Nepali Times
PRASHANT JHA
Plain Speaking
License to loot


PRASHANT JHA


The Rana regime was based on a tiny clan extracting resources from the rest of the country for shameless personal aggrandizement. Shah rulers centralised corruption through the Panchayat period. The 90s saw the new power elite ruining the public exchequer and destroying public sector units while making a quick buck.

The post 2006 period has shown how erstwhile Maoist revolutionaries picked up the game, be it through use of
ministries or their coercive apparatus to win tenders on the ground.

That Ram Chandra Kushwaha has joined this illustrious company should not come as a surprise. It was a combination of the scale of corruption, the fact that he was so blatant about it, sudden donor hyper-activity and
internal TMDP politics that ended his tenure.

But these public revelations come at a time when the town is abuzz with rumours about how the Madhesi ministers are the most corrupt. Rajendra Mahato's politics is based on the premise that national parties have never protected Madhesi interests.

A parliamentary committee decides to ban the export of sand, grit and stone which most experts agree will bring ecological ruin to the Chure and Tarai. He lifts the ban, presumably under pressure or the lure of incentives from key lobbies. Those working in physical works, agriculture, industry, and civil aviation ministries have their own stories to tell about their political bosses, all elected from Madhesi parties.

These leaders are in their present positions today on the Madhesi identity platform which promised change. Their actions need to be held to higher standards. There is no question of condoning or justifying these incidents, but why is it taking place? Politicians misuse political office and power to make money. Some do it purely for personal benefit, others for their larger constituencies or the party. The anti-corruption wallahs demand a high level of personal integrity. Those who wink at it point to the enormous difficulties that a politician has to undergo to get to a position of power, his struggle, his expenses, the lack of state financing, and the inadequate salaries. This applies to all netas, and Madhesi are no exceptions.

In fact, they are under even greater pressure to dispense private patronage to constituents, many of whom have access to state power for the first time through political representatives. At every Madhesi parliamentary party office in Singha Durbar there is a queue of people from the districts demanding a job for their son, help to go abroad,
recommendation for agovernment contract, or cash for their daughter's wedding. This adds to the pressure on ministers, and others, to make money if only to distribute a part of it. Once someone is an MP or minister,
party workers and voters behave like he has won a lottery.

Madhesi ministers are an offshoot of a movement based on popular resentment against the Kathmandu establishment. As one MJF leader points out, it is rage that defines a Madhesi incumbent, not any positive policy content. There is a strong sense of entitlement without the corresponding sense of ownership of the state. The lack of commitment to public resources, or even the deliberate subversion of institutional norms, is merely a reflection
of that.

Many leaders who are implicated had little to do with the Madhes movement and are entrenched in the 90s political culture. They joined the bandwagon much later for purely electoral reasons, be it Kushwaha or Bijay Gachhedar or Sanjay Sah or Mahendra Yadav or Mrigendra Yadav. Others like Karima Begum or Kalavati Paswan are products of the democratisation of Madhesi society. They were active foot-soldiers in the Madhes movement, but they lack any experience of basic statecraft, working with the bureaucracy, or skills and patience required in government.

Leaders will only curb their natural instinct of misusing the state if there are strong institutions which hold them accountable. Nepal has none, and even the existing ones have got weaker in the transition.

There is little accountability to the PM (a pre-requisite in a cabinet system) or to their own party bosses once appointed. And holding public office is seen as a license to loot the state. No surprise then that democracy has democratised corruption?



1. Arthur
So, how many of these Madheshi politicians elected on a platform that promised change will be elected again now that they have openly joined the Kathmandu establishment in looting?

There are other parties now organizing among Madheshis and at least one of them is not led by landlords and really is committed to change.


2. K.K.

So, finally the advocate of democracy ( imported), has been able to see the reality of Nepal. It will be interesting to see how he will present and justify the reality with his imported concept of  text-book democray. 

One thing though, democratising corruption has also the effect of decentralising corruption or distributing resources more widely. Income disparity, should therefore be narrowing, between and among the " great leaders" of the people.


