Entering the race

Though an ardent believer of the empowering power of internet, I did not enable a connection at my home in Walling (Syangja District) this time when I stayed for around 40 days. Many reasons contribute to it. My ‘friend’ businessman who runs a sort of franchisee of a Pokhara-based ISP had promised a concession, but I refused. (His normal charges for a wireless connection for the laptop when no hardware is required is 4,000 plus and the monthly rental extra on top of that!)

This, none the less, gave me an opportunity to take a closer look at the remote end of a phenomenal process. Ever since I am swayed by the fat account of a flattening world by Thomas L Friedman, I have strange recurring dreams. Sometimes I think of the day when all households in Nepal will be connected to internet and I can manage a website to compare the prices of vegetables in different parts of the town.

For now, I am satisfied with getting to download important news and articles on to my laptop directly. The same friend who also runs a cybercafé had allowed me to connect my laptop to the internet. So it saved me from the arduous routine of downloading stuff in the PCs and then transferring it to a pen drive to carry along. For more than a month, I became a loyal and regular visitor of the ‘cyber’ (that is what they call it there).

It was mostly visited by teenagers. Many a times, I found boys and girls taking help of the operator in setting up an email account. Some people came with photographs and passports to be scanned and mailed to certain email addresses of people abroad. They were the people aspiring to go abroad for work.

When much debate is going on world over about the merits and demerits of the ‘wild social ether’, I try to find deep implications of simple instances at a cyber café in a town of Nepal. Googling for impact of globalization on the third world countries like Nepal, I find what I always do not want to believe. It will affect us negatively. Critics say the backward countries cannot update their mechanism and hence fare worse in the tough competition. What they actually mean, if you are listening Mr Friedman, is that the playing field is leveled but slanted to favor the major powers.

Internet is one of the major factors in the globalization of information and economics. Some argue that it is also the path toward ultimate democracy and transparency in government. Maybe that is true. But, till now, even in the developed countries, it remains a distant possibility.

Barack Obama used Facebook to mobilize his small donors effectively to unite against the tycoons but that is the only example we can quote on political positivism of internet till now. Lately, reports of Twitter and Facebook being misused by politicians and paid feeds and ads in Twitter, Facebook and You Tube have proved that any medium is as good as the ethics of the politicians. But that is too far to be of any concern for the young people trying to touch the magical world of internet in a small cubicle in this cyber café.

Sometimes, I have to do a shhh… to a pair of boys who hang together in a PC cubicle and loudly enjoy their foray into the wild web. Sometimes, the Google-talk of a woman with her husband irritates me when she goes on and on from a cubicle next to me. But mostly, I enjoy the liveliness there.

Back in my room in the evening, sifting through all the materials I saved on to my laptop during the day, I start to feel the shift. The wireless icon in my laptop glows green to show that connections are available. This realization gives me an unknown happiness and hope. (I am technically just one ‘password’ away from unlimited twenty four hour internet connection at my home in a small town in Nepal.)

How does it affect us? What are the evident changes and impact? This is one of my favorite bed time musings.

The whole sense of impact of the internet for a society like ours lies in the choices it gives us. The choice of communications. It provides us options to see, learn and exchange ideas to widen the reach.

Contrary to general pontification, the irony is that it also has within itself the choice of narrowing. With the advent of Nepali Unicode, a strong group has emerged among my Facebook friends who use Nepali for all communications. And most of them do not live in Nepal. I realized it was so peculiar and obvious in my wall posts only when an American friend asked, “Are your posts in Sanskrit?”

A young boy occupying a chamber next to me in the cyber café one day was shouting excitedly over a phone, “I have just now opened a Facebook account and added you…please confirm my request…”

I am still undecided whether this is the right way of entering the race where others are way ahead. The boy, I know is trying to catch his ears the other way round. But, for now, at least stepping onto the track and getting the feel matters.

Republica Op-Ed 2010-10-20

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People Without a Nation

Entering Bhutan through the Phuentsholing border is an amusingly contrasting experience. The bumpy road of the Indian town of Jaigaon burdened by the chaos of people, auto-rickshaws, vehicles and muddled shanties suddenly ends at the border gate. What follows is an orderly serenity manifested by broad clean roads with parking spaces, identical architectures with similar signboards and people dressed alike.

