Nepali Times
The foreign finger


Nepal in Transition
From People's War to Fragile Peace
Edited by: Sebastian von Einsiedel, David M Malone, Suman Pradhan
ISBN: 9781107005679 Cambridge University Press, 2012
412 pages
Price: Rs 792
Not having been a European colony, Nepal has always been a fascinating subject for Orientalism. Books explaining what is 'really' happening in Nepal find a great market. In 1980, a book written by a group of East Anglia neo-Marxists called Nepal in Crisis: Growth and Stagnation at the Periphery (Piers M Blaikie, John Cameron, David Seddon) created political waves. Thirty years later, one of its authors admitted in an interview with this newspaper recently that their dire predictions were 'unduly pessimistic'.

This year's centre-stage has been taken by Nepal in Transition and one of its main Indian contributors has not even had to wait 30 months for his mea culpa in the blogosphere. While Nepal in Crisis had a theoretical Marxist class basis underlying its analysis, this one seems to be based on deconstructive, post-modern anthropology that rants against undefined 'elites' maintaining an exclusionary state even when governments these half dozen years since sidelining the monarchy in Nepal have been led by communists.

Its 14 chapters have been written by nine Nepalis, two Indians, and eight Westerners. Of the latter, five are or were associated with the UN or its peace mission in Nepal, UNMIN. The furore the book left in its unwitting wake seems to have destroyed the political legitimacy and legacy of Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his prime minister Baburam Bhattarai.

In terms of impact, the chapters can be divided into two types: the chapter by JNU academic SD Muni (Bhattarai's mentor) and the chapters by all the other authors. Because of who he is and what he reveals in the book, it is Muni versus the rest. Indeed, Muni's revelations completely undercut the foundations on which all the other chapters premise their analysis.

The Nepali writers are all well-known public figures who have served in important government positions or have been prominent opinion writers with in-depth knowledge of the shenanigans of the last decade and a half in Nepali politics. Unfortunately most of these chapters seem to have been written in 2009 and 2010, and the subsequent unravelling of the political architecture that culminated in the collapse of the CA after May 2012 means that optimism for a New Nepal that underlies their writing too has unravelled.

The chapters by Western authors, given the viceregal status many of them enjoyed in Nepal as dispensers of donor largesse especially for the bounteously endowed 'peace industry', reveal interesting insights. Teresa Whitfield describes in a moment of candour that all external actors were entrepreneurs of the blooming peace industry, ostensibly promoting themselves and their wares rather than the peace process itself. Most argue that what stymied all their efforts were India's 'neuralgia towards international involvement' as well as the dishonesty of Nepali politicians and the ubiquitous but undefined 'elites'.

Human rights activists Frederick Rawski and Mandira Sharma describe the laughable oversell of UN commissioner Navaneethem Pillay comparing Nepal's situation with Rwanda. Most interesting is Ian Martin, head of UNMIN which arrived with much hype and retreated with a whimper after turning a blind eye to Maoist duplicity and making a bad situation worse. His side of the story is that if only he had been given a bigger mandate by the Security Council he could have done his job, but he could not given India's resistance, a partisan peace ministry, a flawed Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and weak Nepali governments unable to implement agreements. In normal English, this could be called 'blaming the victim'.

While the writings of all UN types are full of excuses why they could not do their job, they are also rife with factual errors, very selective use of facts, and the filtering out of inconvenient truths as well as the unquestioned acceptance of media propaganda of the day. The first sentence in chapters by both Whitfield and Martin begin by saying that the Nepali peace process was a wholly Nepali-led affair, but then the rest of the chapter explains in shameful detail the amazing foreign involvement and their role in it.

Catinca Slavu and Martin both make the incredible claim that the attempt by the king's regime in February 2006 to hold municipal elections three years after party-led governments failed to do so as being 'organised against democracy'. They fail to mention how the 'democratic parties' had given a hit list to the Maoists to assassinate candidates who stood for elections, a claim made by top Maoist leaders subsequently on national media which to this date has not been refuted by the parties.

What really undercuts the premise of the other writers is the chapter by Muni which proves what many had long suspected in Kathmandu: India's deep involvement and 'double standards' declaring the Maoists to be terrorists, but providing their leaders shelter and patronage in Delhi and using them as leverage against both the parliamentary as well as the king's government in Nepal.

