Beginning or an end?
In a scene from The Killing Terraces, a documentary screened at the inaugural of Film South Asia 2001, director Dhurba Basnet captures the cold fury of a young boy, no more than ten or twelve. Orphaned by a ‘war’ that has claimed the lives of more than 2000 innocent Nepalis over last five years, the boy seethes with rage, and says to the camera that he wants to ‘tear the heart out’ of the policemen who killed his parents.
Even more than the savagery of words and the chill in the tone, it is the blazing face of the boy that sends shivers down the spine. The roots of hatred appear to have penetrated deep. When the so-called Peoples’ War is over, healing would be an onerous process for all its victims. Violence brutalises the perpetrator and the sufferer alike. Recovery is slow, and proceeds in fits and starts.
This Dasain season, Maoist violence is on the ebb. But the fear that the tide may turn anytime is always there. After all, the war started almost without a warning when a faction of the then above-ground United Peoples Front submitted a charter of demands listed under 40 points to premier Sher Bahadur Deuba, and then took to guns (13 February, 1996) four days before the expiry of the deadline. Perhaps Pushpa Kamal Dahal (a.k.a. Comrade Prachanda) and Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai knew that their demands—a wish list actually—were unfulfilable in any case at such short notice given that the rot is so deep.
Demands in the list varied from the lofty (decentralisation in real terms) to the inane (inflation should be controlled) and from the rhetorical (“The cultural pollution of imperialists and expansionists should be stopped”) to the very specific (Cars with Indian number plates should not be allowed to ply the roads of Nepal). The list is in itself a proof that the Maoists were never serious about those, because there is nothing in this list of demands that cannot be pursued through peaceful political means. If anything, violence undermines the very cause that the Maoists say they espouse— a country mired in a civil war cannot devote itself to reforms with any seriousness.
It is this record of duplicity displayed by the Maoists in the past that raises doubts about their sincerity. The truce between the police and the Maoist guerrillas holds; talks continue to be held or planned even in this Dasain of year 2001, and relative calm reigns in the countryside. But the apprehension remains: will the Maoists abjure violence or is this unquiet peace just a temporary phase—one more lull before the storm? To date, the Maoists haven’t budged an inch from their initial demands (scrapping of the present Constitution; strengthening of the ‘republic’, which they claim is already a reality; and formation of an interim government) and sporadic violence—like the recent killing of a Nepali Congress activist in Dang in the mid-western tarai—continues to mock the promises made by their leadership. Yet there is a hope that the war may come to an end sooner than later. If the fear springs from past experiences, hope in future has been raised by recent global events, particularly USA’s war on terrorism being waged right in South Asia’s attic, that is Afghanistan.
The ground beneath
Observers elsewhere in South Asia wonder why the Maoists’ war spread so fast in Nepal, considering that the Peoples’ War group or the Maoists’ Communist Centre in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar have not been able to make much headway despite nearly three decades of continuous struggle. A quick review of Maoist insurgency in Nepal is perhaps necessary to understand why the violence is today on the wane, and why the ‘war’ may completely run out of steam anytime now.
The most facile explanation offered by the lazy intelligentsia for the rise of the Maobaadi is that allencompassing expression: grinding poverty. With an explanation like that, it’s impossible to go wrong. Poverty is almost always the original cause behind most social upheavals. But as the Nepali Congress Party’s rising star Jay Prakash Prasad Gupta (once again a Minister for Information and Communication) argued in Himal Khabarpatrika: if deprivation were the sole reason behind the uprising, it would have taken place in districts like Bajura and Mugu that have much lower Human Development Index (0.173 and 0.147 respectively) than Sindhuli or Gorkha (0.295 and 0.308). Indeed, the causes of the wildfire insurgency are so complex that they cannot be explained in the catch phrases of political, social or economic disciplines. Insurgency is a product of the same socio-political process that has transformed Gupta from a struggling journalist to (in his eyes) a pragmatic politician who can nevertheless afford to fly to Paris on a “personal visit” for his Dasain vacation.
To be sure, political reasons are in themselves quite compelling. When Comrade Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai took up the gun in the winter of 1996, they did not have many political options left. Their platform (The United People’s Front) had been taken away by Comrade Lila Mani Pokharel in another one of those internecine political warfares for which leftists in South Asia are justly notorious, and their claim for recognition stood rejected by the Election Commission. Finding no room for manoeuvre and as a method of political survival, they announced a boycott of mid-term elections in 1994. From having been the leaders of third largest political party in the first parliament, they had found themselves out on the street, when the second one was convened and the Nepal became the first kingdom in the world to have a duly elected communist government.