A taxi driver dressed in the traditional ‘national dress’ – Gho or Bakkhu – welcomes me to Bhutan. He introduces himself as Shakti Gurung. A mixed stream of emotions churns inside me with the soothing breeze and altered landscape. Had I not visited the ‘refugee camp’ in Jhapa district of Nepal just a few days ago, I would also have taken the beauty at face value like many tourists in Bhutan.

THE HAZE

Phuentsholing to Thimphu is a four-hour drive on meandering mountainous road mostly covered in haze due to sudden rise in altitude. This haze, as one looks at history, Bhutan has been able to maintain in its politics and policies toward the refugees. Or, at least it tries to with the help of the altitude of privileged platform provided by India.

Rising further into Bhutan, closer to the center of power, Thimphu, closer to Tibet, the land from where the present ruling family (and the ruling class of people?) originally came in the sixteenth century, the mist seems to clear away. Southern Bhutan, geographically similar to hilly regions of Nepal, is home to the people of Nepali origin. These people who migrated to Bhutan about a century ago from different parts of Nepal were suddenly deprived of many privileges by a very stringent citizenship rule in 1985. The Gorkhaland movement in India, the uprising for democracy in Nepal and the expulsion of people of Nepali origin from Bhutan happened in the same chronological neighborhood. And for people who try to interpret events in history through intentions involved, this is not a mere coincidence.

SKEPTICAL DEMOCRACY OR JUST AN OUTER FAÇADE

Looking at the outer façade, it is hard to realize the price paid for uniformity in culture and politics by the ‘people’. The uniformity in architectural landscape, which provides Thimphu city its uniqueness, comes from stringent rules regulating constructions. The exclusivity of culture and tradition comes with the ‘legal’ compulsion for Shakti Gurung to wear the completely wrapping attire in the hot weather of the southern plain. When I realize this, I suddenly stop admiring it. And, I believe, anybody with slightest idea of democracy will not appreciate this.

These regulations are a result of the ‘one-people, one-nation’ policy. This was also the root cause of the expulsion of the people of Nepali origin from Bhutan 20 years ago. Policies of the monarchy are always aimed at strengthening its roots in the country, be it on foreign affairs or internal matters. The people of Nepali origin were seen as a threat to the monarchy in the years to come. Hence, this shrewd political ante under the shroud of the ‘one-people, one-nation’ policy was propounded by the king. With the convenient ignorance and comfortable numbness of the southern neighbor, it was executed to perfection.

PEOPLE TORN APART: WITHOUT A NATION

Although two of the ministers in the first elected democratic government of Bhutan are of Nepali origin, many people of Nepali origin who still live in Bhutan whisper about the injustices. The stringent rule for jobs, where a no-objection certificate (NOC) is mandatory is one such example. If any member of the family was ever involved in any anti-government (read anti-monarchy) activity, you will not get the NOC. The vague definitions of such activities, left for the interpretation of local authorities at their own discretion, further makes things difficult for people like Shyam Bahadur Darnal.

Shyam is a friend I met in Delhi. After graduating in Bhutan, he moved to Delhi, completed his MBA and worked in a multinational for over five years. His father, after 20 long years of service to the government of Bhutan has now left the job without pension because of problems in documents. Shyam has come back from Delhi to support his family.

The café in Thimphu where I met him is run by a couple in their early thirties. The woman is of Nepali origin and the man is a Bhutanese. “I got a job so easily in Delhi. I used to in fact hop jobs without any insecurity. Here, in my country, it took me four months to get a NOC.” He takes out his frustration. There are other reasons too. The property that belonged to his father has been nationalized by the government. The documents were still with his grandfather when they left the country. (His father was the only one from the family who stayed back, being in a government job.) His grandfather is dead now; his grandmother lives in a refugee camp in Nepal. His uncles have moved to the USA and Canada, conveniently accepting the third-country settlement after two decades of exile. And Shyam’s father now cannot prove his ownership over the property.

THE FUTURE

Almost one sixth of the population of Bhutan was expelled due to many reasons. They are still living in the refugee camps in eastern Nepal where the population now has reached more than a 100,000. Many of the youths in the camps are people who have never known any life other than that of a refugee. The Bhutan government continues to give a deaf ear to the issue with an audacity beyond its capacity. Lyonpo Khandku Wangchuck, a minister in the government was unbelievably shameless to remark: “We are a peace loving Buddhist country. We can’t even get rid of street dogs. How can we do this to fellow human beings, our own citizens? They are all volunteer emigrants.”

