Nepali Times
Here And There
Last stand


To non-Maoists, perhaps the most famous words ever spoken by Chairman Mao Zedong were in 1949, after his forces had chased the Kuomintang of Marshall Chiang Kai Shek from Beijing and almost all of mainland China. "The Chinese people," he said, "have stood up." It was the most stirring line ever by a successful revolutionary leader, simple, powerful and truthful. The Chinese people, for hundreds of years bent under the yoke of both domestic and foreign oppression, had stood up. No one could deny them their moment of triumph-those tens of millions who had followed Mao through a generation of war and the Long March. Countless others died opposing Mao, and during various Great Leaps Forward and Cultural Revolutions but those are other stories.

I have a simple suggestion for Nepal's current non-Maoist leaders. Take a lesson from Chairman Mao and the Chinese people and stand up. Stop lounging in comfortable chairs, being chauffeured to endless all-party meetings, endlessly splitting hairs about political semantics or plans of (in)action. Stand up and lead the people you claim to represent. At the very least, stop being photographed while flopping in those chairs at meetings. Call the photographers in when you're on your hind legs and talking animatedly to each other about the problems of the country. And for goodness sake, stop taking huge long holidays for Dasain, Tihar, or whatever. The country is burning. There's no time for its leaders to sleep late, drink too much and enjoy the festival.

It begins with image. As Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and George W Bush know very well, modern political leadership is all about conveying a coherent, attractive message so that the people themselves take an active role in their own development. The message sent by endless front-page photos, as in this newspaper last week, of politicians addressing a crisis by sitting down is doom-filled and dreadful. What about a photo of a politician leading a drive to raise money for victims of violence, visiting frontline areas where people are suffering. When did any of them last go to a distant Village Development Committee office, either one that was blown up by the Maoists or displaced by the political folly of the late Deuba government? To his credit, the UML leader, Madhav Kumar Nepal, has made a few speeches outside the capital. But not nearly enough, comrade, not nearly enough.

The prime minister told me in an interview two weeks ago that the country's problems can be solved if the political leaders and the government "sit down together". With respect sir, it's only when you stand up together that you can appreciate and begin to alleviate the suffering of the vast majority of population. Action is required, and almost any action will do. British Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien-on his recent visit here-spoke of the need for "quick fix development". It raised more than a few hackles in the aid community but the minister is an able politician. He realised instinctively that it was essential to get out of Kathmandu and into the neediest and potentially most dangerous areas; not just with guns, night vision goggles and helicopters, but also armed with spades, sacks of rice and job creation programs. The sheer novelty of a major political party leader wielding a shovel will probably have a discernible impact on the situation.

This is a Hindu kingdom, so I suggest a foray into Bhagvad Gita as well as the speeches of Chairman Mao. The ancient texts of Hinduism advised that the path of action should always be chosen over inaction. When there's a choice between doing something, or just waiting for things to happen, just do it. Long before Nike, the wise ones who wrote the Gitas understand that importance of standing up. How Hinduism has since got a reputation for inaction is a debate for historians or theologians. I'm more concerned with applying the eternal wisdom of the past to the agony of the present.

If the Nepali people are fed up with politicians, even with democracy, it's because they see little of the benefits getting beyond Kathmandu. It's the behaviour of political leaders that's causing the problem, not politics on its own. It's the implementation of democracy, or the lack of it, that's spreading cynicism and encouraging Maoism, not democracy itself. Time to learn from Chairman Mao, who also said that if the people aren't on your side, nothing matters. So let's go, let's.....stand up.

All together now, flex those knees, arms on armrests, 1,2,3...push upwards . be careful, don't get dizzy. I know it's an unfamiliar position. There, that wasn't so hard was it?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)