3. buzz

Prashant,

What is Kathmandu establishment? Almost all the ministers are not from Kathmandu ie; they won elction from other constituencies. So do not blame Kathmandu.



4. sameer
There is no need to link or delink the Madhes movement and the crop of these corrupt madhesi leaders. No one is foolish enough to believe that these movements (Madhesi e.g.)  and/or these corrupt leaders are suddeenly going to create an utopian Madhes state.  Be honest, and admit that it was just about power sharing. They got it. Period. The ills of Medhsi society will remain there for a long time just like any other hill society.  So do not need to justify and/or make excuses for them or for "your Madshi culture".  There is nothing wrong doing a soul searhcing by beaing an honest journalist. Let go of this "south first" stuff.  Instead, time has come for these Madhesi leaders to take care of their own internal problems -- bihari criminalization, kidnapping, killings, treatment of women --way backward that most hilly situation, the treatment of dalits, and the jamindarei decoit type cultures.  It is pretty bad down there, admit it, and go after it, Prashant.You will do a lot of service to the people of Madhesis.  Stop defending everything Madhes and Madhesi


5. jange
So, I hope now that Kamred Prashant understands what the madhesi andolan, just like the Maoist murder, loot and extortion was all about. Better late than never, I suppose. Madhesi leaders, including Kamred Prashant (an intellectual leader seeing as how he has been given a prominent bullhorn) have found a convenient scapegoat in Nepal's polity but they cannot blame all its ills on it. Time to look in the mirror, kamred.


6. Devendra Pant
"Many of them have access to state power for the first time", therefore, they are entitled to corruption, nepotism, impunity...etc is morally, politically and intellectually inexcusable. Neither referring to past evils to approve the current ones makes any sense. Nepali people fought for a  new Republican Democracy, hence, new values should be the guiding principles; standards must be set high and be  applied to all equally, be them "Koiralas" or  "Kushswahas". In a people's democracy no one should be above the Law. If  key stakeholders in the new dispensation fail to set the role-model, the nation is surely going to suffer. Evil doing (e.g.corruption) knows no boundaries of race, ethnicity, cast, or region. Can we as a nation stand together and take a high moral ground to defeat corruption and impunity? Character does matter for the destiny of a nation.

7. jange
So Kamred Prashant is saying that the whole point of the madhesi andolan was so that the Madhesi leadership could also have its nose in the trough?!?! You should have told us that before. Did you only just find this out or have you known all along and didn't think it worthwhile to tell us.


8. buzz
Also Prashant, what is your point? Why are you defending a corrupt thief? Should not he be thrown into hell hole? You disgust me.


9. अनुज

कुशवा त एक प्रतिनिधिपात्र मात्र हुन् | कारवाही त तुरुन्त हुनु पर्ने हो तर अहिलेको तरल अवस्थामा यो सम्भव होला जस्तो छैन | सुनिन्छ,  भ्रस्टाचार अयोगमा  मुख्य आयुक्तको  नियुक्ति नै भा छैन ! अनि कसरि होस् त कारवाही  कुशवा जीलाई , हाम्रा शिर्ष  नेताहरु  आफैलाई  पो पासो पर्ने हो कि भन्दै आयोगलाई अनिर्णयको बन्दि बनाएका छन्, अनि उता सुजाता कोइरालाको नौटंकी एबं नीतिगत भ्रस्टाचारको बखान गरेर साध्य नै छैन !!!



10. Arthur
Several comments seem to regard Prashant Jha as defending the corruption of the Madheshi parties in the present government.

I looked through the article carefully again and I still don't see evidence of that. The article is providing the background explanation for that corruption, not defending it but condemning it.

The only problem I see (apart from the obligatory anti-Maoist aside) is the pessimistic conclusion that there are no institutions that can hold them accountable.

I am more optimistic that they will be held accountable at the next election. Perhaps the excesses of people like Kushwaha is not just the result of less experience but reflects their own understanding that they are only going to get one chance and should therefore grab as much as possible while it lasts.