Whatever be the play of words, whatever is the force behind the unacceptable behavior of the nations concerned and wherever they may be sent for resettlement, till the time they come back to Bhutan, they remain people without a nation. Things are not any better for people who are still in Bhutan.

Republica Op-Ed 2010-07-28

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Stop micro-managing Nepal

When things go out of control in a neighboring country with which you are culturally, historically and geo-politically linked, your diplomats posted to handle the situation there create a mess, the politicians who you believed would listen to you start behaving strangely and the people of that country start hating you; what does the doctor prescribe?

Fly envoys. If that fails, fly special envoys in frenzy. And what’s the news? Sorry doc, it’s got worse.

India is known to be a decisive influence in Nepal’s internal political affairs since the time it is known to be India. The untold promise for the Ranas in the closing years of the British Raj for protection against democratic winds; sheltering of King Tribhuvan and hence the monarchy in 1951; privileges, protection and facilities the political leaders got during the Panchayat era; the 1989-90 economic embargo; or, more recently facilitating of the 12-point agreement are all stark examples of this.

By and large, these efforts have helped positive outcomes for both Nepal and India except for the last time when the calculations went grossly wrong and the Maoists won a majority in the Constituent Assembly elections. And the problems started there.

In all the examples stated above, it was clear to India as to who matters most. The Ranas were the only people who had a say in Nepal at that time, hence there was no dilemma. Later, when the political environment became bad for the Ranas, the king was the best bet.

King Mahendra, clear on his alignments, gave little choice for India but to support the democratic movements and parties. This support continued till 1990 when the multi-party system was established. In 2006, after analyzing the merits and demerits, India helped the political parties unite against the king and created grounds for the Maoists for a soft landing into the mainstream.

But India’s calculation and the ‘democratic’ parties’ confidence was proved drastically wrong by the elections and now, the so-called Nepal experts (read ex-ambassadors, royal relatives and paper pundits) are losing their nerves.

The mother of all the problems for Lainchaur today is: Who should it deal with?

The king is almost ousted from the capital and the political arena. The Madhesis are not in a powerful majority though they are significant in number. The traditional elites or the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML have been made a political minority by the Maoists. And, with the Maoists, they are not very comfortable.

The result is this mess. Micromanagement is exposed. Threatening phone calls by intelligence operatives to legally elected lawmakers make headlines. And what is worse, the threat is over education prospects of the daughter who studies in a school!

The geo-political juxtaposition and economic reality makes it impossible for a government in Kathmandu to be indifferent toward New Delhi. Whatever be the ideological cart that pushes them to power, once the day-to-day nuances of governance, budget, finance and economy starts taking a toll on them; no political party can run away from this reality.

The moment Pushpa Kamal Dahal came to power, the ‘scrapping of the 1950 treaty’ mellowed down to both sides ‘reviewing the relationships with an open mind’. The rhetoric of recruitment of Nepali citizens in foreign army became a ‘sensitive and delicate issue’ that should be consulted with all parties. (When one of the diplomats derisively told me in a brief encounter that Dahal had himself called up the ambassador not to stop the recruitments in Nepal, I was ashamed to the hilt.)

Surprisingly, this realization has not made them confident in the right manner. It’s in the long-term interest of the relationship that India stops reacting in frenzy to each and every event in Nepal. In short, stop micro-managing Nepal.

Recently, an op-ed piece in a national newspaper of India carried an opinion of the sense that the diplomats are not there in Kathmandu to win a beauty contest. This shows that not only the policymakers but also the pundits are neglecting the most important factor in the relationship – the people. It’s high time someone gives a lecture on the importance of soft power and public opinion to the originators of such pontifications.

An image makeover, in the eyes of the public, is what India needs most right now. With what Lainchaur is involved in, it may be able to keep one or the other kind of ruling elites of its liking in the seats of importance. But, till the time the dissention remains in general public against India, some or the other party will emerge to exploit it. India, I believe, needs no lessons on this that creating a common enemy is the best method for political mass mobilization, if it has learnt something from politics of Pakistan and Bangladesh.

