Nepali Times
State Of The State
Showing we have guts


Bravery is a basic instinct. Whenever there is a confrontation, an animal quickly weighs its options before choosing a course of action. Courage, however, has a moral dimension. Values, and not chances of success, prompt a person into taking a courageous stand.

Soldiers have to be brave, but their commanders need to be courageous. Political leadership requires moral courage, they can't make unpopular but necessary decisions if they just follow their followers.

Nepalis are renowned for our bravery. But are we courageous? It is a disturbing question, but facing it is the only way of growing into a confident nation-state. Our values do not seem to have evolved despite nearly a decade of democratic practice. Like most primitive societies, traditions in Nepal are stronger than religion and customs. Secular norms and values necessary to support democratic culture are still too fragile to make us take a courageous stand.

No wonder then, yet another crippling banda passed off without a whimper of protest. Privately, all of us cursed Maobadis for closing the country down without rhyme or reason, but publicly we meekly obeyed the diktat of the outlaws. As a Nepali poet wrote: "This is how a country pretends to survive."

Nepal must be the only nation in the world where a mere rumour can cause a riot or shut down sections of the country. Traditionalists who are busy felicitating an activist monarch, don't dare question the Maobadis for making Nepal one of those countries primitive enough to be still using child soldiers. The Nepali intelligentsia has no faith in its own moral force, hence the excesses of the insurgents and the military alike go unchallenged.

An active monarchy has suddenly become a convenient refuge for those who made hay in the Panchayat sunshine, but were sidelined after 1990. They are the ones lambasting mainstream political parties at Raj Parishad meetings. Authoritarian systems are uniquely suited for ambitious political careerists who want to get ahead in life at any cost.

After October Fourth, there is a huge line of people waiting in the wings to see the king's hand-picked ministers stumble. Recent rumblings in the Surya Bahadur Thapa cabinet after the induction of Bhekh Bahadur Thapa and the elevation of Kamal Thapa are endemic to a system where loyalty is the sole criterion overriding other value-loaded considerations like political representation, transparency of performance or public accountability.

In progressive societies, there is always a group of people who cite the past, analyse the present and predict the future, presenting a course of action. They are the ones who shape our values and help us protect them during turbulent times. Such individuals-for that's what they often are, fiercely independent individuals unencumbered by stifling organisations of any kind-are called public intellectuals. Alas, when Nepal needs them most, there aren't any in our horizon.

Most learned Nepalis with intellectual pretensions have begun to endorse the ambitions of an active monarchy, either explicitly with their words and deeds, or implicitly with their silence and inactivity. More than anything else, it's the absence of more important players from the field that has magnified the role of the press in promoting democracy in the country. But carrying the values of a society is too heavy a load for Nepal's still evolving media.

Thinkers have to emerge and imagine a more inclusive Nepali society. We need intellectuals to weigh the options and recommend courses of action. Politicians have to help organise people along competitive political ideologies. These are people who have the power to transform a people into a society and then build a confident nation. Armed forces can enforce peace. Bureaucracy can implement programs. The business class can create wealth. But they do not a nation make.

Frequent bandas and a penchant for public felicitations are symptoms of a sick society. Reinventing collective values is the only way of preserving Nepali identity and building a more confident and inclusive collective.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)