Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Indian designs

This article appeared in Republica on September 30, 2015.

The promulgation of Nepal's Constitution-2072 should have brought joy in the face of all Nepalis as it marks the end of a wrenching political transition. Instead, the statute spawned strife and unrest. Life in Tarai has been crippled for more than 50 days with never ending strikes. Even after repeated calls for dialogue by the Big Three, Madheshi leaders have been inflexible in their stance and have continued with agitations.
However, signs of the end of stalemate are appearing as representatives of the Big Three are holding backchannel dialogue with disgruntled forces and have agreed to amend the constitution to address their demands. But Madheshi leaders have now started saying that the constitution has to be rewritten all over.

No constitution can ever be perfect or able to address all demands. Nepal's new constitution is no different. But it is a document of compromise and has tried to address the grievances of all groups. Although their demands are unclear, it appears that Madheshis have been seeking changes in federal delineation, citizenship policy and electoral constituency on the basis of population. However, a careful reading of the constitution shows that these demands have been more or less addressed.

The discourse of federalism was established in Nepal after the Madhesh Uprising in 2007. Since the new constitution has enshrined federalism, Madheshis should have been happy with the victory of their agenda. In fact, they now even have an ethnic province although the constitution didn't envision ethnicity-based provinces. Province 2 is an economically strong province with multiple industries, arable land, and custom offices. Moreover, top leaders of Big Three have assured that there can be changes in state delineation as per the recommendations of the Federal Commission to be established soon.

Even if propagandists have excoriated citizenship policy in the new constitution, it is not discriminatory. Citizenship will be granted to a person whose father 'or' mother is a Nepali citizen. Madheshi leaders have been saying that the constitution forbids citizenship to a person whose father is a foreigner. But the statute has the provision of granting naturalized citizenship to such a person (Article 11, Clause 5). Whereas the demand of immediate citizenship to a foreign man marrying a Nepali woman is concerned, it cannot be fulfilled. Such a person has to spend a stipulated period in the country before becoming eligible for citizenship, as per the federal law.

Citizenship policy had to be made a bit rigid because around 400,000 Indians have already taken advantage of the lax provisions in the Interim Constitution and received Nepali citizenship. Now the Madheshi leaders are demanding that freshly arrived naturalized citizens too should be eligible to hold seats of power. India has backed Madhesh agitation on this agenda in its bid to make Nepal another Fiji.

Madheshi leaders' accusation that the reduction of electoral constituencies is a ploy of hill elites to decrease their representation holds no water. This reduction will be applied in hill areas as well and with the amendment in the constitution, constituencies based on population and geography will be arranged.

Besides this constitutional address of Madheshi demands, the government has fulfilled immediate demands of Madheshi forces as well. The demands of compensation to the dead and wounded and withdrawal of the army to the barracks have been fulfilled. As they know that all their demands have been addressed in one or the other way, Madheshi leaders now have started saying that the government should honor past agreements. It appears that their ultimate aim is to have Madheshis who will be loyal to India in key positions. India is learnt to have pressured top leaders to continue with Ram Baran Yadav as the President or have another Madheshi as the future President.

That is why Madheshis don't want any solution to the crisis. By asking to honor past agreements and rewrite the constitution, their motive is to reiterate the old single province (one Madhesh, one Pradesh) demand in Tarai. Their Indian masters seem to have instructed them to prolong the strife to have this demand fulfilled. India has taken keen interest in Madhesh agitation as a long-term strategy of gobbling up Tarai.

At the behest of Madheshi leaders, it has imposed economic blockade in Nepal despite Madheshi leaders' claims to the contrary. Rather than warmly welcoming the promulgation of constitution like other countries, it merely 'noted' the promulgation and in its four press releases asked Nepali leaders to take agitating Madheshis into confidence. It, however, didn't deem it necessary to encourage Madheshi leaders to drop their rigid stance and sit for talks.

It is an open secret that India's Nepal policy is guided by its intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW). A big section of South Block mandarins and R&AW spooks have always viewed Tarai as Indian territory. RSN Singh, one of R&AW's think tanks, in his book The Unmaking of Nepal claims that "Indian migrants, the present day Madhesis cleared the area [in the Tarai] and made it hospitable." Once the area became livable, hill people started to come down to settle in big numbers.

In this sense, Madheshis perceive themselves to be the real sons of the soil (bhumiputra) while Pahadis are migrants. Given this feeling, "They argue that there is not a single good reason for them to be part of Nepal" and "[i]nvoking history, they make a strong argument that, legally, they were part of India." This should clearly explain Madheshi leaders' current obstinate position with impossible demands and India's support for their cause. Another R&AW spook RK Yadav in his book Mission RAW has mentioned Indira Gandhi's intention of merging Tarai with India after her success in annexing Sikkim.

It was believed that Narendra Modi, professing to love Nepal with his heart, would counter R&AW (dominated by Congress-I loyal officers)'s strategy and leave Nepal be. His address to the Constituent Assembly last August seemed to have given such hope. The Big Four might have been encouraged to ink the 16-point deal and go ahead with constitution process after Modi's positive gesture.

Even if R&AW was unhappy with this development, Hindu nationalist Modi summoned top leader Prachanda to Delhi immediately after the deal and told him that India would not object to the statute if 'secularism' finds no place in the constitution. Prachanda then started talking about religious freedom instead of secularism. But the term ultimately found its place in the constitution with a rider that the secular state will protect ancient religion (read: Hinduism).

This snubbing of his suggestion must have riled Modi. In fact, Modi's special envoy S Jaishankar is learnt to have minced no words in telling Prachanda that he was "ungrateful", hinting at Prachanda taking shelter in Noida, India during armed conflict. This blunt comment had Prachanda reeling with rage and he lashed out against India in Tudikhel speech.

Even if Modi projects himself as a tough leader with independent thinking, he is still in thrall to Hindu nationalist organization Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) where he cut his teeth at the beginning of his political career. RSS envisions an undivided India (Akhanda Bharat) in which all South Asia is part of India. That is why Modi called all seven leaders of the region to his prime ministerial swearing-in. Some Hindu groups with blessings from the RSS have been distributing pamphlets across Nepal with statements that Madhesh agitation should be a stepping stone to restore Nepal as a Hindu kingdom and Nepal is part of Akhanda Bharat. It spells disaster for Nepal that R&AW and RSS have joined hands.

