Nepali Times Asian Paints
Guest Column
Reform vs revolution


Military action alone cannot win the hearts and minds of the people, and the government must realise that the causes of the Maoist insurgency must be addressed at its very roots. The insurgency spread because the state failed to deliver service and justice, because it could not free the people from the shackles of poverty and backwardness. The state was unable do so because there was deep-seated distortion and decay in its functioning. Unless we reform these problems and set out to provide development that focuses on the poor in the affected areas, we will not be addressing the problem.

The emergency and the terrorism ordinance have given great powers to the government. There is a danger of the abuse of such sweeping authority because the Nepali Congress has a history of abuse. The opposition must therefore remain vigilant, it must monitor and check the use of emergency powers to prevent their misuse. The Nepali Congress on the other hand needs to rise to this extraordinary occasion and set an example of restraint, fairness and freedom.

Restoring law and order will merely treat the symptoms, not the cause of the disease. The emergency is an opportunity for political reform. This is a war not just against insurgents, but against corruption. Political instability has cost the country dearly. Vast sums need to be spent to win the numbers game in parliament. The players in this game have become dependent on the only source of such large sums whenever needed: the smuggling mafia which has penetrated the political system. The criminalisation of electoral politics was a natural manifestation of this decay. Politicisation and partisan interference have weakened most state institutions: the bureaucracy, the police, the intelligence services, public education, state corporations. Indeed, this is the reason why civil security organs of state failed in their attempts to tackle the insurgency.

It is now up to the opposition to be a watchdog to ensure that the decay hasn't eaten into the core of our value-system. If we are not careful, the emergency could actually engrain the malaise. The constitution provided that a two-third majority must endorse the emergency three months after its declaration. This clause is designed to arrest any misuse of the emergency provision by a majority party or its government.

A nation cannot remain just a geographical configuration. It is a collective expression of all ethnic groups, their cultures, religion and languages. A state must strike an ethnic balance and must not be the instrument of marginalising a caste or class. The Maoists, for instance, have opened 21 different ethnic fronts to capitalise on these sentiments. Twelve years of democracy have done precious little to resolve the grievances of the ethnic groups of the hills and the tarai. They are not just vote banks, and need nothing less than affirmative action or even "reservation" to address their just representation in politics, the services and all areas of public education. In addition, as cited in a RPP strategy paper, the government needs to use the opportunity of the emergency to push through new initiatives in development and the political process.

As law and order is restored and the ambit of the state expands in the areas where the insurgency had forced it to retreat into isolated pockets, there must be impartial development, income-generating activities, job-creating programmes. This is essential to win over the masses in the insurgency affected areas. And as the hold of insurgency is rolled back these security actions will create a political vaccum. All parties must move together in consensus to reoccupy the vaccum and restore the democratic process.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has made statements ruling out any possibility of reopening dialogue. This is an example of the government's blinkered policy: when it was in the negotiating mood it pursued negotiations with single-minded vehemence, and closed its eyes to any other possibilities. Now that negotiations have broken down, it has done an about turn by pursuing a policy of "combat and confrontation" with the same single-mindedness.

The tragedy with this government is its readiness to swing from one extreme to the other without considering options. Politics is a game which thrives on alternatives, therefore it would be foolish to set aside the option of negotiation at any stage. The Maoists indulge in terrorist acts, but there is no gainsaying that the aims of their insurgency is political in character. The natural landing place of a politically motivated insurgency is a negotiated settlement.

Mobilising the army against insurgency is an extremely expensive affair and this has prompted the Minister of Finance to announce diversion of funds from development to security. Yet security without development without reform, without a restoration of the political process will be pointless.

How do we find the money for this, and find it now ? There has been some attempt at engaging the donors and the response seems positive. However Nepal's extremely poor record in delivering the aid to the targetted poor and the tendency for leakage will be an impediment. The government will have to provide iron-clad guarantees that the aid will reach the poor in the affected areas. The negotiating process and the natural time lag will also mean that aid will take considerable time to materialise. Alternatives need to be examined.

One such alternative is debt-relief. The only reason that Nepal does not receive debt relief is that our foreign exchange reserves have made us capable of servicing debt and repaying installments in time. Nepal must put her case for debt relief in the new context of the worldwide war on terrorism. Indeed, our capacity to repay debt is very much in doubt in the new context. The time has also come to tap the patriotism of the financial system and of national capital-by issuing long-term "national emergency bonds". This could be an immediate means of raising funds for the development and reform programmes. If all the government is going to do is to sit back and hope that the donors will fill the gap in financing, then it is sadly mistaken. It has to show it is at least trying to mobilise internal resources.

Pashupati Shumsher JB Rana is the General-Secretary of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)