Nepali Times
State Of The State
Goodbye to year zero


In the Bikram Sambat calendar, the years ending with zero are called Sunya Barsha and considered inauspicious. Year 2060 was a zero year in more ways than one.

The Maoists tried to make 2060 their Year Zero by blindly bombing everything in sight on the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat. They did succeed, but only in reinforcing a dictatorship of another sort. But they have failed to crush the democratic aspirations of Nepalis. It will be years before Bhojpur and Beni rise from the rubble of the rebel's excesses and regain their market town vitality. But neither Mao nor Prachanda are ever going to be installed among Nepal's pantheon of rulers.

The attempt by monarchists to create a democratic void has partially succeeded: the parliament has neither been reconstituted nor restored. But their attempts to give the king a 'constructive' role have also been met with head-on protests. Slogans being raised in the streets of Kathmandu aren't merely pressure tactics, as King Gyanendra interpreted them to be in his Time interview, but voices of people fed up with the antics of two royal cabinets in 18 months.

Throughout 2060, King Gyanendra consistently refused to extend even the minimum acknowledgment usually reserved for defeated rivals in politics. Yet, party leaders kept hoping against hope for the right signals from the royal palace. It is too early to say where these street protests will lead, but if the past record of the present leadership is anything to go by, the future doesn't look too rosy.

Envoys of the Big Three-the US, the UK and India-are the main custodians of the international community's interests in Nepal. This year, Ambassador Michael Malinowski behaved as if he was their sole spokesperson. Charles de Gaulle once said about another US ambassador in Paris: "The American ambassador has judged France by the Frenchmen with whom he used to dine." Nepal's mainstreamers must find out who dines with Ambassador Malinowski.

This week, India's Ministry of External Affairs once again urged "both Constitutional Monarchy as well as the political parties" to "demonstrate flexibility and forge a national consensus to deal with this situation with the urgency it deserves". But it's still an open question whether Indians themselves have fully understood the urgency of the re-establishment of democracy in Nepal.

Meanwhile, after parachuting in for the fifth time, Sir Jeffrey James hasn't made much headway persuading constitutional forces to patch up. Narayanhiti may be across the street from the British Embassy, but there seems to be a huge gap in their perceptions of what a constitutional monarchy should be.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stuck his neck out to urge warring sides in Nepal to talk and offered his good services. The palace reportedly refused to even acknowledge Annan's letter of interest, forcing him to make the public offer of good offices.

Unless the 18-point agenda of mainstream parties, which broadly addresses most of the practical issues raised by the Maoists, becomes the main thrust of the UN initiaitve, there is no way UN mediation is going to have any impact.

The void on the media scene this year can be judged by the fact that a television personality running a talk-show on the government channel was adjudged the best journalist of the year by a media organisation. It seems we have yet to discover the merits of independent media and investigative journalism in this country. Nepali literature too continued with its grand tradition of formalism by bestowing the title of 'national poet' upon a royal balladeer.

Nepal's economy went into a tailspin in 2060. In private, everyone accepts that creation of employment opportunities through higher investment in public sector should get the topmost priority to wean away Maoist youths from violence, but the Nepal Development Forum is advocating unbridled privatisation without safeguards.
The hallmark of 2060 must be the equanimity of Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa. He has been having a hard time keeping awake. In these times, cultivated a sense of detachment and dozing off at public programs apparently helps.

At the end of a traumatic zero year, hope may have to be sought in Hindu numerology where the number one, as in the binary code of digital language, is a positive force. Here's to a better Nepal in 2061.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)