India's meddling notwithstanding, the Big Three too shoulder the blame. Had they stuck to their six-province model or fulfilled Tharus' demands, the agitations would not have taken an ugly turn. Now the situation has escalated to such a level that it is difficult to control things. Still, dialogue is the best way forward. Both sides should come clean and resume dialogue.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

संवेदनाका अन्तरकथा (विकास संग्रौलाको उपन्यास "अनलाइक्ली स्टोरीटेलर्स") Unlikely Storytellers

यो समीक्षा नागरिक दैनिकमा असोज २, २०७२ मा प्रकाशित भएको थियो ।

कथाप्रतिको आसक्ति मानवीय स्वभाव नै हो। प्राग्ऐतिहासिक कालमा सिकारी मानवहरू दिनभरि सिकार गरेर आएपछि बेलुका छाप्रोअगाडि ठूलो आगो बालेर आफूले सिकारका क्रममा भोगेका अनुभवलाई कथाको रूप दिएर सुनाउने गरेको कुरा मानवशास्त्रीहरूका पुस्तकमा पढ्न पाइन्छ।

कथा भन्ने र सुन्ने यो आदिम चाहना मानवमा अहिलेसम्म पनि जीवितै छ। प्राचीन महाकाव्य, पुराण तथा सवाइहरू सबै कवितात्मक शैलीमा लेखिएका कथा न हुन्। अझ, कथा भन्नु त उपचारात्मक विधि पनि हो। चर्चित मनोविश्लेषक सिग्मन्ड फ्रायडले मनोपरामर्श लिन आउने मानसिक रोगीहरूलाई आफ्नो कथा खुलेर बताउन लगाउँथे। तिनै कथाका आधारमा उनी उचित उपचार सिफारिस पनि गर्थे। त्यसैले कथा भन्ने र सुन्ने काम मानवीयताको लक्षण नै हो।

हरेक व्यक्तिसँग एउटा न एउटा कथा हुन्छ। कसैले त्यो लेखेर व्यक्त गर्छ भने कसैले आफ्ना नजिककालाई सुनाएर। विकास संग्रौलाको अंग्रेजी पुस्तक 'अनलाइक्ली स्टोरीटेलर्स'ले यस्तै कथा लेख्ने र भन्ने पात्रका सम्बन्धका आयामलाई खोतलेको छ। अंग्रेजी दैनिक 'द डेली इन्फर्मर'मा काम गर्ने दीपकले पाँच जना व्यक्तिलाई भेटेर तिनका कथाव्यथा सुनेको र साथसाथै आफ्नै जिन्दगीको कथा पनि अगाडि बढाएको वर्णन उपन्यासमा छ।

दीपकको काका पर्ने अनन्तले सुरुमै आफ्नो कथा सुनाउँछन्। आफूले विगतमा गरेको गल्ती सुनाएर मन हल्का गर्ने उनको योजना हुन्छ। सहरको केटा गाउँ गएर केटीलाई गर्भवती बनाउने र छोडिदिने पुरानो फर्मुलामा निर्माण गरिएको यो कथा भने केही कमजोर लाग्छ। यस्तोखाले कथा धेरैचोटि पढिसकिएको र कैयौं हिन्दी फिल्ममा हेरिसकिएकै हो।

यता दीपक भने माओवादी द्वन्द्व उत्कर्षमा पुगेको बेला दिनहुँ हुने हत्याका समाचार संयोजन गर्दागर्दा आफ्नो पेसाबाटै विरक्तिन थाल्छन्। जिल्ला ब्युरो सम्हालिरहेका दीपकले सम्पादक केदारसँग कुरा गरेर फिचरतर्फ लाग्छन् र 'सेलिब्रेटिङ लाइफ' भन्ने स्तम्भ सुरु गर्छन्। उनका फिचरहरू चर्चित हुन थालेपछि विभिन्न व्यक्तिले पत्र लेखेर तथा प्रत्यक्ष भेटेर उनलाई आफ्ना कहानी बताउन थाल्छन्। आफूभन्दा निकै प्रौढ रहेका अपाहिज विधुरसँग विवाह गरेर अत्यासलाग्दो जविन बिताइरहेकी मेघाले एउटा रेस्टुराँमा दीपकलाई भेटेर कथा सुनाउँछिन्। व्यक्तिहरूको बीचमा संवाद हुँदा दुवैको उपस्थिति झल्किनुपर्ने हो तर कथा सुन्ने दीपक पूरै मौन बसेको अनि मेघाले आफ्नो लामो कथा सुनाइरहेको अलि अस्वाभाविक लाग्छ। पछि अन्य पात्र कैलाश र करुणाले दीपकलाई आफ्ना लामा कथा सुनाउँदा पनि दीपक यसरी नै मौन बस्छन्।

विगतले वर्तमानलाई पारेको असर दीपकले भेटेका पात्रका कथाको विशेषता हो। तीन पुस्ताअघि कन्याकुमारीको श्राप परेको मेघाको परिवारका सबै सदस्यमा केही न केही शारीरिक वा मानसिक रोग विद्यमान हुन्छ। आधुनिक युगमा श्राप पर्नेजस्तो अन्धविश्वासी घटनालाई जायज ठहराउन त नसकिएला तर परिवारका सदस्य सबैलाई समस्या हुनुको वैकल्पिक व्याख्या पनि त नपाइएला। अनि अनन्तले एउटी सोझी शेर्पिनीको शारीरिक शोषण गरेको पाप आफ्नी श्रीमती र छोरो गुमाएर भोग्नुपर्छ। दस सैनिक र पैंतीस जना सर्वसाधारणलाई एम्बुसमा पारेर मारेको माओवादी लडाकु ताराले तीव्र पश्चात्तापको अनुभव गरेर आफैंविरुद्ध कठोर निर्णय लिन्छन्। यसरी उपन्यासमा विगतले वर्तमानलाई निर्देश गरेको हुन्छ।