The minority government of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxists Leninist) led by Comrade Man Mohan Adhikary was short-lived, and after its fall a spurt of opportunistic coalitions between all shades of left, right and centre followed. Corruption, horse-trading and instability became the order of the day. The bourgeoisie looked at these formations with extreme distaste, and there was erosion in the credibility of all institutions of governance. Ironically, while political parties happily formed the most unlikely coalitions, there was complete disunity among them when it came to interpreting—and thereby protecting—the new Constitution of 1990. Thus, while Nepali Congress tried to drag the institution of constitutional monarchy back into activism, the CPN (UML) thought nothing of taking to the streets against the courts. Maoists looked quite principled in comparison actually.
Another powerful political cause for the rise of the Maobaadi was the fast mobilisation that has taken place in the countryside without its proper institutionalisation. While political activists emerged everywhere, the mainstream political parties did not pay enough attention to addressing the aspirations of their workers. Fearing that the procedural formalisation would curtail their discretionary powers in distributing the fish and loaf of opportunities, leaders of all political parties built coteries, thus alienating a large section of their own ground workers. They were ready for picking up by the Maoists.
The social reasons behind the quick spread of Maoism were equally powerful. Overnight, political parties transformed themselves into machines for maintaining the status quo of a graded and hierarchical society. The possibility of ‘circulation’ of elite was wilfully blocked as the power elite of Panchayat era changed colours and assumed charge in new avatars. Perhaps none symbolises this phenomenon as strongly as parliamentarian Govinda Bahadur Shah of Rukum- Jajarkot who discarded his yellow jacket of the Panchayat and donned the lily-white kurta of the Nepali Congress, antagonising a large section of followers of the party in the region, a significant proportion of them of the Magar ethnicity. Oddly, but perhaps not so on second thoughts, pragmatic politicians can don an injured look with relative ease—Shah looks more like a victim of circumstances rather than one of the myriad causes of the creation of terror in Dhurba Basnet’s The Killing Terraces. The total neglect of Dalits and women continued under the democratic dispensation, making the locals wonder what after all was the difference from the dreaded days of Panchayat. Predictably, janjatis (ethnic communities), dalits, and women have formed the bulk of recruits for the Maoists”army’. Sadly, however, here too the higher echelons are bahun (brahmin) dominated, making one wonder at the truth in the saying: the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Then, of course, there were the economic compulsions of a dirt-poor country, that politicians like Gupta dismiss without pausing to examine their implications for social behaviour. Poverty turns into hopelessness when opportunities to better one’s prospect become the monopoly of the ruling elite and cronies. It is then that any escape from the quagmire of desperation looks attractive in the first instance. As the donors poured in loans to strengthen democracy, overnight millionaires and destitutes were created almost simultaneously as conditions ruthlessly imposed by multilateral lending agencies led to a loss of jobs.
Withdrawal of subsidy under the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) had been sapping the energy of the Nepali economy for quite sometime before the dawn of democracy in 1990, but the rate of pauperisation of the peasantry grew as the government continued to reduce subsidies for farm inputs and cut jobs in the public sector in the name of rationalisation. With the media singing paeans in praise of globalisation, the prospect of prosperity looked tantalisingly close but turned out to be tauntingly distant to the youths of petty bourgeoisie.
The army of half-educated and fully unemployed was already radicalised by ‘moderate’ leftists earlier who had promised to deliver utopia but had failed to provide even clean government during their terms in Singha Durbar. Nothing short of guns could offer these alienated youths salvation. They became the frontline leaders of the Maoists—quoting the Great Helmsman even as they prepared their muzzle laden with gunpowder and pellet.
Then there is the landscape of Nepal that rises from slightly above mean sea level to the highest mountain range in the world within a distance of about 200 kilometres. Scattered settlements and inaccessible villages of a rugged terrain criss-crossed by mountainous rivers are tailor-made for hit-and-run tactics of guerrilla warfare. The civil police—recruited and trained to maintain law and order in populated areas— was ill suited to fight rebellion in such a setting. But due to an ambiguous provision of the Constitution that does not specify civilian control over the Royal Nepal Army in so many words, King Birenda refused to send in the troops to contain the insurgency for five years into what had become a civil war for all intent and purposes. Nepali police became one of the very police forces in all of the world to have faced the full wrath of an armed rebellion. The Nepal Police suffered heavy casualties, but ironically, it is this very tragedy that has helped isolate insurgents and improve the image of the men in blue. Long reviled as ‘masters in the art of extortion’ by the social elite of the country, and also correctly blamed for the initial bout of state terror that helped nourish the Maobaadis, the policeman has suddenly gained the halo of a martyr institution. The butt of social commentators’ jokes are now the men in green of the Royal Nepal Army who do little more than stage parades and protect strategic installations, such as telephones, for a fee. It is this erosion in the respect for the RNA that may have prompted its junior officers into pressurising their top brass – representing old feudalism – which has now resulted in the partial mobilisation of the army in select districts of the country.
