Nepali Times
State Of The State
Deuba’s democratic delusions


Forty-five days later, the process of releasing some of the detainees taken in on February First seems to be finally under way. Sher Bahadur Deuba, the twice dismissed, used a post-release press meet to lash out at the media.

His message - the messengers did me in. And it wasn't the message so much as the method of delivery: he was frothing and fuming and had to be restrained by colleagues.

Clearly, Deuba has begun to show symptoms of cognitive dissonance-a distressing mental state in which people feel they are doing things that don't coincide with what they know, or having opinions that don't match their other opinions. It is an extreme condition of conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency between one's beliefs and one's actions such as opposing authoritarianism but assisting in its entrenchment.

After the spending best years of his life struggling for democracy, Deuba became the tool that dismantled the edifice of democratic governance. He wilfully let the tenure of local units lapse, he dissolved parliament, declared the first emergency, censored the press and mobilised the army to fight the insurgency. We can't be too hard on the man, the agony of discovering that your actions have gone counter to your beliefs is a sad fate. Psychologists say that in extreme cases, cognitive dissonance can make the cringing sufferer do anything to get away from the persistent weight of guilt.

Deuba may be its most visible victim but there is a pandemic of cognitive dissonance in an entire generation of Nepalis. Born in the confusion of the post-Rana 1950s, brought up during the Panchayat's roaring 60s, people in the 50-plus age group suddenly found after 1990 that they had unfettered freedom to make mistakes. Many leaders, bureaucrats, professionals, merchants, and, yes, even the media, became serial offenders. They made errors of judgement but no effort to learn from them. Unsurprisingly, most are now writhing in agony recalling missed chances.

While the psychological bent of the Panchayat generation was no doubt the main factor making Messers Madhab Kumar, Sher Bahadur, Pashupati Shamsher and Badri Prasad do what they did, the post-1990 wave of free market fundamentalism created an intellectual atmosphere conducive to the rise of self-centred individuals.

The zeitgeist of the 1990s was Homo economicus-a figure motivated solely by rational self-interest. The lifespan of such a self-centred species is naturally short. Deuba was asked to establish peace, deliver good governance and begin elections within six months. He not only agreed but managed to get the sceptical UML, cynical RPP and suicidal Sadbhabana all on board.

After February First, none of the players that made all the wrong assessments (the most ingenious being the UML's 'half-corrected regression') have found the courage to apologise to the public. If anything, most leaders of these opportunistic parties have been bending over backwards to justify the unjustifiable.

It's not just Deuba, every public figure who failed to read the political message of his hasty dissolution of parliament in May 2002 need to re-examine their beliefs and attitudes. Cognitive dissonance is more pervasive in Nepali society than many of us realise.

To assuage their guilt, Deuba's ousted cabinet colleagues may be hoping they will be exonerated by events of even greater magnitude in the future. But history doesn't differentiate between the winners and losers-all have to ultimately stand trial in the court of time and own up to their past. Deuba may tell himself he did everything for the betterment of the country but whether victim or victor, his 'call of duty' argument will never absolve him for playing his part in a national tragedy.

Deuba's closest parallel in this affliction is Haiti's Baby Doc Duvalier. At the height of his delusion, Baby Doc put up posters in Port au Prince that read: 'I should like to stand before the tribunal of history as the person who irreversibly founded democracy in Haiti (signed) Jean-Claude Duvalier, president-for-life.'

In each of his three appointments as premier of the country, Deuba has sunk lower in his own eyes. The only thing that will restore his own self-esteem is to now work for the reunification of the Nepali Congress.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)