देशको स्थिति बिग्रेर विदेश पलायन हुन लालायित युवावर्ग (दीपकको छिमेकी प्रकाश), लागुऔषध दुर्व्यसनका कारण पारिवारिक सम्बन्धमा परेको असर (नरेन र करुणाको कथा), विवाहेतर सम्बन्धले दाम्पत्यमा ल्याएको दरार (कैलाश र मायाको जीवनमा प्रदीपको प्रवेश), नेपाली समाजमा क्रान्तिकारी मानिने लिभ इन रिलेसनसिप (दीपक र आकृति), महŒवाकांक्षाको अभावले मानिसमा ल्याउने फ्रस्ट्रेसन, गाउँमा रहेका कृषिका सम्भावनाजस्ता अन्य विषय पनि उपन्यासमा छन्। देशमा चलेको द्वन्द्व र राजनीतिक घटनाक्रमलाई पनि लेखकले जोडेका छन्।

द्वन्द्वका केही प्रतिनिधिमूलक घटनालाई उपन्यासमा झिनो तवरले आख्यानीकृत गरिएको छ। लमजुङका शिक्षक मुक्तिनाथ अधिकारी (उपन्यासमा उनी दोलखाका विद्यानाथ अधिकारीका रूपमा चित्रित) लाई चन्दा नदिएको निहुँमा माओवादीले गरेरको नृशंस हत्यालाई तारा भन्ने पात्रले बताएका छन्। ताराले अधिकारीलाई मोबाइलमा सन्देश पठाएर सचेत गराएको उल्लेख छ तर त्यतिखेर मोबाइल फोन अहिलेका जत्तिकै सहजै प्रयोग हुन्थ्यो होला र भन्ने शंका उब्जिन्छ। अनि सर्वसाधारण चढेको बसलाई एम्बुसमा पारेर धेरै निर्दोषको ज्यान लिइएको बाँदरमुढे घटनालाई बाँकेमा भएको घटना बनाएर त्यसमा पनि ताराको संलग्नता देखाइएको छ। त्यसैगरी नगरकोटमा एक सैनिकले गरेको नरसंहारलाई दीपकले रिपोर्टिङ गरेको कुरा पनि यसमा परेको छ। ताराबाहेक अन्य पात्रको द्वन्द्वसँग खासै साइनो नभएको र तारा पनि द्वन्द्वका घटनाक्रमलाई जोड्नका लागि साधारण रूपमा सिर्जिएको अनि दीपकले द्वन्द्वका हार्ड न्युज लेख्न छोडेको अवस्था देखिएकाले उपन्यासमा द्वन्द्वको चित्रण कमजोर रूपमा भएको छ।

आवरण कला अर्थपूर्ण र कलात्मक छ। क्याफेमा कफी खाँदै कुरा गरेको संकेत पाइन्छ कलामा। टेबलमुनिको झोलाले पत्रकारलाई इंगित गर्छ। भित्तामा झुन्डिएको एडवर्ड मन्चको 'स्त्रि्कम' पेन्टिङले उपन्यासका पात्रको दुःखलाई प्रतिनिधित्व गर्छ।

उपन्यासको बलियो पक्ष भनेको मानवीय सम्बन्धका आयाम केलाउन लेखक सक्षम देखिन्छन्। मेघाका बुवा मणिप्रसादको आफ्नी अर्की छोरी मायासँगको कठोर व्यवहारका कारण मायामा पैतृक प्रेमको लालसा र तज्जनित मानसिक रोगलाई लेखकले उत्कृष्ट रूपमा चित्रण गरेका छन्। दीपकले भेटेका सबै पात्रप्रति पाठकको सहानुभूति जाग्छ र उनीहरूको कथा पढिरहन मन लाग्छ। उनीहरूका कथाले संवेदनालाई छुन सक्नु भनेको लेखकको सफलता हो। उनमा मानवीय मनोविज्ञानको समझ छ, यसर्थ आफ्ना पात्रलाई प्रेमपूर्वक प्रस्तुत गर्न सफल छन्।

आफ्नो पहिलो पुस्तकमै लेखकले यसरी पात्रगठनमा शिल्प प्रदर्शन गर्न सक्नु प्रशंसनीय छ। कथानकमा केही कमजोरी रहे तापनि भाषा सरल र बोधगम्य छ। नेपाली पाठकका लागि कथा नौलो नभए पनि विदेशी पाठकले भने नेपालको एक कालखण्डलाई आख्यानीकृत गरिएको उपन्यासलाई सहर्ष अपनाउने अपेक्षा गर्न सकिन्छ।

कृति : उपन्यास

लेखक : विकास संग्रौला

प्रकाशक : नेपालय

पृष्ठ : २४०, मूल्य : ३७५/–

Friday, September 18, 2015

Organic tales (Upendra Subba's Lato Pahad) उपेन्द्र सुब्बाको "लाटो पहाड"

This review appeared in Republica on September 18, 2015.

Upendra Subba, having carved his niche in Nepali literature as a poet par excellence, has now demonstrated his storytelling skills in a delightful collection “Lato Pahad” (The Dumb Mountain). All 13 stories in the collection are centered on issues of marginalized Limbus.
Despite their political underpinnings, there is plenty of aesthetic pleasure in reading the text. Laced with humor, and native language and images, the real stories of people make the reader laugh and feel empathetic towards the locals’ plights.

The first story “Prabhu Maila” satirizes the unitary state that has forbidden the ethnic groups to receive education in their mother tongues. Hot-headed Keshman is asked by his lady teacher where Hira is found. When she keeps repeating the question to Keshman, he tells her that she has hidden it under her belly and runs away, leaving the teacher red faced. Now, “Hira” in Nepali means “diamond” but it means a woman’s private parts in Limbu language.

Through this hilarious episode, the writer advocates for intercultural dialogue and cultural sensitivity. Imposing a single language on a population with different languages has left many uneducated (The same theme is also explored in the title story “Lato Pahad”). Besides this, the story also describes the encroachment of Christianity upon native cultures and the resistance it meets. Rather than thanking his friends for the food they provide as fruit of their labor, Keshman, who has now become Prabhu Maila after being converted to Christianity, praises the lord for the food which riles Kokma Thule and he kicks Prabhu Maila out.

The stories “Khunkhar Bhale” and “Manmaya” show the condition of the poor in raw detail, tugging at the heartstrings of the reader. “Aithan” makes a case against abortion that kills potentiality altogether. Who knows whether the child could have significantly contributed to humanity had it been allowed to live? Written in surreal style with images of nightmare, the story fictionalizes the Limbu death ritual of taking the dead soul to the next world.