The sky above
Reports in the media that Maoist Supreme Comrade Prachanda travelled abroad on an Indian passport are not easy to prove, but the fact that eminent mainstream leftists like Comrade Madhav Nepal and Bamdev Gautam were received in audience by Comrade Prachanda in a ‘safe-house’ in Siliguri proved to those who were seeking proof that the Indian state was ambivalent towards the insurgents of Nepal, even if not exactly friendly. Perhaps some mandarins in the New Delhi establishment even saw in Comrade Prachanda a lever in their dealings with Kathmandu, and it was only the risk of formation of a South Asian coalition of armed insurgents that has alerted them to the dangers of playing with fire.
The Narayanhiti Royal palace was no less irresolute about an insurgency that was ostensibly aimed at throwing it (the monarchy) into the dustbin of history. The palace establishment—or at least a section of it— saw the Maoists as tools for getting after the leaders of political parties who had made it powerless. Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai publicly admitted to having a kind of an understanding with former prince Dhirendra, youngest of King Birendra’s brothers. And it is not as far-fetched as it appears that Dhirendra’s relatively harmless personage was used by certain other hard-line sections of the palace to cultivate the Maoists to spite the gains of the People’s Movement of 1990. This is the likelihood that Ram Chandra Paudel, Home Minister until recently, hinted at when he talked about the ‘ultimate pilgrimage sites’ of Maoists.
These two elements—Indian interests and the interests of socio-military and palace elite of Nepal— have a sizeable clout, if not presence, in the private Nepali media. In the initial phases of insurgency, the media acted as an extension of the Maoist propaganda machine with the bonus that the national press was considered to be unbiased while the government-controlled media carried the stigma of partisanship. The press, with no more than a few exceptions, not only condoned the violence by the Maoists, they reported it in what can be interpreted as celebratory tones. A bit of this may have been out of fear, as premier Deuba (once again Prime Minister) recently alleged-after all, the government was not in a position to guarantee security to those that dared criticise the insurgency: but all the passion poured into defending the excesses of insurgents could not have come from the psychology of fear alone. Part of the explanation must also lie in the fascination that the middle-classes have for quick-fix solutions to problems faced by a society in transition .Most of the journalists in the mainstream press represent the social profile of middle-level Maoist cadres: a petty bourgeoisie background that abhors democratic politics as ‘soft’ and worships the certainty of dictator ship of every kind. Many of these pioneers of insurgency reporting are too young to have experienced the futility of violence-they were not even born when Nepali Congress Party waged its self-destructive armed struggles in the sixties, or even when CPN(UML)’s ‘elimination of class enemy’ campaign was deftly utilised by Panchayat regime to attack all those opposed to the then system . The lack of experience of this reporting class could have been compensated by learning, but the quantitative jump in the press has not been matched .by a qualitative enhancement in the knowledge and skills of media-persons. Consequently , the press willingly allowed itself to become the loyal handmaiden of msurgents bent upon subverting the very freedom that the journalists were using to idolise the perpetrators of violence.
Even the West—epitomised by the United States and the United Kingdom—that today avows to fight ‘any terrorism, anywhere’, took a benign view of the Maoists. No less a person than Robin Cook came all the way to Kathmandu—via New Delhi—to strongly advise Singha Durbar that the ‘political problem’ should be resolved through talks. Under pressure from donors of all hues, the government hesitated from categorising Maoists as terrorists (and has not done so to date), and unwittingly condoned their acts of terror by forming, one after another, committees for talks even as insurgents massacred policemen on duty in cold-blood by the score in now infamous places such as Dunai and Naumule. In this way, five years into the insurgency, organised violence became an accepted fact of life, from being an intolerable part of life. The only saving grace, if at all it can be called that, was that Nepal’s Maoist insurgency was ideologically led, unlike the communal warfare of Sri Lanka , the jungle military of the Indian Northeast, or the criminal gangs of Karachi and Bombay. But as instances of extortion grew and standards of behaviour of Maoist cadres fell , an impression was created in the society tha.t Maobaadis were no different from other run-of-the m1ll pohtic1ans except the fact that their cadre was more organised, more ruthless, and they had the power of the gun to settle all scores-political or otherwise. The advantage of instant justice that Maobaadis had promised turned out to be even more tyrannical than the slow pace of justice dispensed by conventional courts-in an extreme example, local cadres uprooted a jack-fruit tree when a case of its contested ownership was brought to the ‘peoples court’ run by Maobaadis.