So, here are the tips from an insider. Instead of losing their sleep to decide who they should deal with in Nepal, the wise men in Lainchaur should focus on people-centered programs, and let the political powers come to equilibrium on their own, without an external pressure. And be rest assured, whoever emerges stronger on its own, cannot and will not bypass India.

India should focus its power and energy in educating its own citizens about the sensitivities involved while dealing with the citizens of a sovereign neighboring country. Drawing a Laxman Rekha, which should not be crossed at any cost, is in the best interests of all. And till the time this realization hits the rulers in Delhi, no Hanuman can fly to the Himalayas and get a sanjivani for the dying relationship.

Republica Op-Ed 2010-09-18 

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Missing conscience  

 

For once, let me dream. 

Let us be positive, and assume the new Constituent Assembly will deliver a constitution within the promised time, one year. Let us imagine there will be a stable government for some time thereafter. New laws are passed. New policies introduced. Development is at full swing for a decade!

Beautiful tall buildings in the capital and elsewhere. Flyovers, wide roadways in cities. Next generation railways, state of the art roads with tunnels in the lovely, well cultivated, green countryside. And triumphantly, we have built a nation, we can say after a decade. We, as a nation, have emerged. Finally. 

Can we believe this?
The nature of that nation—history, culture, dreams and vision for future, the spirit (things that we inherit from older generation)—decides our place in the world and how we are seen there. Our perception of how we are seen by the world dictates how we accept the world in general and assert our belongingness. This decides our confidence, which can increase our achievements exponentially. Lack of that confidence can limit us drastically.

In that world, we want to see ourselves—roots deep in our own foundations; dreams high and soaring. Globalised locals and localized global citizens. Proud. 

 

Now, let me usher in the reality. 

One beautiful morning, while loitering around the Tribhuwan University Campus in Kirtipur, I sneaked into a yoga camp where a group of people were dancing to melodious songs. To be frank, the bhajans and the almost hypnotized state of the people caught my attention. I ventured in, unable to avoid the temptation of losing myself in the rhythm. However, after a few minutes in there, I was distracted. The plastic waste all around—wrappers, sacks, bottles and bags—started troubling me. I couldn’t concentrate. 

I stopped my yoga and simply started picking up the muck and piled it in front of the stage, from where the Guru was commanding everyone: “Close your eyes and take a deep breath, the pure air, the Prana that sustains life!’ 

After sometime, the guru noticed what I was doing and signaled his assistant to attend to me. I outmaneuvered him by walking up to the stage. I touched his feet and asked him to request everyone to ‘clean up’ for five minutes after they are done with the yoga for the day.

He kindly announced the same and continued with his yoga instructions. I continued my cleaning. In the meantime, two gentlemen got up, rolled their mats, and started walking out. I walked up to them and requested ‘five minute clean up time’, a request they conveniently ignored. 
Naturally, they were busy. They had important things to do. Like thinking about running the nation? Maybe.

Later I found out from other people involved in the cleanup that the gentlemen who left midway were political leaders. No wonder we are in a mess! 

One of them was an ex-minister.

Thereafter, for a month, every day I pass the place, I saw the pile collected that day on stage. From there, the guru continued to command people to close their eyes. Every day, I take pleasure in remembering my Freudian slip that day: After I moved to the stage, I had addressed him mistakenly as Goru.

That reminded me of another incident at TU. A man in his early thirties was teaching Nepali martial arts to a group of young boys. Here again, I requested the guru to ask them to clean up the surroundings after they were done. This time, the group and some others playing badminton nearby joined hands, and we cleaned up the main entrance to TU’s academic block. 

While we were busy cleaning, two boys in mid twenties sitting nearby were discussing a plan to meet some political leader from Madhesh. One of them loudly, proudly, and threateningly announced how he would “not let the leader enter his village asking for votes next time” if he doesn’t get what he wants. A job? A scholarship? A visa to some foreign country? Some money?

The same student will perhaps use the campus’ free WiFi to e-mail a copy of his passport later. But when I asked him to join hands in the clean up, he didn’t budge. 

Now it’s time for some broad generalizations. 

We are a people living with many contradictions. And hypocrisy. We want to see the country become like Singapore or Switzerland or some other dream Shangri-la, but the rules should apply only to others. We are ‘progressive’, but want our children to marry in our own caste. We want ‘equality’, but a scholarship for my relative, if it can be arranged, won’t be against principle. We talk about how all developed nations are so well organized, but won’t team up to clean our own ‘morning walk route’ once a week. 

