Jog your memoryHistorical amnesia has hit Nepali politics and politicians alike.
Krishna Khanal speaking at the launch of Narahari Acharya’s Jail Diary in Kathmandu last week lashed out at the amnesia of Nepali political practice and politicians. A well-known academician and professor of political science, Khanal is also known as a candid and free commentator on social issues. What struck me most was his critical interpretation of the hubris that dominates Nepali politics and the karma of the practitioners. He was hinting at the phenomenon of short memory that is haunting Nepali politics and politicians, the effect of which can be seen in the present confusions that we are beginning to feel with some degree of alarm.
Amnesia occurs either naturally in the lives of individuals, and is related to traumatic experiences and other such factors, or as carefully planned schemes to make people forget certain momentous moments of history. People’s growing indifference to the historical events become tantalising when those who wield power in society begin to utilise that for their aims. They find it convenient to use amnesia to interpret historical narratives to make people forget about violent or unpleasant events.
Historians and interpreters like Hannah Arendt and Michael Foucault revealed in a number of ways that making people believe in the manufactured and convenient history was in the interest of those who did not or do not want to see democracy founded on the collective memory of people become strong. Manufacturing history that easily, stealthily and cunningly erases important events from people’s memories is the goal of those who manipulate it. Anyone who has read history explaining the atrocities of the dictatorial regimes can easily understand why it is in the interest of the rulers to make people work with short term memories.
The case of Nepal is not that alarming. Changes including the promulgation of the historical republican constitution, the successful holding of elections and formation of the three tiers of governments have happened over a span of a few years. Krishna Khanal’s criticism was thus not directed at any dictatorship per se, but at those who have let the important opportunities slip. Nepal’s history of the past 12 years or so has introduced very significant transformations in this country. A 250-year-old institution of monarchy has been abolished. Among the most significant gains of this transformation was the event of the powerful communist guerrillas coming out of the jungle and signing a comprehensive peace accord with seven political parties who believed in parliamentary system of government. Such a system drew strength from the democratic practice of free and fair elections, through multiparty contests and by establishing a culture of respecting the rights of the people.
The important point to remember here is that the political system is guided by a noble cause and a great goal—which is to ameliorate the living standard of the people. People’s happiness and prosperity, guarantee of their rights to live with dignity and get fair justice in the economic management system of the state are the goals of this historical change. Khanal, referring to the diaries of Narahari Acharya, who was among the few republican savvy Nepali Congress politicians, said the most tantalising subject today is the failure of the Nepali political parties to give a cogent pattern to the historical achievements, and plan each step by learning from that. That they forget history with every dawn drawing new patterns on their thresholds is something to be worried about.
The most alarming aspect of ‘postality’, a name coined by theorists to explain the post conditions of ideas and history, is that the political parties of Nepal and the governments have failed to learn as much as they should have from the historical achievements. Their memories are short. I would add that complacency is a classic example of letting important moments slip out without properly deliberating on them. What is also interesting and surprising is that we are talking about a very short, brilliant, transformative, creative period of 12 years of Nepal’s history.
The psyche of forgetting or letting the achievements of that period go unnoticed is prompted by two factors. One, the political parties who had worked together to bring transformation in the country soon learned to forget the strength, the visceral aspect of their unity. In other words, they made achievements together, but they appear to be failing to enforce that achievement for the good of the people and the country. Two, they became occupied with the obsession of taking credit for their group’s advantage at the cost of making the historical gains weaker and ineffective. Khanal took a jibe at the Nepali Congress to which he once belonged. He said the Nepali Congress lost the election because this party failed to understand the great teachings of the late leader Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala (1914-1982) alias BP because they have been failing to utilise what history or their own efforts have been teaching them. He explained how they have even misinterpreted BP’s democratic socialist principles, which is a classic case of political short-sightedness. He distinguished between the republicanism that is based on the principle of control and that which believes in freedom and people’s exercise of that through fair and democratic elections.
I have dwelt so much on this professor’s interpretation because such discussions do not happen here though they should have happened more often at this stage of evolution. Another rare meeting of minds organised a few weeks ago by Hari Roka and Jhalak Subedi at the Academy itself was a revealing occasion.
I have a few caveats here. It is not very clear whether the government and its leaders are developing paraphernalia of various kinds to deviate people from the great memories. As is evident in the diaries of Narahari Acharya, and was also echoed in the interpretation of scholars and civil society leaders who spoke on the occasion, we can clearly see that the Nepali Congress has squandered away its wisdom bequeathed by history carved out by the people’s uprisings. That the Nepali Congress is casual about history becomes clear from its leaders’ irresponsible remarks reflecting how little they are swayed by the lessons of history.
One thing is clear, we are on the cusp of times that will decide where we will go and what lessons we will learn.