Nepali Times
State Of The State
Work in progress


From a base-camp named hope, this column started as a trek. After a year of great tribulation, it appears as if the journey is yet to begin. The country is still in the valley of despair. These are trying times, there is gloom . But press ahead we must. Time does not stand still, and turning back is not an option.

The first serious national issue that I had to confront on this page last year was the Citizenship Bill. It is an indication of uncertainty in the country that the question of statelessness of Nepalis of tarai origin is yet to be resolved. The Citizenship Bill has done the rounds of both houses of parliament, several ministries of the government, and the advisory bench of the Supreme Court. However, its fate still hangs in the balance inside the royal palace.

The Bill brought out the paranoia of sections of society to the surface. The fear of being deluged with the population overflow of the Indian plains is so strong in the psyche of our elite that even champions of human rights willingly sow the seeds of communal hatred by dangerous harangues on the "risks of Fijikaran". We learnt that it is a small step from protecting human rights to a chauvinistic fear of being outnumbered.

Time may heal the wounds of riots that ensued over Hrithik Roshan, but its scar will remain forever with all those madhesis who had to face the wrath of enraged crowds on the streets of insanity in December. All my dreams of peace died in that harsh winter of hatred.

A mob is just that-a mob. Composed of individuals who have very little self-esteem and perceive low personal risks, a mob protests, pillories or even lynches its hate-objects. But surely you would expect the educated elite to be different? In the first few days of Hrithik Roshan episode, we saw all-pervasive prejudice of the most primitive kind in the minds of the Kathmandu elite. Writers, professionals, journalists and academics celebrated the "spontaneous outpouring of patriotism" as the country burnt in the self-destructive fire of rage over a rumour.

Afraid to face the real devil of escalating Maoist violence, media deluded itself by railing at the ruling party and its leaders. Nauseating dissection of vulgar airline leasing deals drove the aware away from the stink of mainstream politics. This had the unintended effect of glamourising the extremists. Sanitised reports of hacks back from guided tours of insurgent held areas (as well as eulogised publication of written interviews) made Maoists look like angels on the verge of delivering utopia on a platter.

Ravishing reports about thousands of villagers attending Maoist camps didn't reveal the bodies behind the head-count, and the blood didn't show in the cold words of menacing dimensions screaming from the op-ed pages of national dailies. The nation had lapsed into a state of dementia. When Maoists went on killing sprees, massacring policemen like Dasain goats, Kathmandu's insular elite pretended not to notice. It blithely continued to pursue the resignation of the prime minister instead.

In a society rotten to the core, the Narayanhiti carnage was waiting to happen. Along with the king and his immediate family, the beliefs and value systems of Nepali society crumbled in the 1 June murders. The mass grief that followed was as much due to the death of faith as the demise of an idolised royal family.

All this while, Maoists had been waiting in the wings-daggers drawn-to take advantage of the numbness that comes with intense pain. Slandering the king, vilifying the prime minister and instigating the army to mutiny were all clearly intended to create confusion. And then came the panic caused by banner-bombs randomly hung at crowded public places. Leftist intellectuals lapped up Maoist propaganda about regicide and served up their bluff as the hidden truth. With society in disarray, insurgents could have got away with murder, and they nearly did. Even after the merciless mass murder of nearly 50 policemen and abduction of another 70, the Valley's prevaricators were still debating whether or not to mobilise the army.

At times like this, the biggest challenge is to save one's sanity. Writing commentary becomes a test of tenacity. It is even more complex when a weekly column has to gather available facts and sharpen the truth with a point of view. The purpose of commentary is to transform the reader from a passive consumer of facts to an active analyser, and thus enrich public debate. The balance is reached by sharing editorial space with other points of view.

Commentators can't be fence-sitters. They are there to administer controlled doses of ideological tonic so that they persuade and prod the pace of change in society. Reporters hold the mirror to society, but it's the job of a commentator to lift society by the scruff of its neck and force it to examine its reflection. It is a thankless job because punditry is by definition preachy.

It has been a year full of the crises of a society in turmoil. But then the construction of an inclusive Nepali identity is still underway. Modern Nepali society is still a work in progress. This is the chaos of a construction site.

"When written in Chinese," said John F. Kennedy in a stirring speech in 1959, "the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity." Dangers we have faced with great fortitude, and survived. It is opportunity now. The summit is in sight.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)