Nepali Times
State Of The State
The wages of apathy


Even after the Soviet flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin on the night of 25 December 1991, it was pronounced that history had ended. It was argued that business was not the business of governments.

The Wall Street Crash of 2008 has restored the dignity of the guiding hand. The state is back in business with a bang. Free market fundamentalism continues to be a fad of the fringe just as dogmatic socialism continued to fascinate intellectuals long after it had failedc to deliver almost everywhere. But for once, propagandists of market forces are on the defensive. It is being accepted that the 'invisible hand' of the market may be invisible simply because it's not there.

The fallout of global financial meltdown will take a while to register in Nepal, but its political reverberations have begun to be felt. Hardliners suddenly have the upper hand in the Maoist power equation. The party still sticks to its 'dictatorship of the proletariat'. The Maoist labour front has suddenly become more active and Baburam Bhattarai has been forced to withdraw into the labyrinthine corridors of Finance Ministry at Singha Darbar.

The year 2008 will be long remembered for the great political transition achieved through election of the constituent assembly, declaration of the republic, acceptance of federalism as fundamental form of governance in future and election of president and vice-president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. To paraphrase Lenin, it was one of those years when centuries happened after centuries had passed with nothing happening.

In a fitting tribute to the end of a historic year, the 300-year old tradition of recruiting priests at Pashupati from South India were replaced by more erudite Nepali Bahuns. It's a sign of divisive politics holding sway that even as welcome a decision as this was criticised by the main opposition party on procedural grounds.

Economic turmoil and political tumult apart, it was also a year when professional hooligans, Mafia style, made their entry into the social arena. YCL goons grabbed headlines daily and the UML competed with its YF. There are now at least 16 youth groups using militancy all over the country.

The NC's Tarun Dal and Nepal Students' Union also want to deploy their youth, but are hamstrung by their own beliefs. A novice toughie from NC ranks was heard complaining, "After the Himalmedia attack, we too feel like bashing up the miscreants. But how can we do it? We are democrats and must let the law take its own course." Under communist rule, unfortunately, the law is often the handmaiden of the ruler.

Ruffians in the Tarai continued with their terror tactics, as mainstream politicians remained busy in Kathmandu with their parlour games. A Madhesi militant claimed early this week that most minor groups operating in the Tarai enjoyed the backing of senior police officers. Clearly, militancy can't be checked without reforming law enforcement agencies.

There were plenty of triumphs in 2008 but there were also disappointments. Gyanendra Shah may have been forced out of Narayanhiti, but Pushpa Kamal Dahal in Baluwatar is refusing to mend his ways. Maoist leaders have proved to be even more adept practitioners of nepotism and cronyism. The culture of impunity has become so entrenched that almost anyone can do anything without running the risk of being brought to account. Clannish Girija Prasad Koirala is still nursing a bruised ego.

The OHCHR report on excesses of the ruling class in Bardia exposed racial fissures that lie right below the surface of supposed national unity in Nepal. Effect of calamities-Kosi breach and repeated road accidents-was compounded by collective inactivity of larger society bordering on apathy.

We all whine for a while, criticise our 'leaders', curse our fate and then do nothing and wait for some divine intervention to rescue us from our miseries. Perhaps that's where the trouble lies. If peace-loving people don't take out silent processions against injustice, the field is left open for violent groups to burn tyres, smash windowpanes and bury real issues below layers of populist slogans and diversionary activism.

The year just gone reiterates the eternal message for all years to come: nothing changes without citizen's engagement with all issues of common concern. It's not yet too late to make such a New Year resolution.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)