Muni's footnotes between pages 317-329 show how a section of the Indian establishment led by the intelligence agencies had a covert agenda of removing the king as early as 2002 because of 'the complete failure of the monarchy to ensure India's security and development interests'. He also writes that around the same time, the Maoists had given assurances in writing to Indian leaders 'that they wanted the best of relations with India and would not do anything to harm its critical interests'.

And all this was happening even while Nepal had a functioning parliament and a government led by a democratic party fighting the Maoists. The intelligence-led part of the Indian establishment, Muni writes, was able to undercut the Karan Singh mission that convinced the king to hand over power to the Seven Party Alliance led by Girija Koirala in April 2006.

Even as Pranab Mukherjee (then defense minister, now president of India) was pleading on the phone with party leaders to accept the Karan Singh deal, the spooks-led faction was egging the parties not to accept it and to force the king to step down, which is what happened. And even as the BJP-led Indian government had declared Maoists as terrorists, its intelligence wing had taken their leadership under its protection and was strangling the Royal Nepal Army by cutting off even normal supplies already on the pipeline. These revelations completely demolish the premise that the other chapters have been built on: that April 2006 was a popular Nepali uprising for inclusiveness.

Why was such a chapter and indeed such a book written, then? Writing in times of uncertain flux is only for politicians and opinion makers who want to influence the course of events their way, not for cautious scholars who fear that the turn of events can make any analysis irrelevant. In about a year or two since most of these chapters were written, events in Nepal have taken a political turn that has seen the collapse of the basic political architecture of regime change. But the editors and authors did not, could not, anticipate such an eventuality and must have been motivated either by the wish to be the first to describe the 'historic changes' or to take credit for them.

In judging the book as a whole, one has to ask a simple question of all the authors: did you even know what the other chapter writers (especially Muni) were writing and did you get a chance to reflect on how what they said would contradict what you were writing about?

Dipak Gyawali is a former Minister of Water Resources and the cabinet of which he was a member negotiated an indigenous ceasefire with the Maoists in January 2003. A longer version of this review appeared in Biblio-India.

1. nidhi
It is indeed a great irony that the party that vehemently refused the recent UN report on conflict, would not comment on Muni's write up. The write up, actually has the potential to derail the peace process rather than the UN report. 

2. Nirmal
Whatever the reasons behind this book could be, one thing is for sure: Muni has been disappointed by the "Maoists revolutionary spirit". Perhaps, he realized that his student Bhattarai is one more crook between many who can sell even their mother(read it as principle and integrity) just to be sticked to the chair. Most surely, he will write another book explaining the chronology of annexation of Nepal as leaders have already put the country as bondsman for the loans and favors they have been asking all these years from the south block.

3. anil
I felt the same when I read this book that Muni's chapter actually contradicts or rather undermines all other analyses in the book. In fact, Muni's revelation goes beyond this book and undermines and scoffs at most existing literature on Nepal's transition. Only one instance of behind-the-door agreement exerted such upheavel, one could only imagine what if umpteen of such agreements occuring in the series of events in the transtion would unleash.
We would also love to hear from those other scholars on this who base their arguments on imagined elites of exlusionary state, while the reasons lie elsewhere. 

4. K. K. Sharma

No matter what S D Muni says, our " intellectuals" believe ( or like to say they believe ) that Nepalis are the actors of political events, rather than mere puppets. And what's  more, geopolitics and geostrategic, and geoeconomics are not areas within the brains of most of our "intellectuals", and had never been.. 

5. Sabin
Middle finger to this guy

6. Nothing New
Can nobody see the irony of the present situation?

a) There is no constitution in the sixth year after transition. 
b) There have been no elections for local bodies for more than a decade
c) There appears to be no consensus on what the provisions of a temporary constitution, written by parties to the current dispute, mean.
d) There have been allegations of corruption by members of the ruling party against their own party, and the party itself decides to investigate it without involving any judicial or police authorities, as if they were an empire unto themselves.
e) It is amply clear now that the insurgency was a decidedly foreign enterprise which explains why it was fought by underage combatants, but intellectuals overwhelmingly continue to support the usurpers of this nation.
f) The parties are discussing provisions which are extremely unconstitutional, the intellectuals accused the King of using a "provision" of an excellent constitution.