There was dissatisfaction with the government and the society had lost hopes of finding a salvation in e success of Maoist insurgency. Hopelessness was rife when the curse of history visited upon the country as the immediate family of King Birendra was massacred in the carnage of Narayanhiti in the night of Friday, I June 2001. Nepalis showed a maturity that comes only with the practice of democracy, and displayed caution and unity in the face of socio-political tragedy.
Maobaadis propaganda war to cash on the enormity of the national grief was lost even before it started—no one wanted more uncertainty, and even Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai’s fertile imagination and erudite prose could not convince any one that the time was ripe for consolidating a ‘republic’. To compound their challenge further, Maoists have suddenly found that their violent ways can no more be tolerated by an international community ranged behind United States of America in its War on Terrorism. In the new paradigm of political morality, one man’s terrorist is another man’s terrorist as well, and all kinds of militants have become expendable. Zero tolerance is the defining feature of Algebra of Infinite Justice in the eerily evocative expression of Arundhati Roy. The Maoists have nowhere to hide in the international arena at hand.
In the famous phrase of the Great Helmsman, guerrillas survive and flourish as long as they can swim in the river of public support. But the stream seems to be drying up as people tired of Maoists’ extortion tactics are grouping up to fight the terror. And it is happening not just in the tarai from Sunsari to Banke districts, east to west, but deep in the hills in places like Panchthar and Ramechhap as well. In the Biruwagadhi of Parsa district in the central tarai, local inhabitants recently literally drove away the suspected Maoists and their sympathisers alike.
The ground beneath the feet of Maoists—the silent support of urban middle-class—has started to give way. It happened mainly because the Maoists scratched where it didn’t itch, and ended up looking like torturers. The bourgeoisie had made peace with the private schools, and agreed to buy a status possession called ‘quality education’ for their kids at a price. The Maoists’ threats of closing them down frightened the urban middle-class, and when the insurgents brought their forcible donation collection drives to professionals’ door-steps in the capital city, its conscience-keepers were positively enraged. It’s highly unlikely that Kantipur Daily was not aware of ransom notes that Maoists have been delivering at the offices of almost all big business houses in a routine manner for the past few years, but when they themselves received one after the Narayanhiti Massacre, they promptly reported it in their hugely popular daily newspaper. This innocuous event heralded nothing short of a tectonic shift in the way middle-class would thence onwards look at the insurgency.
Now, the Indian authorities, too, have been quick to disown Maoists. As a part of his ploy of staging a concert of democracy’ against cross-border terrorism in India-held Kashmir, the urbane Foreign Minister of India Jaswant Singh declared Nepali Maoists as terrorists even while the government at home was treating them as equals and holding political ‘talks’ with them. The damning of Maoists by the South Block was the proverbial last straw, even more damaging than the mobilisation of Indian forces along the Nepal-India border, demonstrably to protect the Hindi hinterland from Nepal’s insurgents. Elements sympathetic to India inside Nepal have no reasons now to tolerate terrorists.
The Maoists were respected for a while by the churlish elite of Nepali society for whom anti-Indianism is the true essence of Nepali nationalism. But when these ‘patriotic Nepalis’ discovered that their idols were cursing the very pedestal on which they were safely ensconced—the safe houses of Siliguri, Siwan and Kanpur—they became incensed. The Maoists have been desecrating temples, opposing Sanskrit and issuing ‘fatawas’ against unacceptable social practices right from the beginning, but it’s only now that the traditionalists have woken up to these attacks on their domain and gathered courage to speak out against it. The fear of Chief Vitalstatistix in the Asterix Adventures is proving to be true—the sky is indeed falling down upon the heads of Maoist warriors in Nepal.
