Nepali Times
State Of The State
A state of paranoia


Self-deception is a technique of self-preservation. When faced with extremely harsh realities, the human mind lapses into a make-believe world in order to preserve its sanity. Our excessive pride in our own nationalism, exemplified by last week's outpouring of patriotic fervour over an online debate conducted by the BBC, illustrates this theory of psychology perfectly.

Just look at us: our brothers fight in other peoples' armies, we sell our sisters to brothels abroad, our children don't have enough to eat, we need foreign aid to pick up our own rubbish, it needs an ambassador of a nearby country to write a letter to the editor before a road gets paved in our capital. The disgrace of it all should have made us hang our heads in shame. It should have made us question dogmas, examine beliefs and behaviour.

Instead, we choose to hark back to our glorious past to mask our present squalor and ineptness. "No matter what," we shout from our rooftops, "ours is an independent and sovereign country. We have never been colonised, and our kingdom shall remain independent till kingdom come." The legend about Nepal being an independent country from pre-historic times (that outlandish claim comes from the statement of the Nepali Congress Party's denouncement of the BBC) is a historical flight of fancy. Nepal is still a nation in the making, as B.P. Koirala had no hesitation accepting.

Till the 1940s Nepalis travelled abroad with identification papers issued by the Government of British India. Geographically, the Treaty of Sugauli fixed the present boundaries of the Kingdom of Nepal in 1816. It was enlarged a bit when Jung Bahadur was rewarded by the British for mercenary services rendered during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Politically, the People of Nepal became sovereign only by the enactment of The Constitution of Kingdom of Nepal, 1990.

The subject posted by the BBC on its web site for its South Asia Debate on World Today last week asked how Nepal should respond to a resurgent India. We were so spooked by what the answer could be that we worked ourselves up into a frenzy of self-righteousness and behaved exactly like paranoid Indians do when they see a map of Kashmir with chunks on the two top corners missing. Nepal is not landlocked, it is India-locked. This is a geographical fact, and we had better come to terms with it. India is also a country with which we have a lot in common, but why should an online debate to discuss how this commonality can be pragmatically used for national progress be construed as an affront to our sovereignty, unless our sovereignty itself is so brittle that it will break at the slightest hint of open debate.

It was interesting to note that in the online discussions the loudest protests came from Nepalis abroad. This is the case with the diaspora of most countries: they tend to be more nationalistic than most of the compatriots they have left behind. It has something to do with keeping one's identity when the melting pot threatens to turn all immigrants into alloys. Nepalis abroad are no different, especially because they are assumed to be Indians unless they prove otherwise by swearing in the name of Lord Buddha and Mount Everest. You don't deal with tough questions by stifling debate. The BBC debate was a unique opportunity in a bold new medium to prove the basis of our new-found democracy, show confidence in our own nationhood with maturity and open-mindedness in front of a worldwide multimedia audience. All we did with that obtuse statement from the Foreign Ministry was show the world how narrow-minded and insecure we have become.

The BBC had adopted a provocative method based on what is known as "null hypothesis" in social science researches. According to this concept, if you can show that a thesis is wrong on all counts, its opposite can automatically also proved to be true. We should have attempted to prove the null hypothesis of BBC wrong by showing that the current trend is towards a break-up of larger nations into smaller ones. Before a meaningful South Asian confederation can even be contemplated, perhaps the Indian Union itself needs to break into at least about 40-50 workable-sized independent nation-states.

We could have used the debate to show that Nepal may be mired in poverty, but the Indian states neighbouring us are in a much worse shape. We could have pointed out that our democracy may not be ideal, but it is way ahead of the farces enacted by Laloo Prasad in Bihar or Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh. We could have said that we have started to tap our huge untapped potential in agriculture, hydropower, tourism and trade in a sustainable manner. Our people are creative enough to preserve and manage our forests with full community participation. All Nepalis need is a leadership that will not stifle this creativity and capacity for hard work. But even that may have started to happen with the evolution of our democratic institutions in the past decade. Many of these points did come out on the online debate, and interestingly, some of the people making these points on our behalf were Indians! But the very content that would have shown Nepal in the best light was drowned out by the display of foolish and knee-jerk nationalism in Kathmandu on the week that 22 Nepali policemen were slaughtered by Nepali Maoists.

When an insecure mind works itself into a rage, then you have bizarre scenes like that of the BBC being burnt in effigy at Bhadrakali, or Radio Sagarmatha being forced to chicken out and not broadcast the very debate that was favourable to Nepal. Everyone already knows Nepal is not a developed country, now they also know that we aren't too clever either. Our patriots have insulted the strength of Nepali nationalism by their paranoia.

Doesn't our false pride ring a bit hollow when we rave and rant against the radio station of a country where our citizens seek asylum pretending to be Bhutanese refugees? And in the army of which our countrymen serve, and, we might add, in the army of the country that we are getting worked up about? Let's not deceive ourselves, we have to earn the respect of others. They won't just give it to us because six generations ago our forebears cut up their forebears with khukuris.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)