So what? You may ask. We see all this every day. In our buses, the sight of men sitting in reserved seats while women with children, the elderly, and the disabled stand, is common. Illegal business practices, tax evasion, dangerous adulteration of milk, water and food products—as common. 

Nothing is wrong, except that we are building a nation without conscience. We collectively lack a conscience to withstand temptations for the greater good. The conscience to do no wrong and the courage to raise questions when something wrong is spotted, is missing. 

And without that, there may be concrete structures in New Nepal, but there can never be a ‘spirit’. And this needs a lot of inner work in the years to come, outside the CA. Probably, right in our drawing rooms, inside classrooms, and at our doorsteps.

 

Republica Op-Ed 2014-02-02 

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Captured peace process

While the nation was rushing toward yet another dramatic political event (non-event?) – the second extension of the term of the Constituent Assembly – Kathmandu streets witnessed a phenomenal event. Some youths clad in fancy dresses with slogans did everything that they thought will build pressure on the politicians to deliver.

They typed in Facebook, they tweeted, they sang, they danced to rock tunes overlapped with ferocious sounding words and they surrounded the building that has become synonymous with the uncertainty attached to the fate of the nation.

And yet, except a few polarized descriptions in the media, nothing could be listed as a real achievement. 

When this much overdue eruption of the youth surfaced finally, when the youths of all creed and hue came together to protest against this incessant indifference to the aspirations of people, the reactions were mixed. Some admired and welcomed it while others merely smirked at it. 

The reactions to this spontaneous development casted some light and naturally projected some shadows on the phenomenon of the middle-class, urban and educated youth of Nepal. 

Defining the crowd in these protests, a widely-known columnist went on to name them ‘the urbanites in white who would disappear at the first sight of scuffle.’ This statement shows clearly how our politics is captured by deep malpractices. The very idea that the educated youths should face a scuffle for voicing their opinion and the intellectuals holding such a notion speaks for itself.

I strongly believe that the thing that forced the urban youth of Nepal, Twitterati or Fbookers, the sukila-mukilas, to erupt out on the streets is the feeling of living in a captured nation. The feeling of having no say in one’s future, the feeling of being trapped in darkness is what caused them to look for light out on the streets.

I was made to believe through history text books, nationalistic poems and stories that the country that I was born in has never been under a foreign rule, has never been captured. I prided myself in this notion. It fed me jingoism much through my life only to realize later that things were not really that simple. 

I have some understanding now that sovereignty is relative as are many other things in life. Clashes and concurrences of interests are the only determining factors in international relationships. And if we were not captured, it was because we served the purpose of greater powers better that way. Hence, I no longer feel that being proud of not having been captured in history is nationalism. 

Ironically, nowadays a feeling of living in a captured nation continuously haunts me.

This feeling hits through different manifestations. Industries captured by labor unions, education captured by student unions (read groups of aspiring politicians), intelligentsia captured by prejudices, cultural spaces captured by cynicism and the politics captured by fear are just a few examples. 

I also believe there are other sets of youths in this country, who live with this feeling, and whose fate depends more directly on what the leaders in Kathmandu decide.
In 2006, immediately after the agreement between the Maoists and the political parties was signed and the ‘peace process’ began, if I may say so, I was taken by a strange sense of curiosity toward the Maoist fighters. And so I decided to go and find out about them in the Masuria camp. 

As an amateur, I presented myself to the sentry at the gate – an aspiring writer wanting to know about the people in the ‘People’s Army.’ Without any references or permissions, I was not only denied entry and any interaction, was also looked upon in deep suspicion.

Although I did not get to interact with the rebels, and I did not get an insight on why they were ready to die, I came back with some education on how the war of the people was being fought. While I waited for a bus back home just outside the camp, a teenage boy in combat fatigues came out of the camp and stood near me, looking intrigued and observing inquisitively. He looked like one of my cousins back home, just 15, who months later would come to ask my opinion on whether he should join the Maoist army or not. When the peace process was said to be on, he was being promised a secure future and a job in the army or the police afterwards if he joins.

This boy from the camp looked as innocent as my cousin and yet he was taught to fight a war so early in his life against his class enemy. Against people like me. Against people like the ones who protested this May in the streets of Kathmandu. And, against those who decided the fate of people like him in remote parts of Nepal from Kathmandu. After five years today, it has come down to be exactly the same.

