Nepali Times Asian Paints
State Of The State
Re-imagining the state


Nepal functioned with a caretaker premier for a month and no one outside active politics actually noticed. Sher Bahadur Deuba is taking his own sweet time putting together a team. It's business as usual at Singha Darbar, Bhadrakali and Naya Sadak: the capital's administrative, military and commercial hubs. King Gyanendra succeeded in making policies appear superfluous by harping on cleanliness and competence. Kathmandu's apolitical bourgeoisie is ok with that.

From his business background, King Gyanendra brought a corporate outlook to running the country: clear goals, clean methods, competent managers, and customer satisfaction are its main focus. His model of multiparty democracy is one dedicated to the greater interest of the nation with hereditary top-down guidance, akin to running a private limited company.

King Prithbi Narayan Shah imagined Nepal as a Gorkha Empire and succeeded in creating it through conquest. Bhimsen Thapa re-conceptualised the kingdom as a turf of competing feudal interests of Gorkhali nobles and ruled the country as a powerful Mukhtiyar by playing clans off against each other. The tiger he was riding devoured him in the end.

Learning from that, Jang Bahadur began by eliminating all possible competition at the Kot and re-configured Nepal as a vassal state of the British Empire. It served the interests of his clan, though not his own children, for over a century.

The Ranas became a liability after Indian independence and King Tribhuban was prevailed upon by his advisers to present himself as a ruler of a client state in the court of the new emperors in New Delhi, resulting in the 'Dilli Samjhauta'. It worked and Shahs replaced the Ranas.

King Mahendra recognised the zeitgeist of the Cold War and began to build an administrative state capable of withstanding the communist contagion. Panchayat replicated the Mao model of state, replacing Marxism with a peculiar mix of nationalism and Hinduism as the opium of the masses. His son, Birendra, wanted to build a market state. He handpicked whiz kids from the best Western universities to give the people economic rights, while curtailing political rights. The greatest achievements of the Panchayat years was the physical infrastructure that transformed Nepal into a unified market with a single currency, a road network, banks and police posts.

BP Koirala had imagined a social democratic Nepal. It didn't happen in his lifetime, but did succeed in laying the foundation of a new Nepal, different from the imagination of its rulers. If the Kathmandu nobility hates Koiralas so much, they have every reason to do so. BP challenged their cosy world of royal servitude.

Madan Bhandari fine-tuned BP's social democracy and came up with his visions of people's pluralism. Compared to the confusion of BP's Fabian ideals, Bhandari's certitude was alluring.

The Maoist imagination of the state is the mirror image of King Mahendra's administrative structure. Baburam Bhattarai, the Bahun urban planner turned revolutionary, replaced geographer Harka Gurung's economic units with ethnic divisions in the Maobadi version of Mahendrabadi unitary state.

"Imagination," said Einstein, "is more important than knowledge." By repeatedly emphasising attributes like competency and cleanliness, King Gyanendra downplayed the potential of imagination, that embryo of all knowledge. Politics is as muddy as the rice paddies and stinks like manure decomposing in pits, but it is the monsoon that regenerates life.

Nepal needs to be re-envisioned as a political entity. Parties out in the streets need to get from agitation to movement mode and begin building a body of knowledge of an inclusive state. It has to begin at the level of imagination. Deuba's recent appointment as the royal General Manager should be the start of that process, not the conclusion.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)