11. Prithvi Raj
 "...that they will be held accountable at the next election".  Who will be held accountable and by whom? The guntoting cadres of the so-called "revolutionaries" or all those splinter groups who are running around causing havoc, thanks to the precedence set by the politically expedient, but deeply flawed "peace" process? The self-serving thug-politicians (including the "revolutionaries" of whom some are ardent advocates here) who rode the tides of good fortunes and reverted to murdering, looting and plundering as usual? Or the scared, unsuspecting, ever-compromising public (including myself) who voted the red devils in lest they run back into the jungles and resort to their destructive ways? Or the parachute election observers, who aren't aware of the ground realities but are too quick to put their stamp of approval on the "free and fair" elections? Elections are not an end in of themselves. 
What we need is for non-state actors to lay down arms, impunity must be stopped and the state needs to ensure this by force, if needed.  Some semblance of law and order must be re-eastablished in order for anything else to work. This will have a snowball effect on a lot of other pending and pressing issues.


12. Anuj
Athough Arthrur has inclination towards "communism" as an ideology (if I am wrong, please correct me), i have to say that  he is one among few commentators, whose comments are more balanced, thoughtful and always encouraging others for healthy debate.

13. Thurpunsich
If DPM Suzy Q can openly flout fair and balanced process in procuring MRP from the best bidder, coddle up to her Hindustani maliks, at the cost of tax-payers' hard earned Rupaiya, and still gets to strut her Banyan-tree-sized "behind" around town, what's so wrong if a puny Kushwaha makes some money while waiting at the "bus stop" that Nepal's mantralayas have become? 

Hmm, do I sound cynical or what?


14. Thurpunsich
Arthur jiu,

What's the meaning of election when mantri mandal is full of people who were trounced in the last election?

You think these "rajnetas" are afraid of election? You think they are scared of  voters like you and me? You think they have an ounce of decency? You think are ashamed of what they do?

Neyhhh...

Me thinks, something more meaningful than election is necessary to throw their lot out.


15. Budabaaje

"Leaders will only curb their natural instinct of misusing the state if there are strong institutions which hold them accountable. Nepal has none, and even the existing ones have got weaker in the transition."

Let me remind the dear readers that during the period 2002-06, the CIAA was getting stronger. It was implicating even top politicians. It served a notice even to Girija bau to appear in court. But of course Girija the great turned it all into a "political matter". It was a "threat to democracy" because it dared to summon him. People like Girija started undermining the anti-graft body. After 2006, who knows if CIAA even exists?



16. Baneshwor
"...Kathmandu establishment..." Hmmmm, arent you part of that Kathmandu Establishment you speak so ardently against PJ? 

Its not a personal attack on you Prashant. But going by what you write I got the impression that your are one of those brave souls who is forever working to better the lot of your Madheshi brethren at the local grass roots level, someone who has his fingernails dirty by working with Madhesi soil so to speak. But then you are often seen in the cocktail parties of the very Kathmandu elite you so abhor, clinking champagne glasses with the "establishment," are you not? Or has Kathmandu become too comfortable and the charm of being an insider too great for you to now go to Madesh work for poor Madeshi people?

 
   


17. Arthur
Anuj, Thanks! (no "correction" ;-)

Prithvi Raj, if you or other voters voted for the Maoists "lest they run back into the jungles and resort to their destructive ways" then of course you will not vote for them again since you apparantly believe they have run back into the jungles... That would "hold them accountable". Or of course you could once again try for the state (ie armed forces) to "ensure this by force". But, as you mentioned "this will have a snowball effect".

I was referring to the Madheshi parties in the present government and the people who voted for them. I believe that there are a lot more Madheshi voters who now believe these parties joined the Kathmandu establishment in looting than there are voters anywhere in Nepal who voted Maoist and now think the Maoists ran back into the jungles and/or resorted to destructive ways.

Some of them will now instead vote for Yadav's MJF and others will vote for Maoists. If you try to cancel such elections because "elections are not an end in themselves" they will instead become part of a very big
snowball that would hold you accountable and "ensure this by force".