Now their fate depends on their leaders in Kathmandu – most from the caste that was told to have exploited them for centuries. Likes of whom they were taught to hate as their enemies. 

The politics in Nepal is in mire. Yet the leaders have to come to consensus for the sake of all these youths of the country. For the sake of a nation where the youths in the camps, those who sing in the streets and the ones who are trapped in the confusion in between can live together peacefully. 

The irony is that the impasse has as much to do with this deep division as with the lack of faith those fallacious promises to youths created.

 

Republica Op-Ed 2011-06-21

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Imprisonment of imagination

One doesn’t have to try too hard to figure out which nation is facing an impending crisis. In this world where everything is just a click away, it’s as easy as pointing out to an area bounded by colored lines on the atlas. One only has to know how to look at the lines and beyond.

A glimpse of the issues on which the pundits pour out their ponderings and the papers get their textures from tells a lot.

Let’s talk, for example, about the options we here in Nepal have.  

I could have started writing about the constitution-making, again. But that’s been done enough. As one of my friends tells me, people are jaded now. The same old party politics and same old pontifications, predictions and prophecies. So that is a strict no-no.

I could have tried to pour out around a thousand words about people throwing away a dictatorship – in a similar to our own People’s Movement kind of rebellion – in a distant country whose name I heard for the first time recently. I even started this, instigated by the way it dominated global media, but frankly, did not have the courage to conclude optimistically on behalf of those people – far away yet so near, different yet so like us. 

I want to admit honestly – I sometimes feel, the optimism portrayed by the intelligentsia is their effort to reassure themselves. About the state of their country, about the world in general and their say in it.

Often – as proved in case of Nepal – in vain.

For me, I think it will be difficult to prove to my editors that Afghanistan’s soiled politics and my opinion on that is of deep implications for us. It’s more difficult to make people read it. I feel jealous of the opinionators of some superpower papers. For the people empowered to police the world, anything under the sky and above is ‘their’ concern. But we are slightly away from that stature in the globe to make these things ‘our concern’. So I roll back. Of course, one can always add a twist in the tale and connect it to what matters here with some play of words, but sometimes my honesty cripples me.  

A genuine dilemma emerges thus. For us, our own real concerns seem like distant issues not related to us in any proximity of time and space.

Who, after all, wants to talk about education and morality when the all important debate of the constitution is yet to be solved? It’s a different matter though that the country’s education system is in deep peril and starting from primary level, quality teaching is a rarity. Teaching, as a profession is the last option for educated youth. That is what it shouldn’t be like. But that is exactly what it is like. Nobody can overemphasize the role of teaching in shaping up the society. But why and how this once revered profession has managed to slither down the preferences is not to be discussed here. At least, not imminently. 

It’s no surprise that these and many other important issues rarely get some space in our newspapers. Looking just at one day’s spread in the newspapers around the world can make us feel the difference. A sixty something, kind and wise-looking spectacled columnist commenting about the correct method of parenting seems aptly in place. Another man writing about the heroism of day to day people seems pretty natural. Elsewhere. 

We cannot blame the intelligentsia for this contrast that we feel from outside. Looking at opiniosphere around the world and comparing with what we get is depressing. But, we get what we produce. Others elsewhere unlike us are free to write. That freedom emerges from the context of a solid structure, a foothold. A society moving on a defined path gives them a confidence that they can make a difference. The diverse creativity is a result of this certainty that the course correction they are offering will have an impact. This is missing every time I want to say what I want to say. What else is there otherwise for a writer than the motivation that he can change the world for better? 

In a discussion with the same friend who said people have got jaded, when I asked what a mere thinker can do in such a situation, I got this answer – ‘Give hope, probably’. 
Can we do it? Not sure. 

But that is what we want to believe we are doing. Trying to figure out solutions for a society bereft of its youth, for a nation whose politics is betraying it and for a generation that cannot relate to its leaders. Telling people it’s not that bad and things will get better.

The metaphoric magnitude of the events and their historic character has limited our concerns and incapacitated our creativity.

Not so long ago in the past, as a famous writer puts it, the intelligentsia in Kathmandu was hit by a mental paralysis – unable to decipher the events. The situation is slightly different this time. They are incarcerated. After all, imprisonment is nothing but limiting options.