Sexual psychology has been beautifully presented in “Sasurali”, “Thote Sailo” and “Handaneko Bihe” (the last one is full of double entendres). “Mansinghko Chaite Dashain” is a brilliant work of dark humor that tackles polygamy.

Any culture has its own peculiar belief systems. Limbu folks believe that a person becomes sugut (ghost) after death and certain rituals to take sugut to the next world should be carried out, otherwise it keeps troubling the living relatives. In the story “Sugut”, Dalhang, a migrant worker, returns home after his wife’s death while the ‘sugut’ ritual has been suspended. After becoming aware of his sister-in-law’s marriageable age, he hatches a plot to wed her by having his dead wife’s ghost tell the family members about marrying the sister to Dalhang.

Bawdy humor, with liberal references of flatulence, in “Puchune Dhamiko Maran”, materialism and greed tearing apart a family in “Hariyo Dhunga” (great use of a symbol), politics of language troubling an individual in “Naspate Budho” prove Subba’s talent in storytelling.

While all the other stories symbolically raise the issue of a discriminatory state policy, the longest story in the collection “Lato Pahad” overtly criticizes the unitary state’s suppression of ethnic minorities. Written in the form of a film script (where scenes change too quickly to viewers’ comfort), this story pits the state against the native Limbus.

Kokma Thule is arrested for killing a cow whereas he had just used the skin of an already dead cow to make the native musical instrument, Chyabrung. He had been arrested earlier as well – charged with violating Consumer’s Forest Laws for felling a tree in his locality to make the ring of Chyabrung.

Through this episode, the writer advocates for rights of the ethnics to their natural property. Without explicitly saying so, the writer lobbies for ethnic federalism that establishes pride and respect of the ethnics in their ancestral land. The linguistic-cultural encroachment of the unitary state is shown in Kokma’s son Fangjang being humiliated in school just because he is a Limbu.

The Aryan principal and teachers, the local representatives of unitary state, punish him for not pronouncing Nepali words correctly and for retaliating against taunts of a “leopard” by his Aryan classmates. The sad part is that the elders identify with these events unfolding in the film while the young audience is bored.

Although it’s said that the position of women is better in ethnic groups as compared to Khas-Aryan groups, the stories don’t support this claim. None of the female characters are in a decision making position. Whenever they raise objections to their husbands’ wrong actions, they are scolded to silence.

The stories seem to have subtle meanings, but only if the reader has a good knowledge of the Limbu culture. Many native words have been used in the stories without explaining their meanings. Maybe a glossary at the end of the book would have helped.

But a lack of knowledge of Limbu words in no way hampers the reading pleasure. The reader will be in stitches while reading the stories and will also find out the political subtext in the narrative if s/he goes deeper. After a long time, a good book has appeared in the Nepali literature scene.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Sowing strife: Secularism

 This article appeared in Republica on September 8, 2015.

Ultimately, they chose to ignore popular feelings. By agreeing on retaining "secularism" in the new constitution despite a large number of people's suggestion to the contrary, the syndicate of the big three has paved way for religious strife. The backhand manner in which secularism was imposed had riled a lot of people but they tolerated it with the hope that this sensitive issue would be put to a referendum. But the syndicate, in an authoritarian fashion, sealed the fate of the country by continuing with this divisive issue.
Prime Minister-in-waiting KP Oli had assured the public that this offensive term would be dropped from the draft constitution but all hopes were dashed with the latest decision. The clarification over the definition of secularism reads as "protection of religion and culture being practiced since ancient times and religious and cultural freedom". This practice was already in place when Nepal was a Hindu state, so what was the point in introducing secularism?

Even if the major parties have tried to dilute the evil aspects of secularism by inserting placatory explanations, it should be resisted because it isn't a sincere term as is often made out. It is a non-religious, non-spiritual, atheist, or a worldly concept. Staunchly against religion, this concept was introduced during the Age of Enlightenment in Europe when the state severed its ties with the church. Dogmatic Christianity claimed that only it was the keeper of the truth, which God himself had revealed to his church. Only through acceptance of the church that represents Jesus Christ can the humanity born in sin be redeemed.

It is obvious that such claims did not appeal to rational people but they kept mum lest they face dire consequences. The church was more powerful than the state and draconian laws were framed to punish people who questioned the faith. Understandably, antagonism against such a harsh religion surfaced after the introduction of secularism. It may have been necessary in European context but how can such a concept ensure religious equality in a multi-religious country like Nepal when it is against religion itself?

Many religions have thrived in Nepal since ancient times. The dominant faith, Hinduism, never forced itself upon the minority in cahoots with the state. People's faith was based on ancient seers' insights and on reason, intuition and direct experience. Religion has percolated down to the smallest unit of the society without coercion. All rituals, from birth to death, are directed by one or the other faith. If western secularism requires exclusion of religion from state affairs, it can't be implemented in Nepal because the state will then have to formulate a new life style that replaces religion and rituals. After all, state is not a dead entity; it is made up of living people. Since people are guided by their religions, the state should also have a religion. A state can be independent of religion only when there is no religion in the society. Naturally, this is not the case in our country.

It is understandable that godless Maoists, backed by proselytizing Europeans, have pitched for secularism. They were successful in inserting a clause for "distance oneself from any other religion". It appears to have been introduced to protect atheists but why should atheists be protected when they have never been persecuted here, unlike in certain Muslim countries? Distancing people from their faith seems a step towards conversion to Christianity.

Unfortunately, secularism has been introduced in Nepal to promote conversion. The sprouting of churches everywhere in the country post-2006 corroborates this. Fringe Christian groups have been vociferously advocating for decriminalization of conversion which proves that their intention is to ride the wings of secularism to spread their faith. They have been successful in their mission so far.

That secularism is a divisive idea that drives wedges in the society and ruptures social fabric can be seen in our southern neighbor. This term did not exist in the original Indian Constitution when it was adopted in 1950. Hinduism, having survived the brutal repression under Muslim rule and mass proselytization during British colonial rule, could have been vindictive against minority religions in post-independence polity. But due to its tolerant nature it never dictated terms to the state. Mahatma Gandhi's relentless efforts at sarvadharma samabhava (religious equality) were also responsible for this.

