Frost at the coreDespite the fatigue setting in over the Lokman saga, I have been fascinated by what it reveals about the Nepali state and its drivers.
Despite the fatigue setting in over the Lokman saga, I have been fascinated by what it reveals about the Nepali state and its drivers. Lokman Singh Karki’s career trajectory in pre-republican Nepal is in itself enough to educate the world about the deep structure of the Nepali state—how the old state nourished its clients while excluding others. But the process of his appointment as the chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), his unscrupulous exercise of power, the hasty move by the CPN-UML and the delay and hesitation by the Nepali Congress in pushing through the impeachment proposal in Parliament have demonstrated the malaise that lies deep in the heart of the Nepali state even in the republican era.
The anti-corruption body, established to cleanse the malaise, turned under Karki into probably the biggest agent to let the malaise fester—denigrating the august institution, harassing and defaming organisations like Social Science Baha and making it impossible to investigate the corrupt as they can easily cry vendetta now. How is it that a corrupt, tainted and dismissed man of the ancient regime managed to reach a position of such power and influence that republican Nepal began quaking under his whip? If you can figure this out clearly, you can comprehend a lot of things about the workings of the Nepali state.
For that one needs to understand the fundamental nature of the Nepali state, its deep structure, and those who have occupied the structure. Nepal had always been a Machiavellian enterprise, often corrupt at the core. Seldom did vengeful royalty, grudge holding courtiers, unscrupulous powerholders, murderous conspiracies and misuse of power not characterise the Nepali state at its top. The Ranas took this culture to its crudest extreme through their fratricidal, ego-driven, my-word-is-law exercise of despotic power. No surprise there.
What was crude, clan-confined and Kathmandu-centred took on a modern form during the 30-year Panchayat regime through the institutionalisation of structural discrimination, with the state penetrating even into villages and expanding the reach of this structural discrimination everywhere. This was the explicit and visible imposition of the state and its law. What remained hidden behind the scene was the massive corruption of resources—both internal through revenue collection and deforestation and external through the misappropriation of foreign aid. The only goal of the Panchayat regime became its survival through the imposition of one-language, one-dress nationalism even though its slogans remained highfalutin.
To be sure, there were people like BP Koirala and Manmohan Adhikari—and
their banned parties—who were driven by their adherence to ideologies such as Marxism, socialism, secularism, etc. While BP had passed away by 1990 and Adhikari could hardly do much before he died late in the decade, the state itself remained steeped in corruption and the tendency to pursue power unscrupulously.
Not so new
The hope and idealism of 1990’s Jana Andolan I soon vanished into thin air when confronted by this deep structure of the state. Thus, you find many leaders of many parties suddenly becoming unaccountably wealthy; some of them were charged with one case of corruption or another and imprisoned. The politicians and parties that came to power in the 1990s created an unprecedented mess whose stench not only created the Maoists but helped spread their insurgency successfully from a few remote districts to the rest of the country.
But it seems that the Maoists, too, like the parties and politicians before them, succumbed to the rotten deep structure of the state. They did not see the difference between collecting donations, very often coerced, from people like my mother
in the villages and skimming off their fighters’ salaries that came from international agencies.
You have to see the Lokman phenomenon in the light of this long-sustained and unscrupulous deep structure of the Nepali state. Why did the top leaders of the UML, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists led by Prachanda bulldoze their way to recommend Karki’s appointment? Why did Khil Raj Regmi, the then Chairman of Council of Ministers , appoint him? And why did the then President Ram Baran Yadav, “the lonely man at the peak”, approve the appointment despite Karki’s muddied, autocratic past? Some claim that India, through its RAW station chief in Kathmandu, put pressure on Karki’s behalf; others say Prachanda, by appointing Karki, ensured his and his comrades’ immunity from prosecution for misusing cantonment funds.
Back in 2013 (‘Election is what matters’, May 15), I had said, “Any Ramlal, Shyamlal, Jhamlal can knock on his door, claiming he represents India, and the President gets swayed.” I had also argued that the UML, the NC, and the Maoist party bosses swatted all opposition for Karki not so much because of the above reasons as the fact that they and Karki are birds of the same feather—differences in political ideologies, tainted records and regime affiliation be damned. They all are the title holders of the deep structure of the Nepali state. I would even add that the delay in advancing Karki’s impeachment proceedings stems from the pull of Nepali state’s deep structure.
Why do I say this? Because you now hear many of Karki’s detractors arguing that while Karki is certainly to blame for his misuse of power, it is the CIAA itself that may be unsuitable for Nepal’s democracy. What they in effect imply is that even a clean and noble officer who becomes the CIAA chief will get out of hand because of the very nature and reach of the institution itself. If this argument is to be valid, we should say that the prime minister, the chief justice, or any chief of constitutional bodies can or will exceed their brief sooner or later. This is again, it seems to me, the deep structure of the Nepali state speaking in a new voice—this time to excuse the culture of corruption pervasive in the state bodies. I do not think we should buy this argument even if it is sold for a penny.