So Nepal has gone and declared an Emergency. Now all of the country’s 14 kilometres of railway from Janakpur to Jayanagar will run on time, and the middle class will be happy at the thought. When Indira Gandhi declared Emergency in 1975, she had younger son Sanjay Gandhi to do her dirty work. Fortunately, Sher Bahadur Deuba’s son is all of seven years old, and so there is little fear of forced sterilisations and slum clearances, and for that we thank Lord Pashupatinath.
However, the Emergency could certainly be put to good use in the land of the Gurkhas, Sagarmatha/ Everest, Mechi-to-Mahakali stretch, Lumbini-of-Buddha’s-birth, and Hindu-Buddhist amity. How about using this time of draconian measures to build footpaths along Kathmandu’s thoroughfares. The Minister for Urban Development asks — “what are they?” But of course, you see, there are these raised platforms that run the length of a road, on the side, so that citizens who cannot afford a Zen, a Santro or a Pajero can walk on this platform (otherwise known as a ‘footpath’) without fear of vehicular molestation.
Maybe an Emergency does not only have to be used to wage an under-reported war on a violent insurgency. An Emergency could be the time to get the public used to a world without bandhs, highway closures and chakka jams, where schools attended by millions are not closed arbritrarily by party diktat, and where examinations are held as announced. Let the tourists come to a bandh-less Nepal, let the economy surge and achieve a momentum which will continue into the period when the Emergency is lifted.
Or how about using the Nepali Emergency to actually make people pay their taxes? Nepal’s fatcat businessmen may not have become fully corporate, but liquid they are, and they can pay. It is just that nobody has asked them forcefully enough. How about, in these emergent times, using this window of governmental potency to push through a sewage treatment plant for Kathmandu, so that all raw sewage – from the compounds of the highest to the spanking new slums of Naya Baneswor – that presently makes up all the inflow of the holy Bagmati is converted to water.
The government did not need the Emergency to get the Royal Nepal Army out of the barracks to combat the Maoists, but now here’s the opportunity for the RNA to try and become a part of Nepali society in democracy rather than an aristocratic non-combat military that was seen to be happier wearing the blue helmet overseas than muddy khakis at home. And let the Army use this opportunity to disarm the Maoist rank and file, rather than to try and exterminate them. That will create a much larger problem for the government when the Emergency is over.
And let not the Emergency be used as the excuse to go collecting all kinds of non-esentialfighting machinery at inflated costs and hidden kickbacks in the name of combating Mao’s Nepali offspring. Most importantly, let the Nepali army never demand (and be given) helicopter gunships. And tanks. These are the weapon-delivery instruments of mass death that the country does not need – whose use in the Nepali hills will be the equivalent of American B-52s raining ordinance on Afghan villages. True, the use of the ultra-sophiscated weaponry by the Americans in Afghanistan has every military man salivating, but that is the last thing Nepal needs to remain a people’s democracy. Let the Army buy (or be gifted) all the air transports it needs, but it must keep clear of helicopter gunships with the ability to rain terror on the people below. For the power to kill and maim en masse that these choppers of death represent, their acquisition would change the very nature of the Nepali state. Lord Pashupatinath knows that it has altered enough already with the Maoist carnage.
Here is a passage on what war brings with it that applies as much to George W. Bush, presently fighting Osama, as those engaged in battling the Maoists in Nepal.
“Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.”
That was James Madison, fourth president of the United States.