed the very complexity of the history of Nepal’s relationship with India since Nepal’s founding in 1769.
Even when we ignore Nepal’s founder king Prithvi Narayan Shah’s naming of his new kingdom as ‘asali Hindustan’ as against India’s Muglan (the realm of the Mughals), India has remained a constant reference point for Nepali ruling class to define itself. This schizophrenic self-definition has manifested itself, at least since the rule of Jung Bahadur (1846-1877), as private prostration and public protestation to the benefit of the ruling class and the detriment of the masses.
The most recent example of this doublespeak manifested itself as the cry of Nepali nationalism after the ‘undeclared’ blockade at the border. Of course, it was painful for the Nepali people, especially for the citizenry of Kathmandu, deprived as they were of their essential lifeline of gasoline and other essential goods that Nepal imports from India and abroad via the Kolkata port. But for the Madhesis, the blockade came as a literal lifesaver because 40 protestors had lost their lives in 40 days when the Nepali security forces commanded by the three-party-gang fired their bullets mostly at their heads. Immediately after the blockade, the killing ceased. And so, the Madhesis welcomed India with placards and posters to the horror of Nepali-speaking nationalists who dubbed the Madhesis as India’s agents in Nepal.
Playing the India card
But a look at Nepali history tells us that at different times, the ruling or aspiring factions (and these have all been Nepali- or Khas Kura-speaking people) have denounced India when it went against their self-interests and welcomed India when they needed it to help them to realise their ambitions for state power. Thus, Jung Bahadur cultivated the British by supplying hill tribesmen for its imperial Army and treated Nepalis as little better than chattels. King Tribhuvan welcomed India when it saved his life, freed him from the Ranas and restored the empowered throne to him. The anti-Rana democrats in 1950, anti-Panchayat forces in 1990 and anti-Gyanendra conglomerates in 2006 all welcomed India’s support against the feudal and autocratic Ranas and the Shah kings. India was friends with the Maoists during its insurgency (1996-2006) against the Nepali state. The Nepal Army welcomed Indian intervention to save its recalcitrant,
loudmouth Army Chief from getting sacked and Madhav Kumar Nepal welcomed India when it helped him become prime minister. And now that the people of Nepal have abolished the monarchy and declared Nepal a secular state, ex-king Gyanendra makes the rounds of Indian power centers to lobby for the restoration of his crown, followed by Hindubadis like Kamal Thapa in tow with India’s Hindutva forces. And his intellectual supporters write tireless columns in Nepali and Indian media pleading, cajoling, arguing and trying to persuade the Indian establishment to restore Nepal’s monarchy and Hindu status.
Many believe that even king Mahendra, privately prostrated before India while publicly protesting against it. But one can say that he truly kept India at arms’ length and tried to steer an independent policy while playing the China card to his advantage. And abetted by the Cold War, he did what he wished with his people, gaging free speech, exiling and imprisoning duly-elected politicians, imposing caste nationalism of one language, one dress. But look what at happened. He drove his dynasty to suicide by his wilful, wayward exercise of power.
India to the rescue
So, what do you do when your friend tries to commit suicide? Leave him to pursue the path of self-destruction or counsel him and even intervene when worst comes to worst. Of course, India must never be allowed to rule Nepal or force the latter to compromise its independence. But when Nepal tried to commit suicide by killing Madhesis indiscriminately, India saved Nepal and itself from a world of troubles by winking blockade at the border points, which suddenly stopped the killing of Madhesis. If India had not intervened, the killing spree would have most likely continued given the attitude of the three parties. Consequently, the Madhesi leaders might have gone underground, waged an armed struggle and further disrupted supplies (given they have relatives and a friendly population on the Indian side). The Janajatis—such as Limbus, Magars, Tamags—cheated as they feel by the treason of Prachanda-led Maoists, would have eventually joined the armed struggle. We can only imagine what might have happened next.
What is the duty of a true friend? Not let one’s friend kill himself by counseling and if that does not work, sometimes, resort to unpleasant gestures. The undeclared blockage might be taken as such a gesture although India, at times, does act like a tactless friend.
Need to negotiate
The Nepali establishment should learn from the blockade rather than singing its clichéd old song of hill caste, lumpen, anti-India nationalism, which has lost its tune by now for even many Nepali-speaking intellectuals, let alone for Madhesis, Janajatis, women and Dalits. If that was not the case, Ashok Rai would not have said that India was helping his people. And Padma Ratna Tuladhar, an intellectual of impeccable integrity, would not thave led a delegation of his Janajati organisation to the Indian Embassy asking for support for his movement. So, based on historical evidence, one can say that hypocrisy thy name is Nepali ruling class. But it is not enough to just mention the obvious. For, the self-aggrandisement, self-congratulation, cultivation of self-serving illusion of the Nepali-speaking class of politicians, journalists, intellectuals about Nepali nationalism has tarnished the image of even good-hearted, justice-loving Nepali-speaking hill caste folks in the eyes of the world and the Nepali people. To save Nepal and all of its ethnicities from mutual distrust and future troubles, the Madhesi and Tharu issue needs to be resolved through negotiation.
And do not make the mistake of pulling out the gun again. For resolving these issues would, sooner or later, address the problems of other marginalised groups as well, just as federalism ushered by the Madhes Movement of 2007 and 2008 helped institutionalise it for the whole country even though its realisation has remained far from fulfilled.