Just as insurgencies start unexpectedly, peace too can befall purely by happenstance. This was one of the points that Professor Richard Rorty, the famousleftwing philosopher of the US academia, made recently while talking to a select gathering in Kathmandu in a different context. Making peace is often a game of waiting for that chance, and learning to seize the moment. That moment for Singha Durbar is now. The prospect for peace appears tantalisingly close. However, the challenges of keeping peace shall remain long after the leaders of Maoist insurgency have retired into respectable bourgeoisie obscurity. See how violence continues to rock Bihar decades after former Naxalites have taken up new identities and dug fresh roots as far afield as the academia of Pennsylvania and the low-cost housing of Patpargunj in New Delhi. Draining the swamp is a necessary condition to fight the mosquito menace, but it’s not sufficient in itself: disinfecting the surroundings is an essential corollary.
For the moment, the ground condition in the countryside has become hostile for the insurgents, but as long as they hold onto their guns, they will continue to pose a formidable challenge to peace. Disarming the insurgents as a part of peace process must be a non-negotiable condition. One of the reasons behind the relatively swift spread of extremism in the hills of the mid-western region is the alienation of ethnic populations in districts like Rolpa, Rukum and Jajarkot. This is a region where promises were made, but never fulfilled. The Rapti Integrated Development Project—designed, financed and run by the Americans—bred a generation of youth fed on dreams but denied opportunities for realising them. While the elite immensely benefited from donors’ munificence, the rest of the population was left looking with longing bordering on enmity. The poor of this region fell further into misery as recruitment into the British Gurkha corps was discontinued, opportunity for employment in the Indian Army diminished, and government investment in public sector infrastructure projects sharply declined. Taking up guns is a hard temptation to resist when there is little other option of fruitful employment. The dynamics of addressing peoples’ desire for change differ from region to region, but a dire need for change in the status quo is common all over the country.
The political mainstream has to realise that insurgency is a dangerous tool for scoring points over each other. After all, the Maoists spread fastest when CPN (UML) looked on approvingly as the rebels ruthlessly killed Nepali Congress activists. But that changed soon enough, and political workers of other mainstream parties started to fall indiscriminately to insurgents bullets. Rhetoric—in the sense of using language to convince an opponent—is the cornerstone of bourgeoisie democracy. But, when guns start to speak, verbal communication gets silenced. To believe in the democratic process is to oppose violence without exception.
The Nepali media is still on the ascending side of the learning curve, and hope has to be placed on the maturity that seems to have come among the mediapersons that have borne the brunt of Maoist violence— reporters held prisoners by Maoist cadres will no longer look approvingly at insurgents abducting innocents for ransom. Eulogising hate—be it of the class or communal variety—is a suicidal course for the independent media. It must act to enlarge the middle ground, not for some higher purpose, but for its own survival. It is as elementary as that, and it is strange how some people in the profession so easily fall for dangerous alternatives. A political consensus must be developed to strengthen all organs of government—the Parliament, the judiciary as well as the executive. No establishment is ever free of attacks from desperate groups—the challenge lies in developing institutional mechanisms for dealing with and containing armed revolt of all kinds. After all, as it turns out, even Americans can not do without an Office of Homeland Security. But it is the society’s ability to redress the grievances of the dispossessed that truly tests its mettle. Contrary to the fiction of ‘revolution of unfulfilled expectations’ invented by the apologists of ‘controlled democracy’, masses in poor countries know the limitations of their governments only too well. People do not expect miracles; all they demand is justice—a just redistribution of a community’s resources, an equality of opportunity for advancement, and a rule of law that is transparently sincere.
While democracy continues to be regarded as the least calamitous approach of achieving all political goals, democratic regimes need to realise that there are alternatives that promise quicker solutions at a price. Democracy, for all its virtues, need to constantly prove itself, and it needs to do so even more to the restive populace of countries where the disadvantaged outnumber the well-off classes by far. However sincerely one may like to believe otherwise, the benefits of democracy aren’t self-evident to people who ask for a chance in the betterment of their living conditions. There is urgent need of an attitudinal change in the leaders of all political parties of Nepal. Dominated by an elite steeped in the culture of ‘all or nothing’, the Nepali elite—irrespective of political affiliation—is prisoner to its feudal past. Such a past has instilled the will to dominate, producing a martial attitude that gives birth to the ruling culture. The most extreme attitude of a ruling culture is its unwillingness to share power with others. King Mahendra said it to BP Koirala in so many words: “Bishweshwar Babu, only one of us can remain. Either you run the country and 1 will stand aside. Or you leave it, and I will run the country.” (Atmabrittanta, Himal Books).
