Nepali Times
State Of The State
A Peruvian parallel


Film South Asia's fitting finale this week of documentaries depicting violent conflict titled 'Barrel of the Gun' showed that terror like other human emotions is a universal trait. The immobilising fear that an unpredictable enemy generates has become a part of everyday life all over the world.

Insurgency and counter-insurgency operations have no difference other than the geographical location of the perpetrators of excesses. The military and the militants are often exact opposites, mirror images of each other. Dhruba Basnet's The Killing Terraces and Ellen Perry's The Fall of Fujimori are differently told stories of a similar reality.

In retrospect, the transformation of Abimael Guzm?n's Sendero Luminoso into Pushpa Kamal Dahal's Prachanda Path in Nepal was a historic necessity. Hisotrians have been prophesising a Peruvian parallel in Nepal for more than 10 years. But will the Fujimori story repeat itself here? Developments since the sudden dissolution of parliament by King Gyanendra on 22 May 2002 point towards a parallel trajectory of autogolpe and Fujimorism.

Nepal and Peru share striking similarities. The Himalaya and the Andes are two of the harshest mountainous terrains in the world. Basking in the glory of the Inca civilisation till the end of sixteenth century, Peruvians thought they had historic justification for their hubris, primitivism, intolerance, xenophobia, jingoism, and totalitarianism.

The Sugauli Treaty was a diplomatic compromise, but many Nepalis choose to believe that it was our military might that kept the British at bay. Delusions of greatness are inherently dangerous, it dulls people into doings things that they wouldn't do if they knew that past glory is no guarantee of future survival.

Nepali revolutionaries also had this curious affinity to an insurgency raging on the other side of the planet in Peru. But maybe there was a reason for this similarity. After all, Comrade Gonzalo was a professor of Kantian philosophy, a cousin of Vladimiro Montesinos (their grandmothers were sisters), the man from SIN and an achiever who had joined the ranks of the oppressed out of a sense of the obligation of nobility.

Kathmandu's chattering classes are in similar awe of the 'first-class-first' degrees of Baburam Bhattarai and his JNU PhD. We all know that the academic achievements of Badal, Bhattarai and Prachanda never swayed the Maoists away from excesses.

In Peru, Fujimori's US degrees and his tv persona helped him counter the charisma of Guzm?n but the twin pillars of his regime's stability were the unflinching support of the IMF-World Bank and the Peruvian military. The constructive monarchy in Nepal is similarly blessed, but with an important caveat: no matter how hard he tries, King Gyanendra's carefully orchestrated road shows are no match for Fujimori's street-savvy populism. Fujimori tells the camera why he made the imprisoned Guzm?n wear prison stripes even though Peruvian jails didn't have such uniforms: to make him look like a captured villain as seen in Hollywood movies.

Fujimori cultivated the press, shackled the judiciary and befriended activists in an unorthodox style. King Gyanendra had to rely on the services of Sher Bahadur Deuba to offer apologia and is now depending on Tulsi Giri to hardsell his ambition. Here at least there is no comparison: for the Nepali media and rights activists, autogolpe had no future from the day it began.

Ironically, Fujimori's fall began the day he captured Guzm?n. Had he read the writing on the wall, he would have changed tactics and reversed gear, but he took an authoritarian course. Finally, he had to flee into political asylum in the land of his ancestors where he now leads a life of quiet leisure, a minor celebrity in Tokyo's social circuit.
Peru's brutal insurgency and its ruthless suppression hold at least seven important lessons for us in Nepal:

1 Legitimacy doesn't come out of the barrel of a gun anymore, anywhere
2 Delivery of promised political results is no guarantee of the success of an authoritarian regime
3 Every leader has to face the consequences of his actions no matter how unchallenged he initially appears
4 In the court of public opinion, perception is the most powerful proof of guilt
5 The world keeps a careful vigil on all dictators
6 There are no waivers in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
7 History treats its challengers with unconcealed contempt

Elsewhere in this newspaper about Peru
Moving on to Peru

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)