Nepali Times
Here And There
Myths and martyrs


Personally, I blame Gandhi. He's the one who started the South Asian cult of the freedom struggle, the hartal, the banda, the andolan, the righteous use of the street. After all, it was the Mahatma's vision of nonviolent civil disobedience that drove the British out of India-with a little help from the Second World War and the way it ravaged the Imperial bank account.

India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and even Nepal got their freedom from Gandhi's glorious revelation that the people could triumph without weapons against the military might of a state. Might wasn't right. But what remains of Gandhi's noble vision in today's Nepal? A culture where struggle is venerated more than outcome. Where the noble means of Gandhi can be used time and again to achieve democracy and, yes, freedom, but where few seem to realise that the real struggle comes when the andolan succeeds.

Thus we see the new government in Kathmandu embarking on mythmaking exercises, establishing more martyrs, nominating more villains to the pantheon of blame for past failures. In the 1950s, it was the Ranas. For awhile in the 1990s, it was the Mandales. Now it's the Chhetris, various people named Thapa and the Shahs, including that villain sent straight from central casting, Crown Prince Paras.

We have a 'high-level probe commission' to find out who told what cop to fire what bullet at which particular demonstration at a certain time and so on. It's all just part of the permanent andolan mindset that grips most members of the restored parliament. In fact, Prime Minister Koirala, once admitted to me in our first interview for the BBC in 1998, that he and his ilk were better at freedom fighting than nation building.

At the time, political instability and the Maoist uprising seemed real challenges to Nepali democracy but no one knew just how horrible things were going to get. Now, with the Shahs and their bungling cohort sidelined, the victorious political parties are following and all too familiar script. Let's vilify the past. Let's glorify the struggle. Let's do little or squabble over how to build a coherent, stable future for Nepal.

Yes to truth and reconciliation and yes to justice for victims of war, abuse and violence. A free society may decide that a few of the worst violators need to be punished as an example to those still lurking in dark rooms plotting another war, another takeover. Perhaps there could be UN war crimes proceedings against those who planned the outrage at Doramba in 2003 when the army killed 19 people as the government and rebels were meeting for peace talks. The Maoists too might just have stern justice to face.

But frankly, in the end, the blame game is for losers. Nepal's interim government should be proceeding with energy and dispatch towards setting up the institutions that will move the country on. That means a Constituent Assembly, a body of transitional law that fixes sovereignty with parliament, the people, the courts, and not with some uniformed autocrat of royal descent, that means making the army obey civilian orders and getting the Maoists to live up to promises made last year to submit to international scrutiny and decommissioning of weapons. That means rescuing the ravaged economy with fast track development spending and emergency loans to pay for it all. It means governing, taking freedom seriously as a legacy that must be left to future generations.

Can we set Gandhi aside for the moment? Lose the obsession with democracy's myths and martyrs? With time-tarnished monarchies or Maoist peoples' paradises that never were or never will be. The Nepali people want a modern, stable, prosperous welfare state with health and education for all, with jobs, schools and the rule of law and justice throughout the land. For the sake of the future Messrs Koirala, Oli, Mahat, Sitaula, Shreshta, have to get going now. The real andolan has just begun.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)