18-24 March 2016 #800

Welcome to the Time Warp

Nepal has been hijacked by a coterie of highly incompetent individuals
Foreign Hand

Credit: Nepali Times Archive

The recent arrival of a guest from the West felt like an inquisitive, future alien had somehow landed in my living room. Before I knew it he perused the newspaper and began a litany of questions, asking first what UML stands for.

“You’re kidding, right? United Marxist-Leninists in this day and age? Aren’t they extinct already?” I found myself earnestly explaining the present government was a coalition led by the ‘mainstream, good communists’.

“Now, there’s an oxymoron for you. And who are these so-called ‘good’ communists in coalition with?”

“The bad communists.” Upon hearing the Maoists were back in power I noticed his eye furtively check the wall calendar, as if seeking reassurance he hadn’t entered a time warp circa 1975. “So, what century are we in here exactly?” Load shedding suddenly plunged the house into darkness, partially answering his question.

“And anyways, weren’t the Maoists badly defeated in the last election?’ I nodded mutely, helpless before the absurdity of the situation. My attempt at explaining the Congress betrayal of the alternating leadership deal with the UML, probably at India’s behest, leading to the Maoists being included in the coalition, sounded like gibberish worthy of a neta. All the while he muttered ‘United Marxist Leninists and Maoists’ under his breath with a chuckle. This was enough, apparently, to reduce any further discussion to a cartoon from the Cold War past.

It’s at times like this one realises our leaders, being quite divorced from 21st century reality, are profoundly unqualified to deal with the modern era and all that means. Nepal has been cast adrift in the currents of world history by its leadership, slowly sinking as the party bosses squabble and loot.

Further questions about aid for the earthquake victims, forever delayed, led to “how can they possibly get away with it?” I agreed it was shocking while gesturing as eloquently as possible, trying to encapsulate a thousand years of chronic neglect in a shrug and a scowl. Instead of letting it go at that and pouring himself another drink, as our political class surely would, he brought up accountability, even suggesting it was in the politicians own interests to help so they’d get re-elected.

That’s when I began wondering which one of us was from Mars.

Further questions as to the blockade’s purpose had me babbling about angry Madhesis, broken promises of equality and a constitution that was rushed through despite its many flaws. “But I read the drafting took over 8 years. You call that rushed?”

Each morning he set out to visit the temples and scenic spots of the Valley, returning home to sing praises of the beautiful sights and wonderful people he’d met before launching his next interrogation.

Why are there so many communist parties? Don’t Nepalis know communism has collapsed world-wide? And what about Baburam Bhattarai’s New Force? How can a lifelong Maoist ideologue expect to be taken seriously as a born-again capitalist? Does Prachanda really mean ‘awesome’? What did the blockade achieve for the Madhesis? For Delhi? How could the black market thrive so openly despite being illegal?

I shrugged so often my shoulders began aching. If only he’d spent some time in Nigeria or Pakistan on the way here, I thought to myself, Nepal’s dysfunction might not appear quite so alarming. The fact so many questions went unanswered began taking a toll on both my guest and my liquor cabinet. He was clearly suffering from a severe case of Logic Syndrome, that consuming compulsion to make sense of the inexplicable that’s driven many a Westerner in Asia to drink. The Hand thinks of it as Kathmandu’s version of altitude sickness, with similar symptoms of nausea, confusion and disorientation.

Hiding the morning papers to get a break didn’t help when he began visiting the news-stand and doing further research online. By the time he discovered the hapless TRC and many cases of war-era crimes being ignored and dismissed it felt like he’d stumbled on a dirty little family secret. Your columnist, of course, had long stopped trying to excuse the inexcusable, amused that his questions proved the citizens of other countries demand much more from their leaders than we do here.

It seems Nepal’s enduring time warp, once rather charming and quaint (Time warp gone wrong, #336) has endured far too long, nurtured by an elite that’s neither willing nor able to change with the times. Worse still, after so many years of abysmal governance this appears almost normal.

Readers don’t need the Hand or any other alien meddler to tell them Nepal has been hijacked by a coterie of highly incompetent individuals who, for all their self-importance and elevated stature locally, would be laughed off the political stage elsewhere. The dysfunction that’s become the local norm is considered totally unacceptable in most places, and I thank my visiting Martian for reminding me it doesn’t have to be this way.

The fact there are so few sensible answers to the many serious questions indicates something’s very wrong with this picture, and perhaps it’s time for the voters to finally demand satisfaction and results from those holding the country back.

Read also:

Post-mortem of a defeat, Muma Ram Khanal

Time warp gone wrong, Foreign Hand

Deconstruction Authority, Editorial

The Shameless, Foreign Hand

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