Nepali Times
State Of The State
The times of Nepal


Three years isn't such a long time in a country's history. But ever since this paper hit the stands exactly three years ago this week, we as a nation have gone through the most wrenching period in our history. Nepal has seen in three years what most countries see in three decades or more.

After the death of our founder-monarch Prithbi Narayan Shah in 1775 till the usurpation of power by Jung Bahadur Kunwar in 1848, Nepal went through immense political turbulence: internecine warfare between courtier families, the role of queens, regents and kings in endless power struggles that culminated in the Kot Massacre of 1846, and the rise of the Rana aristocracy.

No less turbulent, and more unsettling by far, have been the 36 months since July 2000. The string of crises began with the Hrithik Roshan riots in January 2001 when India-based media effectively destroyed Nepal's tourism industry by exaggerated reports of Indians being targeted. Then, on 1 June 2001, the entire family of King Birendra was wiped out in the Narayanhiti Massacre. Nepal had three kings in four days, a shocked nation didn't know how to come to grips with the tragedy. We lost faith in our own destiny. And 2001 ended with the declaration of the state of emergency, the army being deployed to fight the Maoists and a deadly escalation in the insurgency that left 4,000 people dead in the next 12 months.

On 4 October 2002, King Gyanendra took over the state under direct rule, and the beginning of 2003 brought some hope with the ceasefire. But as the constitution went into limbo, the parliamentary parties launched an agitation that was unprecedented in Nepali history for its direct criticism of a reigning monarch.

Politics in 18th and 19th century Nepal were confined to court intrigues, but today even children in the streets of remote villages aren't spared. Innocent Nepalis have to bear the brunt of the bitter rivalries for control of the corridors of power in Kathmandu.

When BBC put up a patently provocative topic for online discussion about whether Nepal was under the Indian umbrella last year, Nepali 'nationalism' went into another paroxysm. Offshore patriotism forced the Beeb to do something it hasn't even done to Tony Blair over the Iraq intelligence scandal-it had to rephrase the question. As if Bush House was the final authority on Nepali sovereignty.

The months after the emergency in November 2002 also saw the 'erosion of the Nepali world'. All we hear from expat nationalists from distant shores is a thundering silence for the re-introduction of slightly diluted authoritarianism. Or is it a muted applause?

The support that the Kathmandu elite extended to the insurgents for so long continues to be a mystery. Baburam admits he was hand-in-glove with Prince Dhirendra to subvert democracy in the country. Perhaps the intelligentsia was merely being what Lenin termed 'useful idiots'. Probably the middle-class was displaying what Trotsky analysed as the petty bourgeoisie's inherent fascination with fascism. But why did the lawyers, the university teachers, the NGO-entrepreneurs, the journalists, business tycoons, and self-declared intellectuals continue defending Maoists even after the fall of Dunai?

Was it because, as Baburam claimed in an op-ed piece in Kantipur, after the royal massacre, on 3 June 2001, that the Maoists really had some kind of an understanding with King Birendra and every one of any consequence in Kathmandu was fully aware of that nexus?

Contradictions of a society in transformation are so complex that it's easy to lose one's bearing. No one ever figured out why the country rioted over something a Bollywood actor never said. Conspiracy theories are easier to embrace, but there isn't much you can do about people plotting intrigues from elsewhere. It may be more useful to exhaust all other rational explanations first.

For me, writing this column has been a process of clearing my own 'cobwebs of confusion'. Over the last three years, I have asked more questions than I had answers to. Fortunately, most readers have sympathised with my predicament. Exceptions apart, and there have been some interesting ones, your understanding of my bewilderment has been unfailingly encouraging.

Together we shall explore. And at the end of our explorations, like the poet, we will return to the place we started and see it for the first time. Questions of life and death that have no clear answers. In the Mahabharata, the great riddle is called 'Time'-a dimension that even the gods have to endure. At this point, let's raise a toast to all Nepalis: may we live in less interesting Times.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)