A farewell to armsChoosing the title of a famous American fiction for this short essay has metaphorical significance.
Choosing the title of a famous American fiction for this short essay has metaphorical significance. This novel A Farewell to Arms (1929), which is set against the background of the First World War as experienced by the character of the American novelist Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) in Italy, foregrounds human love and emotional power in war-ravaged Europe. Though the world-renowned novel was replete with the message of love and the victory of humane power, the shadow of a more sinister World War II was looming large in Europe.
The second world war brought diverse issues of devastation, fascism and revolution in one complex platter of human history. World politics, theories and the erstwhile imperialists and now the neo-imperialists, neo-liberalists and socialists have variously interpreted the narratives but failed to live up to the experience. The proof is the worsening human sufferings. I have alluded to this principle of arms, violence and peace in the context of the democratic and socialistic political modes of looking at the world of management inspired by the following native contexts of history.
The first is the context of remembering BP Koirala (1914-1982) on his 35th death anniversary, and the second is the peaceful election of the local bodies last month. Bringing these two references in the context of arms has a special meaning in my reading of history.
BP and the Maoists
In the self-storying process, BP Koirala has problematised arms in a very subtle way. The two volumes of his autobiography, his jail journals, his articles published in a number of magazines, and his speeches have one underlying theme of arms in his modality of resistance to dictatorship. This became clearer to me when I was writing the play entitled Sandajuko Mahabharat (2015), which was also staged for a month at Theatre Village under the direction of an NSD graduate Bimal Subedi, with the role of BP effectively played by Sanjeev Uprety.
The play—based on a careful reading of BP’s oeuvre and my conversations with my friend, a senior Congress Party politician Purushottam Basnet, and others—problematises a number of questions. For example, was BP trying to launch an armed rebellion in Nepal, which failed because of a number of difficulties he had to encounter? Or was it because he completely changed his theory of armed rebellion in favour of a politics of peaceful change? We wanted important politicians to come to see the play so that we could get some of their takes to these questions. Some came.
BP Koirala, after he was denied passport to travel abroad by king Birendra, had to get a temporary pass from the Indian government to travel to Europe to meet his colleagues of the Socialist International to ask for help to acquire arms for rebellion in Nepal. BP recalls that part as a bad experience, and predicts that the Socialist International, like the long defunct Communist International, was heading for a collapse. How correct BP’s prediction was can be seen in today’s world, especially when we see the politicians of that school riled by the questions of ruptures, alternative truths and politics of hatred. A climactic moment comes in the play when BP and Sushila bhauju, his wife, have to find a small space for their bed on the ground floor of an old house in an Indian city. The floor was creaking under the weight of arms thus collected stacked on the floor above. The play depicts BP piqued by the behaviour of the Bangladeshi leaders, especially Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who did not even say thanks for all the arms that were given to the Mukti Bahini. All the details of this narrative were drawn from the readings of BP’s self-story. The other part of the arms-narrative ironically repeats in the expressions of the Maoist leader Prachanda who led a 10-year people’s war that ended by signing a comprehensive peace treaty with the seven parliamentary parties in November 2006. Prachanda’s statement is an epilogue to BP Koirala’s dramatics about arms. Prachanda said he had to take up arms because BP Koirala, whom he saw as a guru figure in politics, abandoned them, thus leaving the revolution incomplete.
Most propitious time
This is a very interesting twist in Nepali history. My final argument begins from this very point. Neither BP nor Prachanda seriously claimed the authorship of the grand narrative of arms. In retrospect, that story of arms in Nepali politics has wrought great surprises, all the way from BP to the Maoists. This achievement should be seen by impartially reading the nuances of the psyche and the need for acquiring arms. No elitist historiography can bring this out. No serious attempt is made to understand this very important shift in the armed revolution. As seen in common parlance, once arms are stockpiled or accessed, they cross barbed wires and go into the hands of the unruly groups. That did not happen in Nepal.
The Maoists and other smaller parties that vowed to resort to arms for political achievement all opted for a politics of polls and contested elections. The local elections thus prove how Nepali politicians who espoused different values successfully said farewell to arms. The local polls represent that grand shift. We should not undermine this great achievement of Nepali politics that, in a short span of time, covered important historical miles.
The neighbouring and western countries should view this achievement with an open mind. I feel a little sad to note that they could not highlight this achievement and tell the world that this experience is worth emulating for those who have armed groups and poll-savvy parties contesting uncannily for power. The parties could not accentuate their political achievement because they have failed to create an atmosphere of healthy politics. One obvious reason is that they are glibly institutionalising corruption and have, very sadly, failed to serve the majorities whose hopes for the amelioration of their condition are being badly dashed. Parties should live up to the brighter side of history and vow to correct palpable mistakes. This is the most propitious time to embark upon the task. The polls are the indicators.