Nepali Times
State Of The State
Beyond borderline insanity


I against my brother
I and my brother against our cousin
I, my brother and our cousin against the neighbours
All of us against the foreigners - Skinhead Scriptures

After Prithvi Narayan Shah created Nepal by extending the territory of his tiny Gorkha principality, he faced an even greater challenge. Nepal now existed, but how about Nepalis? Forging a national identity for such a diverse land was more difficult than checking the hegemonic forces of the East India Company. So he tried to kill two birds with one stone: he defined Nepali nationality in terms of distrust of people from the south. Seeds of xenophobia were sown by the founding father himself. To this day, we see Nepali nationalism defined usually as anti-Indianism.

The Anglophile Ranas continued this policy even though they socialised mostly with Indians and hired hagiographers, like the rulers had done earlier, to trace their ancestry to the royal houses of Rajasthan. Over a period of time, this love-hate relationship with India got embedded in the psyche of Nepali people. When Ranas were overthrown with the help of Indians in the spring of 1951, New Delhi came to be regarded with a mixture of fear and hope by the elite of Kathmandu.

King Mahendra exploited the fear when he staged a bloodless coup by imprisoning the prime minister, dismissing the entire cabinet and dissolving the first elected parliament of the country in 1960. To create solidarity around the crown, he instilled the fear of Indians in the masses. For King Mahendra, "we" were those who supported his Panchayat, all others were "they"-Indians or their stooges. Nationalism became the rallying cry of a regime that needed India to define itself.

Those were also the days when the Naxalbari uprising was sweeping eastern India. In Calcutta, students protested the Vietnam War. To deflect attention, court ideologues rediscovered the old bogey of "Indian expansionism" and served it on a platter to the Nepali leftists. For the followers of Naxalbad in Nepal, the Jhapali communists, Indian expansionism thus became a louder cry than American imperialism. Indira Gandhi swallowed up Sikkim much later. The fear of Indian expansionism in Nepal predates that event.

This brand of what came to be called "Mandale-Male" nationalism (an unlikely fusion of extreme-right and extreme-left ideologies) was so pronounced on Nepal's college campuses during the seventies that when students' leaders thundered, "We will blow up the Kosi barrage and wash Bihar into Bay of Bengal" we actually took them seriously.

Then reality began to bite. When the Indians imposed an economic blockade for almost two years in 1988-89 it suddenly dawned on us that 'hate-India' was a very fragile foundation of Nepali nationalism. Anti-Indianism lost some of its charm when the neighbour up north refused even moral support during our face-off with India. The resulting economic turmoil hastened the People's Movement.

During the decade of democracy, no event captured the fervour of anti-Indianism of the seventies. Mahakali, Kalapani, Laxmanpur, IC 814 and even the scurrilous publication of "Nepal Gameplan" by the Indian media failed to rally Nepali people against the Indian state. It appeared as if Nepalis had seen the futility of fuming at an enemy outside when most our real enemies were within. All that was proved wrong by the events of last week. Proof is the 'hate-India' sentiment, assiduously cultivated by interest groups for decades. That poor Hindi film actor was just an excuse. In all probability whoever started the rumour knew that the spark had a receptive dry hay waiting to catch fire. And how the capital burnt-and continued to burn even after the statement was proven to be false.

The media was one of the reasons the fires refused to abate. It is easy to dismiss the complicity of the Chitwan media, who first picked up the story, by attributing it to 'small-town sensationalism'. However, the complacency of national broadsheets who followed up on the story without once double-checking it is unforgivable-especially when the infamous interview was available on the Internet. The national media forgot that foolproof rule of journalism: when in doubt, leave out. Everyone was out to out-scoop the competition by playing up the story with inflammatory headlines and sensational captions. So the whodunit, last week's deadly farce, still hasn't been solved. But we know that there has been a serious rupture in ethnic relations within the country caused by a situation that got out of hand because of a serious crisis of governance.

Hypothetically, let us examine what would have happened if events were allowed to run their course. As the violence escalated, the army could have taken over the streets in order to enforce peace. In all probability, this would have happened after the dismissal of the present government on charges of incompetence. An even worse outcome could have been the arrival of Indian troops supposedly upon the "request of His Majesty's Government of Nepal" because of the threat to "Indians and people of Indian origin in Nepal".

Considering such a conspiracy, it doesn't look very surprising that the rumour was spread deliberately, carefully followed through, and its after-effects well co-ordinated. Protests were too well organised to be spontaneous.

The only consolation is that things could have been worse. As a Madhesi who was repeatedly abused and threatened during the winter of discontent last week, let me say this: King Prithvi Narayan Shah did not mean this country to be the exclusive domain of any one racial group, ethnic community, cultural cluster, economic class or dominant castes. He meant Nepal to be a garden of diversity. The moment that diversity is disturbed, we all are doomed. If we can't hang together in adversity, we will all be hanged separately by forces that do not want to leave us alone or live together. The moral of the story: nationalism that is hatred towards others is self-annihilation. We must build an inclusive nationalism.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)