Nepali Times
State Of The State
Bonus miles for Deuba


Speaking at an airport ambush before leaving for Brussels last week, prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba appeared to be confused about where exactly it was he was going. Just amassing miles, he might have said.

That would have been okay, but he didn't seem to have any idea whether the emergency would be re-imposed or not, and he had nothing much to say about efforts to make elections free and fair either. But he did use the opportunity to berate the media for criticising everything he did.

To be fair, Deuba has reason to be peeved at the media. If someone on the verge of boarding an aircraft is unaware of his destination, he deserves our sympathy, not criticism. Ever since the dissolution of the Lower House of the parliament, premier Deuba's politics have atrophied so much that his leadership has begun to decompose. The resulting odours have now circled the globe and even reached the Paris offices of Reporters Sans Frontiers, which has officially declared him a "press predator" and listed him with the likes of the Abu Sayyaf and Kim Jong Il.

Even though he called it off mid-trip, Deuba 's Johannesburg junket was completely appropriate. His presence wasn't really required in the corridors of power here in Kathmandu, and no one (except perhaps the security detail in Baluwatar) has noticed his absence. In fact, the country seems to run pretty well without him.

The feeling that the country can be better governed by non-elected constitutional bodies and non-political security forces is gaining ground in Kathmandu. And if the capital's chatterati had its way, it would willingly hand over the reins of power to itself.

In this milieu, all politicians are considered expendable. And premier Deuba even more so, because all of Nepali society-barring the government and the faction behind him in his own political party-is convinced that he has little or no say over decisions that really matter. Nobody believes that Deuba can prevent the re-imposition of state of emergency in the country if the security forces insist on it to remain engaged with the insurgents.

Perhaps Deuba knows that if another possibility of a negotiated settlement with the Maoists arose, he would have no role in it. Completely irrelevant on the home front, it's quite natural for Deuba to venture overseas, and get entangled in domestic Belgian politics for a change.

Deuba has another powerful excuse to spend scarce greenbacks on an exotic tour. Since Nepal is the chair of SAARC at present, and he could've claimed to represent more than one-sixth of humanity at the first-ever United Nations' World Summit on Sustainable Development. That is, if he ever got anywhere near Johannesburg.

Intelligently used, it could be an effective tool to magnify Nepal's visibility at a meet of more than 100 world leaders. Such summit hopping is largely symbolic, so he needn't have worried about the substance of what he said.

The third reason Deuba needed to be in Johannesburg was so he could meet Colin Powell and Tony Blair to ask them to put in a word so the hardware deliveries for the military are expedited.

And, oh yes, last but not least, the prime minister could reaffirm Nepal's commitment for sustainable human development, even if it cost Rs 15 million of much-needed cash to send our delegation there.

Unlike George Bush, Deuba had no credible reason to boycott Johannesburg. And he needn't worry too much if his actions back home bear no resemblance to the speech he would have given from the podium. There is no dearth of hypocrites at any international meet.

There is another advantage of this pleasure trip for an ex-believer in social democracy. Far away from the constant bickering of shifty-eyed cabinet colleagues, the junket would have given Deuba a rare opportunity to reflect over the promises that he had made to himself years ago as one of the loyal acolytes of late BP Koirala.

No doubt, the expression of "sustainable development" is a fancy edifice, but it rests on the same old three pillars of inter- and intra-generational social equity-democracy, fraternity and liberty.

Democracy incorporates the participation principle, fraternity takes care of both the preventive and solidarity principles, and liberty ensures that the entire process remains human. The Washington Consensus has given liberalism a bad name, but fundamentally, to be liberal is to be tolerant of all kinds of diversity on the planet that is our collective home.

Even if Deuba returns to Kathmandu with just a recollection of things he believed in till a decade ago, the trip may have been worth it. Even if he never made it to Jo'burg.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)