Republica Op-Ed 2011-01-24 

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Why subtle messages matter?

Two liberal voices – who opposed the blasphemy law – were silenced this year in Pakistan spreading a blanket of terror over other similar rumblings. One of them was the only Christian Minister of the nation.

Following this, in a forum discussion about fundamentalism in Pakistan, my comment raised a lot of eyebrows. It was not surprising. I had hinted towards India (not exclusively though) for the root of the problem in Pakistan.

The loss of East Pakistan in 1971 was a major reason for the Islamist influence to gain grounds in the Pakistan Military. The Islamists were seen as more reliable political partners because the loss was attributed to the rise of secular forces in East Pakistan and their collaboration with India. Within a few years, the civilian government was toppled and a severe blasphemy law was enacted.

This was not exactly a classic ‘cause and effect’ kind of interpretation of history. However, it is one which delves into the abstract of human psychology – of emotions, beliefs, intentions, signs and implications. Considering this, events often seem to have a distant and indirect impact. And when in hindsight the secret underground links are exposed, we are left dumbfounded making it hard to accept it as the truth.

America gets its place here too, like most of the nightmarish events around the world. When Islamic Militants could be utilized against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the US helped them. And by the time the support was lifted, fundamentalism had set in the society as a deep atavism, ever ready for new forays.

Talking about America, in a similar context, lets shift to Tibet. Bush met the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama in 2007 in a low key affair, where as Barack Obama made a lot of gung ho scene in 2010. We have been long conditioned to believe that the West is for Tibetan freedom. And in such a scenario, if I say so, US was responsible for Tibetan deaths, eyebrows will be raised. But that is what exactly has happened.

In January 26, 2003, Lobsang Dhondup, a twenty-eight-year-old Tibetan was executed in China for his alleged involvement in a series of unsolved bombings in Eastern Tibet. They termed it ‘crimes of terror’ as a result of which he was denied access to lawyers and open trial. 

When US launched the global war on terror after 9/11, China grabbed the opportunity to follow suit by upping the ante about ‘separatism and terrorism’ in its homeland. The emboldened step of the regime resulted in harsh dealings with the activists in Tibet and Xinjiang under the rhetoric of fighting ‘terrorism’ which by then had become a global hit.

Xinjiang – in Mandarin means “new frontier.” It’s a sign. And this exactly is what it means when I say intentions, emotions and signs are as important in history as facts and figures because it is about humans. 

The danger with studying sociology and politics as science is of mechanical oversimplification. This means looking at society and community as a big machine and people as parts driven by either mechanical forces or set rules of rational reasoning. Thus events, the scientists believe, can be justified or predicted by a dialectics of actions and reactions.

When asked about the royal massacre of 2001 by a friend, I had said once – it did not really matter who killed Birendra; what mattered is, who the people believed was behind the incident. And the events that followed are a result of a complex setting driven by this sentiment to a great extent.

Attributing any event to a single cause in history is naive. There can be triggers but the gun powder is always deep-rooted and multi-textured.

As observers therefore, it is very important not to get trapped in the mathematical quod erat demonstrandum (QED). That is not and cannot be ‘Quite Easily Done’ in an art class of studying time and society. In our attempt to interpret society and politics, it is very important to decipher – what is coincidental and what is not? What is intentional and what is not? What is a moral disaster and what is not?

Highlighting the answers to these questions, even in retrospect, might make the decision makers wiser. 

Our regimes make decisions and take actions on behalf of communities, nations and alliances. The leaders have to know that the decisions made by them affect people. It is about humans. The effect cannot be mapped by few dots in blue or red on a digital map of a war operations room. The dots leave marks much deeper than those on the map. 

As attack builds up in Libya, I am afraid the lack of moral ascendency that violence brings with itself may embolden many in future. Let us keep it on record for posterity.

For now, to end with, it was a mere coincidence and not some divine intervention that while I was about to finish this article, I stumbled upon a commentary in an old issue of Time about a Chinese movie. However, it’s no co-incidence that in ‘The Founding of a Republic’ – a state backed docu-drama produced to commemorate 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China – Mao features as saying, “We need capitalists back.” Quite unbelievable, even when he is disappointed because he cannot buy his favorite smoke.

It will be interesting to see how much recasting of history the leaders of Nepal will have to resort to in future.

Republica Op-Ed 2011-03-26 

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