Leap years are supposed to be inauspicious. And sure enough, 2004 lived up to its image with its parting kick: the killer tsunamis around the Indian Ocean.
Even for Nepal, it has been a year of despair and doom. At the end of the year, there doesn't seem to be any light at the end of the dark tunnel of insurgency. Institutions crumbled so fast this year that many Nepalis have begun to believe the doomsday 'failed state' predictions of parachutists. The Maoist blockade devastated the working class and was an inconvenience to socialite socialists in Kathmandu as they hopped from one conflict resolution workshop to another.
For sometime to come, Kathmandu's middle class will find it hard to live with the sorrow and shame of 1 September 2004 when rampaging mobs took to the city streets and vandalised minority businesses, mosques and media houses with ruthless efficiency. The ignominy of the event was made worse by the nonchalance that the security forces showed towards the tragedy.
In almost every election, residents of Kathmandu Valley have overwhelmingly supported leftist candidates of which the UML has been the main beneficiary. They will repent their choice for years to come. Comrade Madhab Nepal disappointed the entire petty-bourgeoisie by abjectly surrendering this year to the regressive regime. The UML has further disgraced itself by deciding to stay in government despite the helplessness and humiliation of its nominees in the cabinet. Its own party cadres allege that UML ministers do little more than provide official consent to the palace's whims. In return, some of them have reaped significant financial benefits at the expense of the party's reputation.
As is always the case, the proletariat has lost the most in this suicidal war being waged in their name under the Maoist banner. Nearly 11,000 people have been killed in nine years, most of them innocent civilians. Many more have been displaced and millions have been indirectly affected by the consequences of violent conflict. All hopes of rapprochement between the warring factions were dashed in 2004 as the government and the guerrillas intensified their atrocities making Nepal earn the dubious distinction of being one of the major human rights hot-spots in the world. Despite all the excesses, if the state hasn't failed so far, the insurgents and security forces can't be blamed for not trying hard enough to lead Nepali society towards disintegration.
The international community may not have done anything directly to intensify the conflict, but its has certainly added fuel to the fire by supporting undemocratic governments after October Fourth. The European Union has been no less complicit than the Americans, British and Indian governments. A recent study by two Oxford University scholars show that a substantial chunk of development aid invariably leaks into military spending either directly or through fungibility of projects. The study has also established that despotic regimes spend substantially higher on defence than democratic ones even though such military build-up have almost no deterrent effect in internal conflicts. The international community is propping up the Royal Nepali Army with weapons and arms supplies even as the military aspires to wield more power over the state.
Militarisation of society became even more visible in 2004, as state security gave itself a larger and larger share of the budget to fund unprecedented expansion. The sight of the king and crown prince in combat fatigues ceases to surprise.
But even amidst the enveloping darkness, the lamp of democracy continues to flicker. Whether it is held by an octogenarian or a child, Nepalis will not allow themselves to be ruled by a junta. And they will resist the rise of Pol Pot totalitarianism even more ferociously.
In times of despair, the biggest challenge is to save the seeds of hope for a future garden to grow.