However, secularism was inserted during the Emergency rule of Indira Gandhi to gain the Muslim vote bank, as she was sure to lose the Hindu vote post-Emergency. After the Emergency, Muslims and Christians voted for her en masse. According to Mary Wirth, "Since Independence, several non-secular decisions pandering to the minority had been taken. Muslim and Christian representatives had pushed for special civil laws and other benefits and got them." The 42nd Amendment to the constitution, at Indira Gandhi's behest, also changed the Preamble and the description of India from "sovereign democratic republic" to a "sovereign socialist secular republic". Wirth argues that after adding 'secular' in the constitution the government sought to benefit the dogmatic religions (for which secularism was coined in the first place).

Various parties then started playing the communal card to garner votes. They sowed the fear of a Hindu majority to whip up communal passion among minorities. Rather than introducing development schemes to uplift the minority, they found it beneficial to keep them poor, deprived and fearful of the majority so that they could be fooled time and again. Pseudo-secularism and selective secularism that hurts Hindu sentiments is being practiced in India by so-called progressive parties and intellectuals.

Sadly, the same vote-bank politics is being repeated in our country. Religion has slowly started encroaching upon politics here. A Muslim in Kapilvastu won the second Constituent Assembly elections as an independent candidate by canvassing Muslim votes when the party he was originally affiliated to snubbed him. Christian parties like Jana Jagaran Party and Nepal Pariwar Dal won seats in proportionate election system. Political parties will in the future certainly try to cash in on these potential vote banks and introduce programs to lure them at the expense of the majority. Even Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal became the fourth largest party in CA-II as it had fought elections on the plank of a Hindu state, proving that Hindus too would be politicized in the future. This religious pandering of parties will take a toll on development and stop the country from prospering.

Be that as it may, secularism has charted a course in Nepal and it would be naïve to believe the country will revert back to being a Hindu state, although the country won't suffer even if that happens. However, it would have been better if the constitution had been silent in religious matters. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, the powers that be should introduce measures to ensure that religious strife doesn't take place.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

संघीयताको गलपासो

 यो लेख भदौ १७, २०१५ को नागरिक दैनिकमा प्रकाशित भएको थियो :

संविधान पाउने आसमा बसेका जनता फेरि एकपटक निरास हुने लक्षण देखिँदैछन्। संघीयताको समस्यालाई तार्किक निष्कर्षमा पुर्यााउन गरिएको आलटाल र अवरोधले संविधान निर्माण पेचिलो बन्दै गइरहेको छ।

संविधान सभाका समिति संविधानलाई अन्तिम रूप दिन सवि्र्कय भए पनि देशव्यापीरूपमा उठेका असन्तोष र विद्रोहले जारी हुन लागेको संविधानमा अपनत्वको अभाव हुने हो कि भन्ने शंका जन्माएको छ। संविधानविद्हरूले प्रस्तावित संविधानमा अनेकौं त्रुटि रहेको र सच्याउन सुझाव दिएको अनि आमजनताले राय संकलनका क्रममा पनि सुधारको सुझाव दिएको भए पनि ती सबै सुझाव समेटिएलान् भन्नेमा ढुक्क हुने स्थिति छैन।

संघीयताको समस्या समाधान हुन गाह्रै देखिन्छ। प्रस्तावित संविधानमा संघीयताको व्यवस्थालाई जटिल बनाइनुका अलावा प्रदेश सीमांकनमा शीर्ष नेतृत्वले अत्यन्त गैरजिम्मेवार रवैया अपनायो। आफ्नो भोट बैंक सुरक्षित राख्ने हिसाबले गरिएको सीमांकनले विद्रोह र आक्रोश निम्त्यायो। कैलालीमा भएको प्रहरीको नृशंस हत्या, तराईमा भइरहेका लगातारका बन्द हड्ताल तथा लिम्बुवान समूहको आन्दोलनको चेतावनीले संघीयता बाघको सवारी भएको सिद्ध भयो।

वास्तवमा यो स्थिति आउनुमा शीर्ष नेतृत्व जिम्मेवार छ। संघीयता भनेको के हो अनि हाम्रो जस्तो भूराजनीतिक अवस्थिति भएको मुलुकमा यसको उपादेयता के कस्तो छ भन्नेबारेमा कहिल्यै पनि जनस्तरमा बहस चलाइएन। विदेशी दाताले लगानी गरेका कोठे सेमिनारमा कोरिएका संघीयताका खाकालाई प्रमुख दलले स्वीकार गरे। संघीयताजस्तो संवेदनशील र राष्ट्रको भविष्यलाई पछिसम्म असर पार्ने कुरामा पटक्कै गम्भीरता देखाइएन। संघीयताले देश टुक््रयाउँछ, त्यसैले यसको काम छैन भन्ने एकथरी अनि इतर जातिलाई निषेध गर्ने जातीय संघीयता नै हुनुपर्छ भन्ने अर्कोथरी अतिवादीले संघीयताको बहस अतिक्रमण गरे।

हामीलाई मन नपरेको भए पनि संघीयताको बहस देशमा स्थापित भइसकेको अवस्थामा यसबाट पछि हट्ने कुरा हुँदैन। काठमाडौंले उपत्यका बाहिरका मानिसले के चाहन्छन् भन्ने कुरालाई पूरै नजरअन्दाज गर्ने र उनीहरूप्रति रुखो व्यवहार गरिरहने अनि उनीहरूको आवाजलाई दबाउनका लागि फौजी समाधानको विकल्प देख्ने गर्नाले वर्तमान समस्या जन्मेको हो भन्ने कुरा प्रस्ट छ। काठमाडौंले पेलेरै गए पनि असन्तोषका स्वरहरू पूरै दबाउन असम्भव छ। बरु स–साना कामका लागि पनि काठमाडौं धाइरहनुपर्ने मोफसलको पीडालाई बेवास्ता गरिरहनु त काठमाडौंकै लागि पनि हानिकारक हुनेछ। यस्तै व्यवहार रहिरह्यो भनेचाहिँ साँच्चै देश नराम्रो समस्यामा फस्छ। संघीयतालाई सोझोरूपमा बुझ्दा यो जनताको घरदैलोसम्म पुग्ने व्यवस्था हो। संघीयताको विकल्पका रूपमा चर्चा गरिने प्रभावकारी विकेन्द्रीकरणले माथि उल्लेख गरिएका समस्यालाई सम्बोधन गर्ने भए पनि काठमाडौंको अहिलेसम्मको व्यवहारले त्यसको सम्भावनाप्रति आशा गर्न सकिँदैन।

