The state of the state: an “insider’s” observation from outside

Let me first make it clear that I am using “insider” here in the broadest sense of the word – meaning a Nepali’s observation of the events back home, from a foreign land obviously. In any narrow sense of the word, I am no insider – either to political elites of the country or to any royal/feudal & military classes. I am just a lay person with interests in socio-economic, political, and, may I say, environmental aspects of the society and the nation that I grew up in. With these disclaimers, let me move on to what I intended to write about here.

I start with an observation, which I think is quite timely in the context of a number of “nominees”, including the coordinator, opting out of the ceasefire code of conduct monitoring team, and the delay in the start of work by the newly formed Interim Constitution Drafting Committee. My observation follows thus – while on a research fieldwork a few years ago, I was with a well known Nepali anthropologist, who also happens to be an activist/civil society leader and held (I don’t know if he still holds that position) executive position in a large federation. We were planning our day’s research trips to villages to arrange focus group discussions when his mobile rang. Apparently it was from secretary to the then PM Surya Bahadur Thapa, who was calling to inform him that he had just been “nominated” by the Prime Minister to a “high level committee” formed to study some important social issues (I think it was related to either dalits or kamaiyas or some similar issues) and report back to the government within a month! Being a very busy person – an academic, activist, civic leader and what not – he declined the nomination and told the secretary he just didn’t have time as he was planning to stay in the field for another two weeks and that a month to study issues of such importance was just not enough. Within a few minutes, he got another phone call, this time from the PM himself asking him to accept the nomination and help with the report. He gave the same reply to the PM as he had done to the secretary. Strangely enough he was quite involved, both academically and as an activist, in studying issues like that of the dalits, bringing them to light and trying to change the policies through advocacy and activism. I was surprised he didn’t accept the nomination, a position from which he could have highlighted the issue much more vigorously. The real reason, however, was not that he was busy, as he mentioned to me afterwards, it was because he was never consulted before that nomination, a process which he didn’t agree to.

So what has gone wrong with these two newly formed committees? Exactly the same thing that has been going wrong in our country for years. Our political elites think they can make anyone do anything just by telling them what to do, which committee to sit on, when to write a report on what issue, and so on. They don’t seem to know about the courtesy of asking before “nominating” these persons, who are essentially free individuals with a right to make their own decision, to committees they may or may not want to sit on. Their thinking seems to be this – we are the ruling class and you the ruled, you do what we tell you to do. Even after 15 years of democracy (with a few years of autocracy in between), these ruling classes do not seem to know about the consultative processes, which, in established democracies, are such a big part of the policy formulating and decision making process. We just have to look at the images of women’s groups protesting outside PM’s residence during the “SPA-Maoist” summit recently, pressuring these ruling classes to form inclusive committees – both for ceasefire monitoring and interim constitution drafting. If this is the state of our democracy after 15 years, what have we achieved?

Now a brief comment on Prachanda’s interview by Kishor Nepal published in ekantipur. Apparently, there was an interview with Prachanda on KTV a couple of weeks back, which I missed. Anyway, going through Kishor Nepal’s interview with Prachanda, a few things struck my mind – things that I have been thinking of writing about recently – the issues such as those of the size of Nepal Army, what will happen to Maoist’s so called Liberation Army and their arms, what kind of politics Maoist post-CA will get into etc. Let’s start with the issue of Nepal Army. What should be the size of our National Army? I agree with Prachanda when he says we have too large an army for a small poor country sandwiched between two large powers, both economically and militarily. And reducing the size of the national army to only around 10,000 also appeals to me. However, he is not clear on what will happen to his army – when asked, he just says “there is no use of increasing the number of our army either”. The issue is not about increasing or decreasing what are essentially the militias, the issue is about decommissioning them, and the arms that they carry. Instead, chairman Prachanda talks about forming people into a militia – he talks about compulsory five-year military training for all citizens, apparently to save the country “even if India or China attacks”. Will he also issue every citizen who undergo such military training with arms?

As it is, I don’t think Nepal needs an army to fight anybody. First, talks of any military threat from either India or China is just scaremongering. Further, Nepal is in such a strategic position between the two superpowers that any threat from either one of them ought to be neutralised by the other. I would argue that being in this position makes Nepal safer than otherwise. We do not even have to worry about the threat from any third countries , as we only share our borders with India and China. Why the need for any army at all then? Generally, Nepali army is more respected outside Nepal than within – just look at the contribution of Nepal Army to the UN peacekeeping missions or of soldiers from Nepal in Gurkha regiments in the British and the Indian Armies. Sending soldiers in the UN peacekeeping missions not only enhances reputation of the Nepali Army but also brings in revenues, which can be used not only to better train these soldiers but also be invested in the country. Keeping a small army, and training it in a best possible way, especially geared towards the UN peacekeeping missions has to be the best way forward for Nepali Army. As for chairman Prachanda’s idea of a compulsory five-year military training for all the citizens, I think the idea is just ridiculous. Talking about being able to fight Indian or Chinese invasion with citizen-militia, and save the country is again pure fantasy. We are talking about nuclear powers here, not some old fashioned combat!

Now, although I do not agree to Prachanda’s “compulsory military training for all citizens” idea, there is something similar in a lot of highly developed economies called National Service. Unlike compulsory military training like the one Prachanda talks about, in National Service, citizens can choose the sector within the State that they would like to work in, which could be anything from working in government offices to teaching and could include services in the army and the police force if they so desire. If Prachanda is so worried about the development of the country and people’s participation in development, as he seems to give an impression that he is, then why not talk about one or two years’ compulsory National Service, rather than that ridiculous idea of compulsory five-year military training for all?

Looking from afar, the almost muted response from the general public to the recent SPA/Govt – Maoist Summit and the eight-point agreement makes me wonder why this sudden disinterest in the evolving political scene of our country. The eight-point agenda shows that Maoist were quite successful in getting most of their demands fulfilled, such as the dissolution of the parliament and the formation of interim government to oversee CA elections and so on, and strangely people seemed to trust Maoist more than they do the SPA, even though to me Maoists haven’t still come out clearly or cleanly on many of the important issues – both political and socio-economic. Events in the last couple of days after that summit which ended with the eight-point understanding shows that even that summit wasn’t inclusive, especially regarding the views of the members within the SPA, as Thursday’s meeting of the SPA leaders shows. Furthermore, the issue of Maoist’s arms still seems to be the stumbling block, as there have been conflicting views from the Deputy PM and the Maoist side. The former making the point that Maoist will only be included in the interim government after their arms are “managed”, whereas, the latter is adamant that they will not lay down arms until after the CA elections. Now, we just have to wait and see who comes up top on this issue…I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the Maoists again.