Nepali Times
State Of The State
Changeover convulsions


On a single day this week, at least four groups were blocking Kathmandu thoroughfares. Cabbies were protesting the murder of a colleague in Koteswor. Relatives of the 'disappeared' were on the streets for the third consecutive day. Single women were demonstrating in front of Singha Darbar, but no one in the melee seemed to know what about. Temporary teachers were demanding that they be made permanent without going through the due process of recruitment.

There was no alternative but to grin and bear the hotheads. Anyway, they aren't the only ones crippling the government in its negotiations with the Maoists. Every organised group wants to strangle the besieged state.

The politics of claims and counter-claims that test the capability of all transitional governments is everywhere. Donors insist that the Maoists must disarm before being allowed to join the government. The Maoists want a comprehensive political settlement as the precondition for arms management.

The Maoists' muddled agenda is heightening the atmosphere of ambiguity in the country. Chairman Dahal is itching to initiate another round of urban uprising. A rumour spread that the elite Special Task Force of Maoists had sneaked into the Valley, but Nanda Kishor Pun, the rebels' military mind, immediately went on Nepal FM to refute these allegations. But by then, government forces had already begun patrolling the streets of Kathmandu. Everyone is on a short fuse, a single mistake now could set off a chain reaction of hasty deeds and unintended consequences.

So far since the April Uprising, the government and the rebels have conducted themselves with exemplary composure. That has saved us from the horrors generally associated with major political changeovers. But a past record is no guarantee of future performance. Leaders of the seven-party alliance, civic activists, and Maoist apparatchiks need to remember that they are still standing trial in the court of history.

But should they succeed, they could set an example for the rest of the world: if adversaries are tolerant, political transformations need not be traumatic, as history shows they often have been.

Republicans believe the French Revolution changed the world forever. But it was a chaotic affair that began with the fall of the ancien regime in 1789 giving way to radicals, Lady Guillotine, the authoritarian Jacobins, and the rise of Napoleon.

Russia's 1917 February Insurrection was even crueller in its progress to the October Revolution and the rise of totalitarianism. The American War of Independence (1775-1783) also pushed back desegregation by decades.

Indian independence began in 1947 with the creation of Pakistan, and the process continued till the formation of Bangladesh in 1971. In the intervening decades, millions were slaughtered and more made homeless in the name of religion, country, and community. Pakistan is still a pseudo-republic at best, as the recent murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti shows. Bangladesh is a quasi-democracy where the party in power relishes the privilege of abusing the constitution.

Despite their rhetoric, there are reasons to believe that Maoist commissars and SPA leaders know the limits of their brinkmanship. Now they need to show some magnanimity and unity of purpose. Individually, the SPA and the Maoists are grist for the mills of malcontents. Together they can withstand the unreasonable demands of domestic interest groups, as well as negotiate better deals from global do-gooders. Avoiding changeover convulsions will be a welcome bonus.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)