संघीयताको आधारशीला समावेशिता हो। एक निश्चित जातिका केही टाठाबाठाको राज्य व्यवस्थामा लामो समयदेखि पकड रहँदै आएको कुरा सत्य हो। आफूलाई राज्यले इतर बनाएको गुनासो धेरै जातिलाई छ। विगतका केही वर्षमा भएका राजनीतिक परिवर्तनले ल्याएको चेतनाका कारण राज्य समावेशी बन्दै गइरहेको कुरा पनि उत्तिकै सत्य छ। राज्यका उच्च ओहदामा विभिन्न जातिका मानिस पुगेकै छन्। तर राजधानीबाट भौगोलिकरूपमा धेरै टाढा नरहेका चेपाङ जातिका मानिस उल्लेख्य संख्यामा रहेका भए पनि त्यो पूरै समुदाय नै चरम गरिबीमा रहनु अनि त्यसबाट शिक्षित व्यक्ति नआउनुले राज्य अझै पनि आफ्ना नागरिकप्रति उदासीन रहेकै कुरालाई उजागर गर्छ। चेपाङ त सीमान्तकृत जातिको प्रतिनिधि पात्रमात्र हुन्, अन्य धेरै जाति यस्तै मारमा परेका छन्। आफ्नो भाषा र संस्कृति लोप हुन लागेको स्थितिमा पुगेका यी जातिले कसरी राज्यप्रति अपनत्वको भावना राख्छन्? त्यसो भए चेपाङलाई पनि राज्य दिने भन्ने कुरा त हुँदैन तर संघमा अधिकार प्रत्यायोजन हुँदा तिनका समस्या सम्बोधन हुन सक्छन्। संघमै पनि टाठाबाठाको हालीमुहाली हुने स्थिति रह्यो भनेचाहिँ आवाजविहीन जातिमा असन्तोष जाग्छ र संघीयता नै धरापमा पर्छ।

संघीयतालाई क्रमशः सम्बोधन गर्दै जाने हिसाबले त्रुटिपूर्ण भए पनि एकथान संविधान ल्याइएको हो। तर यही संघीयताको मुद्दामा शीर्ष नेताको अदूरदर्शिता र हठधर्मिताले राजनीतिक समस्या बल्झाइदियोे। त्यसमाथि विदेशी शक्ति पनि नेपाल स्थिर भएको हेर्न चाहँदैन। भारत र विदेशी संगठनले सरकारलाई असन्तुष्ट समूहसँग वार्ता गर्नका लागि आह्वान गरिरहेका छन् तर तिनले असन्तुष्ट समूहलाई चाहिँ सरकारसँग वार्तामा बस्नका लागि लचिलो हुन कहिल्यै आग्रह गर्दैनन्। कैलाली घटनामै पनि निहत्था प्रहरीको आतंककारीले बर्बर हत्या गर्दा तिनको निन्दामा विदेशीले एक शब्द खर्च गरेनन् तर राज्यलाई दोष दिइरहे। शान्तिपूर्ण आन्दोलनमा प्रहरीले गोली नचलाउने आदेश पाएको हो अनि प्रहरीको यो संयमलाई कमजोरीका रूपमा लिएर अशान्ति मच्चाउने तत्वले हत्या गरेका हुन् भन्ने कुरालाई विदेशीले बुझ्नै चाहेनन्।

भारतको कुरा गर्दा प्रधान मन्त्री नरेन्द्र मोदीले सबैलाई मिलाएरै लग्नका लागि नेपाल सरकारलाई आग्रह गरेको अनुचित हैन तर उनले मधेसी नेताहरूलाई पनि लचिलो हुन आग्रह गर्नुपर्थ्यो। संघीयताको सवालमा मधेसका नेताले त्यहाँका जनताले समेत अनुमोदन नगरेका असम्भव माग गरिरहँदा भारतले तिनको झाँको झार्नुपर्ने हो। पहिलोचोटि नेपाल भ्रमणमा आउँदा मधेसी नेताहरूलाई उचित सुझाव दिएका मोदीले भारतीय खुफिया संस्था 'र' को कुरा सुनेका थिएनन्। तर दोस्रोपल्ट सार्क शिखर सम्मेलनमा आउँदा उनले जसरी सरकारलाई सुझाव दिने हिसाबमा आफ्नो पहिलेको रवैया बदले त्यसबाट 'र' ले उनलाई ब्रिफिङ गरिसकेको पुष्टि भयो।

मोदी हृदयदेखि नै नेपालको हित चाहने व्यक्ति हुन् तर 'र' मा राज गरिरहेका कर्मचारीको सिन्डिकेटसँग उनी टकरावको स्थिति चाहँदैनन् जस्तो देखिन्छ। त्यो सिन्डिकेटमा कांग्रेसमा आस्था राख्ने कर्मचारी छन् जुन कुरा पूर्व प्रधान मन्त्री मनमोहन सिंहले नेपालसँगको सम्बन्धका बारेमा निर्णय पूरै 'र' लाई छोडिदिएबाटै पुष्टि हुन्छ। 'र' चाहिँ नेपालमा अस्थिरता कायम रहेमा आफ्नो भूमिका रहिरहन्छ भन्ने सोच्छ। त्यहाँका कर्मचारी, अझ साउथ ब्लकको ठूलो तप्का मधेसलाई भारतमा गाभ्ने इच्छा राख्छन्। कांग्रेसी सिन्डिकेटबाट 'र' लाई मुक्त गर्ने प्रयास मोदीले गर्दैछन् र यसैबाट डराएर शीर्ष मधेसी नेताहरूले मोदीलाई 'र' को भूमिका कटौती नगर्न आग्रह पनि गरेका थिए १६ बुँदे सम्झौतापछि।

