The paradox of power
With the emergency, Sher Bahadur Deuba should be the most powerful prime minister weve ever had. So how come he is the most powerless?
FROM ISSUE #74 (28 DEC 2001 - 03 JAN 2002) | TABLE OF CONTENTS
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We seem to have lost the capacity to feel pain. State radio announces the mounting death toll of "terrorists" and the martyrdom of security personnel with tragic regularity. But we can't even hear, let alone shed tears. The deadpan tone of newsreaders seems to close all doors for comprehension.
Society seems anaesthetised. The current operation perhaps justifies such a state to a certain extent. But is there anyone monitoring the health of our society as it struggles for life under the surgeons' scalpels? It is the political authority that administers anaesthesia upon a state when an operation becomes absolutely necessary. That is why all democratic constitutions have provisions for a state of emergency. But such a provision is based on the assumption that civilian authority is powerful enough to exercise control over security organs that are under its command. Unfortunately, there seems to be no such authority.
That's ironic, because no head of government since the days of hereditary prime ministers of Ranas has been invested with as much formal authority as premier Sher Bahadur Deuba. The declaration of a state of emergency combined with the mobilisation of the army all over the country empowers him like no one else before. No prime minister under any democratic set up could ask for anything more. But it is a paradox of Nepali politics that despite all this, no prime minister since Tulsi Giri under King Mahendra has appeared to be as powerless as premier Deuba.
Enigma is perhaps an inalienable part of Sher Bahadur Deuba's political destiny. Despite his personal integrity remaining beyond reproach, his first stint at Baluwatar became notorious for institutionalising corruption by legalising it. The rise of Maoists during that period came to be attributed to the revulsion that such a degeneration of values in public life created. Now, even though Deuba's impeccable democratic credentials still remain largely intact, there are doubts that he may turn out to be a tool in the hands of wily manipulators that detest the hustle and bustle of popular politics. Is it such a fear that has prompted Deuba into sporting multiple rings in his fingers, perhaps on the advice of an astrologer?
The condition of Deuba's party is even more precarious. The president of the ruling Nepali Congress Party is talking about a \'National Government', without realising that what we have is the most national of all governments that we can have under the provisions of the present constitution. Any action aimed at undermining this constitution without first publicly debating the merit of such a step will prove to be detrimental to the development of democratic culture in the country. Elementary is not it? But apparently not so for the coterie that surrounds the president of the ruling party.
The less said about the main opposition party the better. Nepal Communist Party (UML) is still struggling to get a handle on the situation. It doesn't seem to realise that it's not politics as usual any more. There is a "war" on, and nobody is going to serve them a victory on a silver platter without exacting a price for services rendered. Rather than pay a heavy price later, it makes sense to fight your own political war. It's sad, but true: no party other than NCP (UML) has the capacity to politically isolate Maoists, but none of the leaders of this party want to do it.
So that's where we are. Even if the military is to achieve its military objective and succeed in disarming the insurgents, there is a dearth of political force to fill the void. National consensus is just a slogan. We need more political competition on the ground to keep out armed suicidally-minded militants with utopian ambitions.
Nepali intellectuals have repeatedly failed to live up to society's expectations. But even by own the abominable standards, their failure in understanding the Maoist phenomenon has been spectacular. Like Lenin's "useful idiots" of the Russian elite who supported him in the hope that they will continue to have a place in the sun under a new dispensation, a large section of Nepali intelligentsia put its faith in the rise of armed rebellion and unwittingly helped invite an inevitable retaliation of the state. More appropriately, Nepali leftists behaved more or less like their ilk in Germany who went all out in undermining the Weimar Constitution in the mistaken belief that Hitler's \'socialism' was more nationalistic and closer to their utopia than the democrats. Now that the boot is on the other foot, Nepali intellectuals-most of them calling themselves leftists-have suddenly become the most ardent apologists of the state of emergency. We cannot expect them to monitor the state of the state. Honourable exceptions apart, intellectuals in less evolved societies often turn out to be willing collaborators of dictatorial regimes.
The press has its own can of worms. The tycoon press has so much at stake that it can't afford to oppose tyranny. Opposing a democratic government is relatively safe-there are courts, the society, and the world community to take resort to when the going gets tough. But when faced with threats from insurgents, mafia, market or the military, more often than not, the media barons buckle. This was their behaviour when insurgents had a free run. They failed to recognise the sickness in society and prevented the government from administering small doses of bitter medicine-like the Internal Security Act-in the name of a "freedom" that was held prisoner by the rebels. Now that the patient is under anaesthesia and being operated upon, it's unlikely that they will raise their voice for its life.
Where then is the light in the growing darkness all around? There are no clear rays, but the darker it gets, brighter glow the lamps of hope. Prof Krishna Khanal holds that it is the smaller political parties that will keep the flame burning even when bigger political forces seek convenient refuge to hide their dark pasts. There are old warriors even in the ranks of big political parties-people like Shailaja Acharya and Surendra Chaudhary in Nepali Congress or Pradeep Nepal in NCP (UML) and Ashok Rai in NCP (ML)-that will not yield to the temptations of guided politics or dictatorship.
The tycoon press may turn around and do a tap dance as asked, but the small voices of Bimarsha, Deshanter, Budhbar or Mulyankan cannot be drowned out by either the state or the insurgents' propaganda. Then there are students' associations, trade unions and maverick thinkers who shine brighter, the darker it gets. When society starts to look for people like these, it means times are desperate.