Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Forget Kathmandu


Most kangresis don't read. Ask why, and the joke goes there is no need because BP Koirala has read enough for all of them. But members of the Nepali Congress may want to pick up a booklet published recently by the Social Science Baha titled Views from the Field: Anthropological Perspectives on the CA elections.

The NC's challenge comes from a Maoist party that wants to ruthlessly consolidate. If anyone was entertaining illusions about hardline-softline divisions, they should look at Baburam Bhattarai's recent article which reiterates that the ultimate goal has not changed.

But this desire to expand and control is common across parties. The NC did it when it was in power, padding the Nepal Police with cadre, ensuring the bureaucrats would be loyalists, using the state apparatus to leverage support on the ground. The UML ensured the last local polls went their way when they had control of key ministries.
The Maoists are doing the same thing. What makes it different this time is that they are aided by a strong ideological belief, a coercive apparatus. And they just happen to be smarter than the rest.

Beneath all the complexity, there is a simple truth: if you don't like what the Maoists are doing, mount a political challenge. Don't do what you did during the war? run away and leave a political vacuum. During the insurgency, the valid reason was fear. There may be instances of intimidation now, but the political space has opened up.

NC leaders are not doing this, and they are now afraid that they will be completely marginalized. It is this insecurity that is driving much of the NC rhetoric on Maoist 'totalitarianism'. It is making the NC top rung suck up to India and the army yet again, hoping they would do the job for them by rallying against the Maoists. The army should be careful and not be employed when NC encourages it to go against the civilian chain of command.

At the root of the NC's problem lies its inability or unwillingness to face the election result head on. Yes, there was coercion but to over-estimate that element is intellectual laziness and politically suicidal. The polls were a lot more complex and until the NC sits down, honestly evaluates each seat and why they lost, there will be no revival.

The Baha has compiled three essays by academics who went back on Election Day last April to villages where they had been working for decades. The key lesson is: all politics is local.

David Holmberg visited Nuwakot to witness an election where for the first time parties had given tickets to local Tamangs. But in the constituency he covered, the Maoists had a Bahun candidate and NC had a Tamang face.

Judith Pettigrew was in Kaski and explores how a young local, Thagu, who despised the Maoists for harassing him in 2004 has suddenly become a party member. It was not force, but constant conversations with the Maoists that impressed Thagu and made him defect from the NC.

Mukta Tamang was in Kabhre where he saw how young voters tilted the balance in favour of the Maoists. The defining mood was a fusion of fear and hope.

In each VDC, there are political contradictions. If the NC wants, it can capitalise on it. But for that they have to be quick, proactive and strategic. Ranting in the capital will get them nowhere.

The Bardia OHCHR report depicts a humanitarian catastrophe where Tharu families were victimised relentlessly during the war. It happened under Sher Bahadur Deuba after he deployed the army.

Suppose Deuba went back to Bardia, reached out to affected Tharu families, explained that it was a dirty war and there were mistakes, and shared the pain. All they are looking for is an acknowledgement. The Maoists won all seats in Bardiya, Deuba's gesture would have opened up local space for the NC to at least build links with the community again.

Nepal's liberal democrats are their own worst enemy. They would rather forget how they needed the left even when fighting for democracy in 1990 and 2006, but not rediscover their socialist roots. They would rather live in the capital, in denial about the elections, but do nothing to overhaul the party structure. And they would rather rehabilitate crooks than look for new faces.

NC can recover, but for that, they have to first forget Kathmandu.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)