अहिले पनि केही मधेसी नेताले भारतीय नेताहरूसँग भेटेर नेपाल सरकारलाई सम्झाइदिन आग्रह गरेबाटै उनीहरूको भारतीय हस्तक्षेप निम्त्याउने षड्यन्त्र प्रष्टिन्छ। झन् जयकृष्ण गोइतले त मोदीलाई चिठी नै लेखेर मधेस भारतकै भाग हो भनी ठोकुवा गरे। बृहत्तर नेपालको कुरा उठाउँदै नेपालीले भारतका भूभागमाथि दाबी गर्न खोज्दैछन् भन्ने हौवा फैलाएर भारतको हस्तक्षेप आवश्यक भएको तर्क गर्छन् उनी। अर्का नेता अमरेश सिंह चाहिँ देशै टुक््रयाइदिने धम्की दिइरहेछन्। भारतको आड पाएरै त त्यस्तो कुरा गरेका हुन् उनले। त्यसमाथि बिहारमा विधान सभा चुनाव आउन लागेकाले आफ्नो पार्टी बिजेपीलाई जिताउनका लागि रोटीबेटीको सम्बन्ध भएको मधेसलाई मोदी अहिले चिढ्याउन चाहँदैनन्। त्यसो त नेपाल स्थिर हुँदा भारतीय प्रशासनतन्त्रमा एउटा सशक्त वर्गको सान्दर्भिकता नष्ट हुने भएकाले नियन्त्रित अस्थिरताको यो भूमरी लामो समयसम्म चलि नै रहने देखिन्छ।

यस्तोमा नेपाल सरकारले मधेसमा सकारात्मक हस्तक्षेप गर्नु जरुरी छ। सुगम जिल्ला भए पनि मानव सूचकांकको पुछारमा रहेका मधेसका जिल्लामा विकासका कार्यक्रम लग्नुपर्छ र रोजगारीका अवसर सिर्जना गर्नुपर्छ। झोलामा खोला र झोलामा विद्यालय जस्ता भ्रष्टाचारी वि्र्कयाकलाप नियन्त्रण गर्नुपर्छ। जान त विकास योजनाहरू टन्नै गएका हुन् मधेसमा तर सीमित टाठाबाठाले ती सबै कुम्ल्याएर निमुखालाई गरिबीको कुचक्रमा पारिराखेर विद्रोहको आगो सल्काउन सजिलो बनाएका हुन्।

समग्र देशलाई नै संघीयताको गलपासोबाट मुक्त गर्नका लागि अहिले यो थाती राखेर संविधान जारी गर्नु उचित ठहरिन्छ। यस्तो संवेदनशील कुरालाई हचुवाका भरमा निर्णय गर्नु उचित हुँदैन। विज्ञहरूको राय लिएर अनि जनस्तरमा बहस चलाएरमात्र यसको निर्क्योल गर्नुपर्छ। जनमत संग्रहबाट यसको छिनोफानो भएको भए सर्वस्वीकार्य हुन्थ्यो होला तर नागरिकताबिहीन मधेसीले जनमत संग्रहका लागि नागरिकता दिनुपर्ने सर्त तेर्स्याउन सक्ने सम्भावना पनि उत्तिकै छ।

Monday, August 31, 2015

Federal bogey

This appeared in Republica on August 24, 2015.

Just when people were expecting a statute of their own promulgated after a long and wrenching transition, the bogey of federalism once again threatens its existence. The unresolved issue of state restructuring had curated the first Constituent Assembly before it was able to give birth to a constitution. The same fate seems to be awaiting the CA-II. Federalism is turning out to be the ride of the tiger for major political parties, without any logical solution in the offing. It has generated a million mutinies with divergent and often mutually exclusive demands that cannot be met to the satisfaction of all.
Much of the blame for the present imbroglio lies with the major parties. Rather than taking expert advice on the sensitive issue of state restructuring, the Big Four syndicate randomly drew boundaries and haphazardly cut and pasted existing districts to new provinces. People at the grassroots, with attachment to their lands, were understandably angry by this and demanded united development regions and districts.They want their provinces to prosper and for that they need transportation routes, something the current delineation fails to address. The important components of identity and capability of federal states too have not been satisfactorily incorporated.

Influential leaders carved provinces and drew boundaries not with any pious motive but for their short-term electoral gains. This gerrymandering has let loose petty regionalism and communalism that will dictate our future political course. More offensive is the top leaders' stance in the face of violence across the country. Rather than genuinely try to bring the disgruntled forces to talks table, they have been issuing empty statements for calm. There are hints that the leaders themselves have been inciting "Akhanda" and "Tharuhat" movements and using their cadres to ignite emotions, thereby inviting police crackdown.

Leaders' indifference to commoners' death only goes to show that they want a statute at any cost, whether or not that is acceptable to a large section of the population. After all, the 16-point deal and the super-fast drafting of the problematic statute based on it had no other motive than facilitating change of power.

In this context, questions regarding federalism should be raised. Why is federalism necessary for the country? How would it ensure equal representation of all communities? How is it any better than effective decentralization? Are the provinces being carved with Nepal's geo-strategic location in mind?

Federalism, although not the magic bullet as some claim, is also not a pure evil as certain sections of intelligentsia believe. The underlying idea is to eliminate backwardness, underdevelopment and povertyof the regions outside the national capital. The centralized state has always been apathetic to the genuine worries of mofussil. People outside Kathmandu valley have to come here even for minor administrative works. Federalism would facilitate self-rule and local empowerment.

But the federal idea in the country focused more on identity than economic viability with prosperity of provinces as its cornerstone. Deliberately ignoring the co-existence of multiple ethnicities in a single region, certain forces aggressively pitched for provinces with single identity with priority rights. In the charged atmosphere, the divisive voices of "us" against "them" reached a crescendo that sought to completely exclude "them" . There was no substantial effort to cool things down and bring communal harmony. This is the reason some people consider federalism as a design of the foreign elements to rupture national harmony.

As if to prove that federalism will indeed sound death knell of communal harmony, influential Madheshi leaders have been poisoning the environment. Quitting the sovereign CA to raise their voices in the streets and issuing inflammatory statements have made things worse. Rajendra Mahato says the Madhesh will impose blockade of goods to hills. Upendra Yadav keeps telling the Madheshis that hill folks are the sole source of their misery. Amaresh Kumar Singh threatens to break Madhesh away from Nepal if every single Madheshi demand is not met and challenges the home minister to put him behind bars for his barefaced remarks.

