Nepali Times
State Of The State
Of more than academic interest


In the heat of conflict, the dirty war being waged by the country's men of letters has receded into the background. But the fracas at the Royal Nepal Academy is nearly as detrimental to the development of the democratic spirit as the battles raging in the west. An 'RNA' is involved in both: the Royal Nepal Academy in one and in the other the Royal Nepal Army.

Saying they were put off by politics to select academicians from hundreds of applicants, the left-out literati have petitioned the king for the restoration of the ancien regime at the Royal Nepal Academy. One group was made up of professors and doctors who are behaving as if they hold monopoly rights over intellectualism. The other group consists of litterateurs specialising in penning panegyrics. Yet another has a poet famous for creating an epic in praise of Hillary Clinton.

The stated purpose of these self-declared scholars is that the king take over the chancellorship of the Royal Nepal Academy. With a constructive king at the helm, their exhortations may just work. The belief that the fiercest battles in academia are fought when the stakes are smallest may after all be correct.

There isn't much to gain by becoming an academician these days except the privilege of being called one. The RNA premises are better known for holding shareholders' meetings of private sector banks and its driveway is the venue for various Kathmandu-based artistes before their departure to Arya Ghat for cremation.

In the name of opposing the politicisation of the arts and literature, all that these sycophants want is a return of the certitude of Panchayat politics when everyone knew their place and stayed there. Their notion of artistic purity is that competitive politics is a blemish on the soul. Only the Great Father, the earthy incarnation of the supreme being himself, is fit enough to rule over academe. After all, the prime minister is untouchable because he is tarnished by democracy. With scholars like these, no wonder our national psyche is dominated by the wait for the second coming.

In an op-ed piece in Kantipur this week, writer Ramesh Bikal has admitted that, like many others of his ilk, he had held Brother One in high esteem. Even when the insurgents were drenching the hills and plains with the blood of fellow Nepalis, many public figures from the left and right valourised the Maoists as brave patriots engaged in freeing their beloved fatherland from the scourge of democracy. Bikal has shown the courage to publicly admit his blunder, but several others have quietly become ardent apologists of the post-October Four order. This is not surprising because monarchists and Maoists are wont to worship mirror image saviours.

Monarchists hold that a hereditary king has heaven's mandate to rule, while the Maoists kneel at the feet of the awesome possessor of the Ultimate Truth. Both believe in Aristotle: "It is natural that some beings command and others obey, that each may obtain mutual safety." No wonder, scholars critical of the excesses during the democratic period before the royal takeover went silent all of a sudden. To their understanding, even if a patriarch gives himself a hefty raise or acquires another fleet of limousines, he must have done so for the collective good.

To our misfortune, the lack of intellectual leadership is even starker than the shortage of principled politicians. Where are the social scientists who can separate the wheat from the chaff, demystify events, and clarify issues? There is no shortage of those who readily proclaim that violence is abhorrent, that both sides to the conflict are guilty, but very few show the scornful courage of Khagendra Sangraula to hold a mirror to the Maoists and monarchists alike, not to mention parties practicing nonviolent politics.

Kanchan Pudasaini and Ramesh Bikal are opposite faces of the same coin of moral certitude - the two validate each other. They share the horror of human fallibility inherent in any democratic system. Unfortunately, none of the 'Prof-Doc' signing petitions have it in them to even question, let alone stop, the parallel march of authoritarianism and totalitarianism in the kingdom.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)