Nepali Times
What kind of peace after 8,000 lives lost?


What does peace mean when the country is in shambles? All we are left with is mangled infrastructure, ruin and misery for millions of Nepalis,including the orphans, widows and displaced. And nearly 8,000 lives lost.

What does peace mean when the mandarins of multiparty, who did everything they could to sabotage the very freedoms they themselves fought so tenaciously to obtain, and for which they had suffered years of exile, imprisonment, and the anonymity of underground life, feel left out of the peace process? The rift between the king and the political parties has been widening, and each is trying to outsmart the other.

The unfolding peace initiative needs encouragement, but this is no time for premature applause. Geo-historically speaking, there is no easy road to peace in Nepal. For lasting peace, conversations around a round table can only be the beginning. The Maoists, the palace and the parties have to look at themselves in the mirror and demonstrate extraordinary moral courage when crucial points of disagreement emerge. Such examples are not impossible, only rare in history.

Why did the Maoist insurgency begin in the first place? Certainly not just because a Baburam Bhattarai or a Pushpa Kamal Dahal decided that Nepal needed some bloodshed to propel their party to power? If there was no Maoist movement (which has at least mingled the blood of Nepali ethnicities for a common cause), there would have been other sectarian and regional conflicts. The 1990 constitution paid only lip service to ethnic injustice and regional imbalance. The statutes did not clearly lay out the structural blueprint for righting centuries of wrongs. Nor did the leaders of the parties conduct themselves in ways that would throw up new solutions for emerging, though long anticipated, problems.

In order for any lasting peace to prevail, the palace has to be ready to disengage itself, politically and ideologically, from the traditional elites-the bureaucracy, the military and feudal aristocracy, and submit itself to the goodwill and jurisdiction of parliament and, through it, the people. So far, the traditional elite has for the most part soaked up and skimmed off both the internal surplus and foreign resources. And those in whose name billions of dollars was poured into the country have largely remained outside the parameters of power and access. The peace talks need to find a way to address these inequities.

The political parties rightly demand a place at the peace table. Without their participation, the peace initiative will end up being another drama of strategic oneupmanship. But those occupying the standing and central committees in the parties must first admit that they have seriously goofed. The trials of corrupt ministers are only the tip of the iceberg. Given the history of splits, mergers and intraparty quibbling for position, the picture for the UML may not have been more promising than the circus the Congress staged while in power. This is no time for retrospective preachings on morality. Structural changes are needed to prevent such leadership failures from wrecking the nation again.

And how can the Maoists reconcile the violence they unleashed over the past seven years with their change of heart? How can they show their face to society, walk with dignity and honour when so much innocent blood has been spilt? Why didn't they listen when activists within and outside Nepal agreed with their assessment of the 1990 change, but said that revolution, though absolutely essential for Nepal, could not-should not-be violent? A peaceful, yet durable revolution through a system of radical democracy was indeed possible. Liquidating selected class enemies may be easy, but transforming an entire society for long-term equality and justice requires moral courage, intellectual rigour and hard work of a different kind. Baburam, how are you going to translate your doctrine of armed struggle into democratic revolution after all this?

(Pramod Mishra teaches literature and writing at Augustana College in Illinois, USA)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)