The national-level politicians and political parties have failed Nepal, oblivious as they are of cynicism and desperation that is developing countrywide.
Nepal is passing through a critical state of transition. The institutional development of democracy can easily receive a serious setback if the key players on the national political stage do not play their cards skillfully and cautiously. The future of democracy will largely depend on the success of the people of Nepal and its leaders to bridge the gap between the country as constituted by law and the country as a reality. That this gap is widening into a chasm is amply visible in the violence that has overtaken central Nepal.
In welcoming parliamentary style government, the country has apparently wrenched off the roof of tradition but the fact remains that tradition always dies hard. It remains to be seen how Nepali polity will fare in the coming years. There is enormous disparity, as Carlos Fuentes would have put it, “between the revolutionary texts, the ideas and the reality, the acts, (and) what has actually happened” in Nepal.
The problem is that this euphoric spell of freedom brought about by breaking the chains of tyranny and tradition may only prove to be ephemeral, and age-old historical conditions and deeply ingrained habits of thought and mind may prompt these societies to move in reverse one day.
King Prithvinarayan Shah, the founder of Nepal as a state, had long ago declared himself the King of Magarat. This was a federation which existed prior to the 13th century, in what is now central Nepal, of 12 petty states extending from today´s Tanahu district to Rolpa district. By the 15th century, in the wake of the Muslim invasion of India, Rajput chieftains from Rajasthan are said to have made their way into the hill areas inhabited by Magars and other indigenous tribes and carved out principalities for themselves and their progeny. All those principalities were eventually incorporated into the modem Kingdom of Nepal by Prithvinarayan Shah and his successors in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Today, Magars, constituting 7.2 percent of Nepal´s population, are the largest ethnic group in the country. And it is this very area of Magarat that is now bearing the brunt of the Maoist “People´s War” launched by Mohan Vaidya aka Kiran, Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda, along with Baburam Bhattarai and Pampha Bhusal of the United People´s Front (UPF).
What started in mid-February with a series of simultaneous attacks on the police stations in the neighbouring districts of Rolpa and Rukum, appeared to have been effectively tackled by a police operation code-named “Romeo”. But events since then have shown the “war” to be far from over. Rather, as we found out during a human rights fact-finding mission to the region in May, more and more people are being affected by the violence around them.
Following the insurgency by the UPF and the reciprocal counter-insurgency by the police, the common people of Rolpa and the surrounding districts have had to suffer all kinds of excesses and atrocities through no fault of their own. They are terror-stricken and traumatised. Cases of rape, brutal killings and arson by both sides have victimised innocents with gross injustice, brutal excesses and atrocities.
There is no civil government in Rolpa except for the presence of the Chief District Officer and his staff and the army and police personnel. The district court is not functioning and neither is the District Development Committee. The Tulsipur district jail is meant to handle no more than 50 inmates but houses more than a hundred. Both male and female detainees are herded together and are separated only at night. Each group is shut in with a bucket of water and a pitcher, and nothing else. The only respite in the entire region seems to be provided by the army which has organised a medical mobile team to provide succour to the victims of both the police and the Maoists.
Because the situation in Magarat is a harbinger of desperate times for the rest of the country, it is important for leaders of Nepali society to find a political solution. Skirting the issue in the hope that police action will set it right is being extremely naive and short-sighted. Unfortunately, the attitude of the top-level leadership of all the major political parties seems to be precisely that, which is only representative of the national capital´s response to the violence.
The Kathmandu-based media and the national-level political parties seem to be hardly aware that nearly 50 people, almost entirely villagers, have already lost their lives due to the anti-´Maoist´ reaction of the state. The news stories are mere afterthoughts, and the headlines get smaller by the day. The editors are piously oblivious of the state of insurgency and counter-insurgency that has prevailed in these remote hill distncts for more than five months. Other than straight reports, no Kathmandu periodical or newspaper has delved into the origins of this grave state of affairs.
One can very well imagine what would have happened if so many people had died in Kathmandu Valley, where many a time political parties have exploited even accidental deaths of individuals to try and topple governments and subvert constitutional processes. Kathmandu´s complacent and indifferent attitude towards the events in Rolpa and elsewhere merely reflects the unconcern of the mainstream political parlies about the happenings in remote areas.
it is the dismal performance of these mainstream national political groupings so far hat has served to strengthen the Maoist appeal to the people in some areas. Unscrupulous, viciously selfish, and narrowminded party politics has already made the common people despair of political pluralism and the multi-party political system even before it has attained its adulthood. The people of Nepal have already seen all the national level political parties in and out of the government. Their utter lack of any sense of accountability, efficiency and capacity to implement their election promises and deliver the goods have made people cynical about the nation´s prospects in future.
The very foundation and structure of the state seem to have been adversely affected by the nefarious designs of the political parties to politicise the permanent civil service and other constitutional organs of the state such as the judiciary, the Public Service Commission and the Auditor General´s office, which are the formal and external safeguards of democracy everywhere.
There is no doubt Nepal has a popularly elected parliament and a government directly responsible to it. But the electoral success of the party does not in itself lend legitimacy to the constitutional process of governance. “Legitimacy involves both the performance capacity of the system and the sentiments of the population towards governmental authority, and basic to a legitimacy crisis is a change in the way governmental authority is conceived or itself acts,” said veteran American scholar Lucien Pye.
In other words, getting elected, though an essential prerequisite, is not in itself a sufficient condition of legitimacy. Legitimacy also entails efficient performance, a sense of accountability and the maintenance of order and stability. The signs of an imminent legitimacy crisis are already visible in Nepal´s fledgling democracy, and the immateriality accorded to the civilian deaths in Rolpa is a foretaste of difficult days ahead.