The King said, "We believe that a road-map to sustainable peace and reenergising a meaningful democracy are two sides of the same coin."

Look back now, the King took over control in 2005, and held elections to local bodies in 2006, it was not the king who excluded the bigger parties, but the parties themselves not only refused to participate but actively sought to stop the process.

The king said in his speech, " Democracy flourishes only through the enfranchisement of the people and democrats are never losers when democracy is upheld. "

Well, what does that say about the parties and their leaders? Can anyone, anyone at all, call them "democrats"?

7. Jit
SD Muni just proves that Nepal is now India's colony. And it isn't New Delhi's fault, it has just used the corrruption and stupidity of our leaders from the Shah kings, Rana prime ministers, elected democrats and the Maoists. the only true nationalist democrat was BP Koirala, and India got Mahendra to remove him because he was too independent-minded.

8. Kamal Kishor
The intellectual s of Nepal have gone bankrupt. They have no clue what is going on and how to intervene. In the main time, most of the so called social leaders, are backing this or that political party.

Deepak as far as know is a congressi turned royalist who gave away palace to Dahal and company. His own history is disastrous. If you are expert on Water Management, remain so. Do n't try to be politician. 

All these high level but bankrupt intellectuals should understand or made to understand that if they want to be respected, they should remain within the border of expertise. Once they breach that border line, they are neither experts nor politicians: they are simply oppotunistics!!

9. Birendra Basnet
Nepali leaders skin is like that of a Rhino, very very thick.And what about their heads, empty and thick as well. Nepali leaders are known slaves of RAW. Indian bribes poor Nepali Netas with moneyand other forms of bribery so they do India's bidding. Until Nepal can produce a leader like a Junga Bahadur or BP,Nepal will forever remain a slave of the Indinas.What can be shameful than that.

10. Pratul
Why attack Deepak Kamal Kishorji ?? because he exposed your beloved leaders. When every tom dick & stupid people can claim to be political leader why not he write his opinion ? anyway it was not secret that Maoist, Kangressi & UML all are Indian agents and on the pay roll of Indian embassy in one way or another. Most of them are trained in Benaras or some other Indian cities. Events has proven that they have sold their motherland and this book only proves than in no uncertain terms and also bankruptcy of so called Human right, UN agencies whose sole job is to fufill their paymasters agenda.But Nepali people are waking up and will eventually have to kick all these so called leaders out of country or into jail.

11. K. K. Sharma
Kamal Kisor thinks a person can belong to a party, without getting a membership of the party and paying a monthly levy to the party.  Ha ha ha.

12. Lalita Nepal
Nepal is not easy to understand for the internationals...the materialism and the loss of spirituality versus the rest of the world. I wish upon going back in time there had been practical assistance.
Instead of all the do's and don't s we need infrastructure to improve, education and jobs for all as well as health care. This is not so different from the rest of the world. See New York with transportation crisis and how nicely they resolve it all, not because they are from the so called first world, but because YES WE CAN.
Returning from Mexico where 60 000 deaths due to drugs mafia, Nepal has still oppportunities for improvement and happiness.
Marx and Mao died a long time ago. cooperation is best between families, countries and people.

13. foreigner
the UN has left, India has other problems, Nepal is not an issue, but Nepalis blaiming foreigners, nothing has changed

14. Rajesh Khanal
Dear foreigner,

Well, in 'our' defense, the world war happened 65 years ago. Why are 'you' (meaning foreigners) still talking about the holocaust ?

In your words, 'nothing has changed'.

15. swami nath

Indians are interested in a stable democracy and more importantly a strong economy on its northern border, so that border trade will flourish and trade deficit can be narrowed. Your democratic institutions like electoral, judicial, law enforcement and administrative wings must mature first, that's in your hands.  Blaming is an easy way out and many failed nations resort to that all the time. As an Indian I find it shocking to see you keep blaming other nations for the sorry state of  your affairs, haven't you all celebrated the ascendancy of communists, without realizing that communism is a failed experiment. Some leaders in your country for short term gains have successfully blamed India  for all your ills in recent years. But if the blaming becomes a habit  then you will have to return to a totalitarian regime and give up your rickety democracy. Democracy is a very responsible way to run a nation, and by the way our democracy has its share of problems as well;  its just that we don't blame it on others, that's the difference.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)