Let good sense prevailModerates of all hues and persuasions should come together to defeat the extremists
Nepal is stuck in a traffic jam caused by its self-serving nationalist extremists. The road to the future can open only if these extremists either lose badly or moderate their ways. The latter option does not seem likely as public debate and discourse since 2008 have demonstrated. At a time when extremists all over the world seem to have gained the upper hand over moderates, does it seem likely that believers in the politics of negotiation and compromise will be able to either persuade or defeat believers in logjam, blockade, violence and extremism? This is an epochal question whose answer will determine the course of the unfolding 21st century.
One of the chief sources of this extremism is nationalism and nationality. Loud nationalist sloganeering attracts many followers, especially on social media. A politician who shouts loud nationalist slogans becomes a darling of the twittering masses overnight. It is one reason for the popularity of politicians like Oli. But anybody can be Oli or gain overnight popularity. The only thing one needs to do is shout some shrill nationalist slogans. And a clever politician that he is, Oli exploits the emotionalism of the gullible hordes through clever nationalist slogans. Because of these extremists, Nepal is stuck in the traffic jam.
Baser vs nobler instincts
There is, of course, an extremist solution to the logjam of power sharing. As has been happening in Syria and other places, when two groups determine to eliminate each other and reject outright the other group’s existence, proposals and positions, violence ensues. And violence invites counter-violence—first from within the boundary of the state, and then one power or the other or more than one, near or far, gets drawn into the conflict, creating a mass-scale human tragedy. That’s what has been happening in Syria. There is no stability when extremists assume or gain a prominent position.
In Nepal, Oli has become the composite figure of this kind of extremism. The extremist strain in even the Nepali Congress and the Maoists and others has now come to congeal into Oli extremism. When a leader for whatever reason turns into an extremist, he can easily build a sizable following because extremism sees things, society, country and its problems in black and white binary form—the country will either stay whole or disappear—and appeals to the baser emotions of the people rather than to their nobler instincts and better angels. A black and white binary explanation easily arouses the baser instincts of the common man who lacks the ability to comprehend complexity. And if the leader and his followers happen to belong to the entitled group, the consequences are even worse.
On the contrary, moderates speak in mild terms, are slow to respond to a pressing situation, and even when they respond, they appeal to reason, which the common man finds hard to comprehend and boring to wade through. Moderates point to complexity rather than a black and white binary picture, which the common man finds confusing because complexity appears as a mere web of words, mumbo jumbo.
That is why, the world over, moderates do well in times of peace and stability. But in times of crisis, they very often lose. Nobody listens to them because they can only bleat; they cannot bark because barking is uncivilised and immodest. Moderates also lack the ability to boil down academic complexity into simple talking points. And even when they can, they do not want to do it for fear of compromising or watering down the complexity. Moderates do not like appealing to the heart; intellect is their sovereign domain. But the truth is that times of crisis require hard-hitting language, talking points, yells and shouts and, yes, barking—all for the public good. Because moderates fail to measure up to the cheap, high-handed tactics of extremists, they most often fail to untie the knot of problems.
In Nepal’s case, Oli has transformed the CPN-UML into an extremist force. There are moderates even in the UML, but they cannot even bleat now for fear of getting branded as traitors. As a result, the political logjam shows no sign of clearing up.
A negotiated settlement
Let’s conjure up the scenario in which Oli extremism triumphs. The triumph of Oli will invite counter-extremism from the marginalised ranks whose youth are already losing patience with their moderate leaders. When extremism faces extremism, outside forces will intervene sooner than later, given Nepal’s complex geopolitical situation, creating a disastrous situation. But fortunately, in Nepal’s case, the tide is turning. More and more moderate forces are coming out of the shadows of gentility and speaking out their mind. Intellectuals of all hues—Khas Arya, Madhesi, Janajati—are coming out denouncing Oli’s extremism and arguing for dialogue and a negotiated settlement to federalism.
It is easy to fall into the path of extremism in solving any complex situation. Thus, extremists call the creation of a province out of the Tarai as cutting off, severing and ‘desh tukryaune’. Such language deserves to be rubbished. But it is difficult to assuage the fears of the concerned common masses. Political leaders can easily do it, but moderates lack the roar in their voice, passion in their hearts, conviction in their soul and rhetorical skill in their language to make the concerned masses understand the complex situation the country faces at this juncture in its evolution. Fed for centuries on the cheap fast food of self-serving nationalism, extremists find an easy road into the hearts of the masses.
That’s why the coming together of Nepal’s moderate intellectuals in the media offers hope that moderation, sanity, dialogue and negation will prevail over extremism, whether it’s Oli’s or anybody else’s. But intellectuals alone cannot shoulder the burden. They have only words to offer in the media. It is the politicians who have the organisational network and means to mobilise the masses. At a time when Nepal seems to be polarised into nationalist extremists and patriotic moderates, it is even more urgent that moderates of all hues and persuasions—politicians, intellectuals, professionals and the common people—form a coalition to defeat the extremists and solve Nepal’s intractable problems of state restructuring.
While I was previously thinking only of Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti coming together with Upendra Yadav’s Federalist Socialist Morcha, now even the Nepali Congress and the Maoists need to join hands to break Nepal’s logjam and defeat the extremists. Even the moderates in the UML need to break ranks with the extremists to defeat it, because nobody is going to be a winner if extremism and extremists triumph. So, let’s hope that the new year brings defeat for the extremists and victory and a common purpose for the moderates.