Nepali Times
Guest Column
One year itch


A peace compromised or a compromised peace?


There must be something in our national psyche that makes the Nepali mood swing so swiftly between irrational exuberance and incorrigible pessimism. Those who joined the April Uprising to overthrow the royal regime and those who subsequently assumed the reigns of power exuded irrepressible confidence and spoke of righting all the wrongs and writing up a brave New Nepal.

Ordinary citizens, who'd suffered through such promises in the past, were wary, and those who had lost out in the royal debacle were forlorn. Nearly a year later, the national mood is back to self-doubt and despondency.

Much has happened politically in the past year that has generated immense enthusiasm for the future. The whole state machinery, the political parties, civil society, and regional and ethnic forums had begun to focus their energies on the task of holding the elections to the constituent assembly. For a moment it seemed as if we could all live together happily ever after.

Alas, except for just the small matter of the South that had been forgotten during the celebrations. The sudden violence that engulfed the eastern Tarai left April's triumphant paradigm in tatters. There was the sight of mighty leaders and their auxiliary intelligentsia first dismissing the Madhesi uprising as the handiwork of a few miscreants, then threatening the use of force to put out fires supposedly ignited by fundamentalists and reactionaries, and finally making a 180-degree turn to embrace the same revolt as their own - all within a week.

While it is understandable that the eight-party ruling coalition should differ on ideology and policy, it displayed consensus on the nature of the malaise that has been afflicting the Nepali nation. Over the years, especially during the past year, the '238-year old monarchy' has been identified as the single most unremitting evil that has plagued the country politically, economically, and culturally. According to this explanatory matrix, subscribed to by the political parties and civil society formations, and endorsed by the Indian establishment and the west, this country can not hope for salvation as long as the author of the unitary state and the 'feudal' Hindu culture, the House of Gorkha, is done away with.

If this is the considered and principled conclusion of the victors of the April Uprising, what is delaying the declaration of a Nepali republic? What the king offered on 24 April 2006 after 19 days of urban uprising was an unconditional surrender: the crown has already put its head on the chopping block. It is now up to the victors to carry their conviction to its logical conclusion, roll up their sleeves, and get on with the real task of creating jobs, health care, and education for the masses.

Enough pulpit pyrotechnics: people need bread, not just circuses. As the Speaker has reminded the politicians on several occasions, the parliament that has been resurrected on the strength of the revolt has unlimited powers, including the one to terminate the monarchy permanently. If this is the political reality, the constituent assembly might turn out to be another dogmatic fetish that serves no practical purpose. What can the constituent assembly possibly accomplish that the existing legislature can't? Since the communist and liberal parties that have passionately espoused the anti-monarchy line have complete control over the 330-member interim parliament, a proposal for a federal republic or any other restructuring that is deemed fit could sail through with an absolute majority.

This ambivalence is encoded, perhaps unwittingly, in the 2006 treaty that was signed between the seven party government and the Maoists. The historic deal was not christened shanti sahamati (peace agreement) or shanti sandhi (peace treaty) but shanti samjhauta (peace compromise, or compromised peace). Does the choice of words convey that the deal was a negative convenience for both parties rather than a positive consensus? The interpretive slippage between compromise and agreement perhaps reveals something about the quality of the new peace.

Nepali Times is reprinting this Guest Column as a tribute to Saubhagya Shah, who was assistant professor and coordinator of the Conflict, Peace and Development Studies program at Tribhuvan University.

1. Bhuvan KC
Even the article is an old exerpts from Dr Shah writing as a guest column. It remind us the complex political ambitiousness and the mixed dogma of political parties, our dwendled nationality and our complex, often difficult to express and hopelessly optismitic and emtional nation state and our society. via this forum i ld once again like to pay tribute to my friend and Guru Dr Swabhagya Shah for his passionate work, teching and his contribtuion to social-anthroplogical research. Dr shah i will always miss you. My prayers and thoughts are with him and those he left behind.

2. May
Thanks for reprinting Saubhagya's column posthumously. We really miss him and his dispassionate, objective analyses. He was a brave man and an academic with integrity, a far cry from most others today who hide behind their cause-oriented, politically over-correct viewpoints.

3. jange
"samjhauta", also means a deal, an understanding and not necessarily a compromise, but of course a compromise may be needed to make a deal or reach an understanding. The article reflects more on the compromised intellectual honesty of the author. The current problems stem from the fact that our political leaders implicitly accepted that the Maoist murder, loot and extortion was an acceptable act of the Maoists to achieve their political ends. Most Nepalis do not accept this. Hence the problem and the author's disillusion about the so called peace precess. Having accepted that violence is an acceptable part of the political process they have compromised themselves and are now unable to take the necessary actions to bring the country back to normality. The political parties need to be unequivocal. Is the Maoist violence acceptable even praiseworthy for the apparent political gains that Nepalis have made? Are the Maoists criminals and should be punished? Are the Maoists criminals but the government has forgiven them? Are the Maoists criminals but the government is unable/unwilling to punish them? Answer these questions honestly and the issue is easily resolved.

4. ale magar
Cartoon speaks.

5. Satya Nepali
Saubhagya Shah was a rising star of Nepal's intellectual society. Nepal has suffered irreparable loss by his premature death. Nepali society should take his nascent work seriously. This article displays his foresight. Much before the constituent assembly ever came into being he was already questioning its use. As we can see now, the CA has achieved little in almost 2 years of its existence. It's becoming clear that the CA election and its formation was just a drama to fool the Nepali public into thinking that we were in charge. The CA does not deliberate on or make any of the important decisions in our country (guess who does?). So seriously, what was the use of spending all those resources in electing it and maintaining it? Especially a jumbo 600-member one at the rate of Rs. 50,000 per MP per month? The CA is just a rubber-stamp. The true power lies elsewhere. To make itself useful and legitimate, the CA needs to re-claim the power, discipline all our wandering politicians, become the center of decision-making in our country and truly represent the wishes of the Nepali ppl. Otherwise it's the biggest facade in Nepali history! ...and Saubhgya Shah, it seems, was prescient of this.

6. Tom O'Neill
I am saddened to hear of Saubhaga's passing. I will always remember his insightful analyses of Nepali culture and politics, and will miss hearing his voice. My condolensces to his family and friends.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)