More brazenly, disgruntled Madheshi leaders announced compensation of Rs 5 million to potential martyrs in Madhesh movement. This open call for martyrdom like some terrorist outfit shows that Madheshi leaders take the people as stepping stone to their political ambitions rather than look to genuinely solve problems in Madhesh. Moreover, it shows that they want the conflict to snowball to unmanageable proportions, rather than seek compromise solutions. General Madheshis might not share their leaders' antagonism against hill folks but some excitable youths can be puppets in the hands of these exclusionary leaders and help prolong the conflict.

Despite the conflicts it has generated, the reality is that federalism has charted a certain course from which the country cannot back down. It would have been better if this sensitive issue had been taken to a referendum. But in light of what has transpired so far, the leaders have their task cut out. They should take expert advice in state delineation. Unfortunately, they have never given serious thought to it. This process will take some time and the promulgation of constitution will be deferred. But that is the risk the leaders should take.They should not fix a date for the constitution that they cannot honor. There is no point in making a constitution that will have to be changed after a short period. There is also a need to make people aware that federalism rather than the unitary state structure will institute inclusivity.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Flawed document: Draft constitution

This article appeared in Republica on August 4, 2015.

The proposed constitution of Nepal will take the country to an uncertain future given its provisions that contain seeds of authoritarianism. Many apparently progressive clauses have been qualified by certain restrictions that can be exploited by a ruler with authoritarian bent.
Take Article 24: Rights regarding mass media. The first clause ensures that there shall be no prior censorship of publications but the very next paragraph lists several conditions to be met to enjoy freedom. The long list functions as the Damocles' Sword that the journalist should be aware of before filing a story or providing an opinion that might be unpleasant to the establishment. This is a direct attack on democratic ideals. Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy and it cannot be subjected to restrictive conditions. In extenuating circumstances like war, press freedom is generally restricted but at a small sign of unrest against an unpopular leader, it can be curbed with misinterpretation of this Clause. With these many restrictions on press, can democracy prosper in future?

The thought behind the incorporation of this offensive Clause in the constitution is that the state knows what is in the best interest of the people. It holds individuals as forces of anarchy, malleable to be swayed by the pernicious influence of a news piece or an opinion. Thus the state has to act as the strict disciplinarian. Yes, some media outlets have misused press freedom to indulge in character assassination and libel at certain times but these incidents are exceptions rather than the norm. Muzzling the press cannot be justified based on some stray incidents.

Another provision that can be exploited to assert the power of a dictator is forcing the citizen to perform mandatory labor. Ironically it falls under the provision of right against exploitation. Article 34 (4) reads, "No person shall be subjected to forced labor." But, the Clause puts a condition, "Provided that nothing in this clause shall prevent the state from enacting a law requiring a citizen to participate in compulsory service for the public purpose." This Clause demanding compulsory service is in direct violation of individual privacy. Some countries have this provision as part of penal law. The courts award mandatory public service for some crimes in these countries. Is this the case here?

A democratic constitution ought not to impose upon the individual. It should not provide leeway for arbitrary interpretation of law. But clearer is the requirement to give up privacy in Article 52 (c). It is the duty of the citizen to "compulsorily enlist when the nation needs the service." This is forceful conscription, pure and simple. Collate this with the incorporation of the term "enemy state" in right to justice provision. Does it mean that the constitution envisions war with another state requiring all citizens to contribute their labor in war effort? What about Nepal being a zone of peace?

Continuing with the constraints on individual liberty, Article 28 defines that "no person shall be put to preventive detention without sufficient grounds for the existence of immediate threat to the sovereignty and integrity or law and order of Nepal." This means that a person can be put in preventive detention when the state furnishes sufficient grounds. Rallies and mass demonstrations, parts of democratic practices, against an unpopular ruler can be taken as threat to sovereignty and law and order by the ruler to put demonstrators in preventive custody and curtail minimum rights. It happened during Indira Gandhi's rule of emergency in India and the constitution was misinterpreted by legal eagles close to the regime to justify authoritarian rule. The same can happen here.

These concerns are relevant in the sense that there are demands of directly elected executive. This demand stems from the desire to see the country ruled by executive fiat. Sick and tired of ill practices of parliamentary democracy where horse-trading, floor crossing and illegal inducements to parliamentarians to form or topple the government were a norm, people during the constitution feedback campaign might have demanded directly elected executive (although the demanders may have been brainwashed by party apparatchiks). People might be thinking that a charismatic and strong-willed leader can come down hard on anarchy and steer the country in the path of prosperity and development.

But there is no guarantee that there will be stability in the country after a directly elected executive assumes power. The executive has to be accountable to the parliament and in the situation when the executive's party fails to win comfortable majority in the parliament, his/her moves can be blocked. Frustrated with this, demands to declare parliament null and void could emerge. Without check and balance against executive overreach, there is every chance of an authoritarian rule. Given the country's geo-strategic position, sovereignty can be put in peril by an authoritarian ruler. Rather than this elitist demand, fostering inclusivity and strengthening state institutions will ensure Nepal's development.

The chattering class loves to give the example of Singapore's charismatic leader Lee Kuan Yew who transformed a backward country to become a developed one and dream of a similar leader here. But they seem to forget that Lee alone couldn't have done anything and he had capable assistants and, more than that, strong institutions to bring about change. Given the sorry state of our institutions, an authoritarian leader is likely to foster bad practices rather than change them for the better.

Matt Andrews, Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University busts the myth of hero-worship in underdeveloped country like ours by saying, "It is disempowering to see leadership as something that demands waiting for special individuals to do special things. It is empowering to see leadership more empirically; as something that emerges in certain contexts and manifests in multiagent groups."

The proposed constitution cannot be given the benefit of doubt that it is a document of compromise. None of the stakeholders is happy with the statute. Cosmetic changes after the incorporation of public feedback might be made but that would not ensure its longevity. It would be unfortunate if the constitution has to be scrapped after another 10 years. After all, it has been hastily prepared to facilitate change in power. That is why it lacks any vision. Therefore, rather than promulgating this ill-conceived constitution that can give birth to authoritarianism, it would be better if the country waited for a better document prepared with great care.