Nepali Times
State Of The State
A flailing stage


In politics, 'normal' depends on who is talking. The country is in the grip of an unprecedented crisis, but the World Bank thinks that since governance is in the hands of technocrats, the situation is normal. A restoration of democracy seems to be as important a risk for the Bank as the fear of Nepal turning into a Failed State.

At the launch of World Bank's Country Assistance Strategy last Friday, Prakash Sharan Mahat, an adviser in Sher Bahadur Deuba's discredited regime, raised objections from the floor to the Bank's belief in normalcy. This gave Ken Ohashi another opportunity to repeat some well-worn clich?s about causation and correlation.

Safeguarding democracy isn't one of the missions of the bank. Like any other commercial enterprise, predictability is the key criteria in making investment decisions. Democracy is unpredictable by definition. Hence, like all advocates of 'liberal' economy, the bank also invariably prefers illiberal politics.

However liberal Ken Ohashi may be in private, he would be failing in his duty if he ignored the natural proclivity of politicians towards populism. He could have silenced critics at the Crowne Plaza by simply asking them to read his bank's lending policies. The borrower has to bear the economic, political, social, cultural and environmental consequences of borrowing.

Judging from his frequent contributions in the media (including this newspaper) Ohashi seems to suffer from a mild case of Napoleon Complex. Instead of reminding readers that he isn't in the charity business, Ken delivers harsh homilies on the importance of good governance, ignoring the basic premise of state accountability: no taxation without representation.

He says the country he comes from "virtually invented the concept of high growth" (Japan's annual GDP growth exceeded 10% on a sustained basis in the 1960s) and wants us to emulate it. How can one question such a noble motive? But Japan's economic miracle happened under a constitution that gave no power to its celestial emperor. Japanese do what they do because they have a stake in it.

For Nepalis, the problem is that while our donors and lenders are so concerned about the 'ownership' of public infrastructure and institutions, the question of ownership of the state itself is not questioned. The World Bank has praised the handing over of schools and hospitals to communities, how about handing over the country to its people?

King Gyanendra passed on his seven-point agenda for national consensus to the leaders of different political parties he met last week. Sadly, it ignores the severe crisis of legitimacy slowly engulfing the regime and seems to be another ploy by palace strategists to keep the parties mired in wrangling. The point isn't the seven points-a national consensus over their importance is a foregone conclusion. It is who has the power to set that agenda.

Legitimacy is the process by which an institution attempts to justify its existence and power. King Gyanendra hasn't done anything so far to validate his Fourth October move. The crisis arises when strains within the polity reach such a stage that the state superstructure is in imminent danger of collapse. The triangular contest between the royal government, the Maoists and the parties seems to be headed in that direction. We are in the 'flailing stage' in which a state passes through before 'falling' and them becoming a 'failed state'.

Donors and lenders like Ken-san must note that the main obstacle now is regime legitimacy. Good governance, important as it is, has become secondary. The priorities of the state have changed: politics now has to return to centre-stage before anything else can happen.

Perhaps we are too close to current events to understand the significance of slogans that the protesting students are chanting, but they are suffused with unimagined possibilities. Never before has anyone ridiculed the royalty the way the youngsters are doing. The writing on the wall is too glaring to ignore.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)