Thurpunsich, the meaning of such elections is that they help teach people who their friends and enemies are. For example many Madheshis really did believe the hill people were their enemies and the Madheshi parties led by landlords were their friends. If stronger measures than elections become necessary to hold people accountable it is better to have more friends and less enemies.

PS Yes, in #13 you do sound cynical. A more positive approach than cynicism will be required to throw that lot out. They thrive on cynicism.


18. Thurpunsich
Arthur jiu,

Me thinks, you are swapping "fatalism" for "cynicism".

I have become a cynic, but I'm still not a fatalist. 

I do have a positive attitude. I do not believe in karma. I do not believe in predestination. I do not believe in destiny.

I do believe that it is up to us to get what we want.

Frustration breeds cynicism, not fatalism.

Both are negative emotions, true. But, being a cynic doesn't mean one is hopeless. It only means one is scornful. (Yes, I have tons of scorn for these "rajnetas" and "rajnetris".) But being a fatalist sure does mean that.

I'm ultimately a hopeful person. 

And I hope that one day Suzy Q will go to live in India after having tied nupital knot with Ambassador Sood.

Dhannebad.


19. Prithvi Raj

It's not about cancelling elections, Mr. Arthur.  Rather we should put them off until the environment is propitious enough to hold a meaningful election.  In today's environment, this is not possible: security forces have been neutered, thanks to the flawed CPA, while armed non-state actors are doing their tandavs (dance of Shiva, the God of Destruction).  One cannot imagine holding elections in an environment of insecurity when state institutions are weakening and voting in those with the guns only to legitmize their warped vision for Nepal.  Enough of this "trust-us-we-have-a-plan-to-introduce-a-democracy-noone-has-yet-seen" baloney! And in response to your quote "...they will instead become part of a very big snowball that would hold you accountable and "ensure this by force"," I'd rather err on the side of the security forces and let the snowball effect take its due course.  This will require, among others,  a well-thought out security, rehabilitation and development plan, massive public relations preparedness and getting the international relations side of things right.  The path to democracy is indeed messy and bloody! But unfortunately we have opted for an easy way out so far--a cop-out really! 



20. Arthur
Prithvi Raj, yes cancelling elections would require many things, but you forgot to mention a few.

First no public relations campaign would convince anybody that you were merely putting elections off for a more propitious time.

Second, you would have to start off with a massive bloodbath in the cities. The people would not just fight in remote rural areas but where you live.

Third, "getting the international relations side of things right" would require rather more than India actively siding with the Nepal Army and the rest of the world continuing to aid a country determined to become a failed state.

India would have to actually occupy the Terai and Kathmandu Valley to ensure its arms supplies did not end up with the PLA as before. That would then make it a national war of liberation from India with many more joining the Maoists in resisting the invasion. India would eventually get tired of it as the Americans did in Vietnam, but Nepal would never surrender.

Since your "security forces" cannot even secretly smuggle arms from the Indian border to Kathmandu without getting caught and exposed you may as well as stop day-dreaming about a "well thought out plan" for anything.

Thurpunisch, cynicism is jaded negativity. It is not the same as fatalism, which the corrupt also thrive on, but they thrive on all forms of negativity, including frustration, disillusionment and distrust. Anger and scorn can be mobilized positively. But hurling insults is not fighting and "hoping" somebody corrupt will go and live in India with Ambassador Sood is merely expressing impotent frustration rather than actual concrete hope for achieving serious goals.


21. Prithvi Raj

Nice try at the analysis, Arthur.  Skillful public relations will work; there is no question about it.  Some blood bath will indeed be necessary; after all, this is a war remember? Getting international relations right is necessary and that has happened in the past: we need to get our relations with India and China right.  The distant Western countries couldn't care less about Nepal and they will abdicate their interests to India, as they have done in the past.  And some of the representatives of these countries must be thrown out of Nepal, a failing state.  The snafu with the purported "smuggling" of arms is due to giving too much ground to the "rebels".  They could be reigned in if their mad leaders are neutralized; it's not that tall an order. Indian Army wouldn't have to do all those things you claim; our 90,000-strong NA will suffice.  I think you should stop day dreaming!  Go ahead have your last word!



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