Variations of this theme can be seen in controversies between parliament and the judiciary, the judiciary and the executive, and, most importantly, between the king and his prime minister. This attitude must be overcome to institutionalise peace in the country. Fortunately, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is extraordinarily pliant, but if ambiguities in the Constitution are not rectified with alacrity, the possibility of further confrontations between the two durbars—Narayanhiti and Singh Durbar—shall continue to haunt the polity. Prime Minster Deuba appears to be the man history needed at this moment in Nepal—rather than force a showdown, Deuba has a knack for making compromises and engineering deals. Beyond a point, such an approach can turn out to be counter-productive—for there is no alternative to facing tough issues—but at this juncture, Deuba’s malleability is certainly an advantage. Even after all this, the question of mainstreaming the ultras still remains: how to bring the youth that has been radicalised beyond belief—and taught to shoot first and talk later—back into peaceful politics?
Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut answers beyond the platitude that time is the best healer. Policemen who have faced the fire may be itching for revenge. Youths orphaned by the mindless war may have lost the capacity to endure. Guerrilla commanders who have got used leading an easy life may be tempted to turn into minor warlords pursuing agendas of violence independent of the central command of the Maobaadi leadership. Chances that peace may not hold for long are always there, the most compelling of them being the rivalry between the political and military command of the insurgents. Peace belongs to politicians and once back into the limelight, Comrade Prachanda may feel threatened by his more articulate deputy Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai. Reputed to be an organiser par excellence, Comrade Prachanda commands the undisputed obedience of all his cadres, but in the rough and tumble of democracy he may discover that Dr. Bhattarai’s felicity with the written and spoken word are more worthy possessions.
Engineer-turned rebel commander Ram Bahadur Thapa, alias Comrade Badal, may realise that while the ‘war’ undeniably belonged to generals like him, politicians like Matrika Yadav have better prospects in electoral duels for office. These complexities would undoubtedly keep Maoists wary of any political settlement that the government may be capable or willing to make.
But the Maoist leadership must have learnt by now that the insurgency is fast losing steam, and they don’t stand to gain anything by postponing a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Two years ago, Maobaadis demand for a major constitutional overhaul looked imminently sensible, and even two months earlier, they could have easily got an interim government where they held sway. Now neither of the two seems possible, and their third demand of strengthening the so-called ‘republic’ does not have even a fighting chance any more. Not just Nepalis, even the world community has suddenly discovered the need of the anchoring role of the institution of monarchy in volatile societies like Afghanistan and Nepal. For the government, too, the risk that the insurgency might break up into groups of feuding warlords looks so real that it seems to be willing to walk the extra mile with Maoist negotiators so that the group behind the insurgency remains united. When dealing with armed insurgency, divide and rule is not always the best policy, as the experiences of Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and even Kashmir to a certain extent have shown. But patience should not be allowed to last so long that it starts to look like indecision and plain dithering. It can turn the aggrieved sections of the population restive all over again—eager to take matters in their own hands. With each day of delay in resuming the talks, the risk of an escalation in violence, at least in the short term, increases. For the negotions to have any meaning, there must be a sense of urgency about it.
And then there is the rage of all those traumatised by the ‘war’—thousands like the young child in The Killing Terraces scattered all over the country. The society has to show them that neither the sacrifices of the dead nor the suffering of the living have happened in vain. The Nepali society in general, and its democratic dispensation in particular—along with its ‘king in parliament’ form of governance— must demonstrate that changes in the status quo are possible through peaceful means, and that wielding guns runs contrary to the aims of enabling the masses.
Despite all the advances made in psephology and opinion surveys, political prediction is still nothing more than an informed exercise in crystal gazing. After five years, this has been a relatively peaceful Dasain. Will the peace endure? No one knows for sure. In the smog of apprehension that is enveloping the autumn air of Kathmandu, a thin layer of hope is clearly perceptible. But it may yet turn out to be an illusion of unfulfilled desires—who knows? One cannot catch mist over the lake in a fishing net and conserve the beauty for eternity.
A more sensible option is to savour the moment, and pray that it lasts; or that whatever comes next—a ray of hope in the sunshine from behind the clouds perhaps?—is as enchanting, if not more. As Professor Rorty would put it: waiting for happenstance is the inalienable part of all human struggles. After enduring a spate of misfortunes over last two years—the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane, the Hrithik Roshan riots and the Narayanhiti massacre, to say nothing of natural calamities such as floods in the tarai, drought up in the mountains and landslides everywhere in the middle-hills—that seems to have put a question mark over the very survival of Nepali state, Nepal needs a break. It deserves a stroke of luck. And faith says that one always gets what sheiO, deserves.