Nepali Times
State Of The State
My patriotism is purer than yours


People in power everywhere like to play on patriotism. In this game, allegiance to the symbol of power is flaunted by players and spectators alike. In Nepal, if you do not wave the flag in a particular way you are a traitor.

There are those here who believe that Nationalism is an end in itself. No matter that we don\'t have much to show for ourselves as a nation, and immigration officers around the world treat us with naked contempt. Doesn\'t matter, we tell ourselves, we\'re proud to be Nepalis. Anyone who asks: "Excuse me, but what is there to be proud of?" is immediately declared a \'non-nationalist\' (during the Panchayat days, the chosen adjective was \'anti-national\') by the self-appointed guardians of nationalism.

Someone once said: "Patriotism is love of one\'s country, nationalism is hatred of all others." What exactly constitutes Nepali nationalism? Nepal is a sovereign country, but it\'s yet to become an integrated nation, as B.P. Koirala once admitted. The process of creation of a real composite national identity really started only in 1990, when the new Constitution of The Kingdom of Nepal was promulgated, and sovereignty was for the first time vested in the Nepali people. Prior to that, what we had in the name of nationalism was servitude to hereditary rulers.

Nepal\'s present territorial contour resulted from the clash of two ambitious powers in the eighteenth and nineteenth century when the gunpowder of British India prevailed over the khukri of the House of Gorkha. Nepal promptly became a pawn in the Great Game. National unification was a rosy simplification of history airbrushed by latter-day court-historians.

Gorkha rulers fought fierce and often bloody battles to annex territories. Prithvi Narayan Shah shifted his base from an impoverished Gorkha to a safer and more prosperous Kathmandu. Like any other invader, he expropriated the resources of conquered fiefdoms and distributed them among his nobles, some of whose descendants helped create the myth of unification.

From the time of King Prithvi Narayan Shah till the overthrow of Ranas in 1951, Nepali nationalism had only one dimension-blind loyalty to the Crown, whether worn by the Shah kings, or the Rana prime ministers. You owed your life and livelihood to the Maharaja (dhiraj), and you were duty bound to be loyal to him, his kith and kin, and the superior officers appointed by him.

King Mahendra discovered the usefulness of devotion once again when he assumed absolute powers through his royal coup in the winter of I960. The chant once more put ruler above country. There are some in Nepal today for whom this sequence still holds true. In an apparent extension of Mao\'s dictum that religion is the opiate of the masses, King Mahendra turned Nepali nationalism into an even stronger sedative: it kept democratic aspirations of the people asleep for three decades.

The problem arises because the very idea of nationalism is vacuous. Any ruler who has used its hollow slogans will tell you that. Historically, nationalism has always been the favourite riding horse of tyrants and tin-pot dictators through the ages. "Nazi", after all, comes from the German word "Nationalsozialismuz".

Even democratic countries like India and Sri Lanka often whip up nationalistic fervour to silence subordinate minorities.

In his oft-quoted book From Empire, to Nation, Rupert Emerson argues that inhabitants of a country must "feel that they belong together in the double sense that they share deeply significant elements of a common heritage and that they have a common destiny for future". When such a sense of belonging does not exist, as in the case of Nepal, a common destiny needs to be fashioned as an ideal, and it should not be one based on an imagined past. The creation of such an identity is an accommodative process, it cannot be based on exclusivity for "us", and prejudice against "them".

Politics of identity is a dangerous game that can lead straight into the pit of civic strife. Instead of fabricating a past out of falsehood, it makes more sense to concentrate on the shared vision of a common future. Rather that flaunt one\'s ethnic purity a la George Speight, it\'s much safer to swear by a shared symbol of national unity such as our present Constitution.

Prithvi Narayan Shah made Nepal in the way he knew-by his sword. We must create a modern Nepal by methods more suited to our times: by fashioning a mosaic made of all ethnic aspirations. It is not a game to be played by desperately frustrated elements.

Let the likes of Janardan Acharya and Daman Nath Dhungana take a walk with their imagined fears of "Fijiisation" of Nepal. Not only do they forget that quite a few of the "Indians" attacked by Speight\'s mobis were Fijian Nepalis, but they make the dangerous mistake of exaggerating an outside demographic threat to be seen as nationalists.As the popular Nepali proverb goes: the ghosts of the mind are scarier than those in the darkness. Fears need to be overcome, not feared.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)