A "no" to democracy

Monday 28 February 2005

What's really infested Nepal?

-- have you read the phrase 'Naxal-infested'? If not, merely follow events in Nepal. Spot a difference: in the Himalayan kingdom the Naxals are called Maoists. Next, spot the similarity between parts of India and Nepal: state failure. That means the failure to provide the basic elements of survival--food, housing, potable water, healthcare, education, er... equal opportunity--is sought to be compensated by massive doses of state success, or the thoughtful exercise of the power of repression.

That's what is happening in Nepal right now. The soi disant king wants to overturn a political process that, after years of struggle, brought about a modicum of democracy. The excuse is that democratic governments have been unable to obliterate the 'Maoist menace'. Given the meagre military means available to Gyanendra, it is unlikely he will succeed, emergency powers or otherwise. Yes, he has succeeded in exploiting the contradictions within the human rights movement and political parties in his backyard. No, he has failed to realise the Maoist phenomenon is not a law-and-order problem. It is a blind spot that could stop him from realising his ambitions. The Maoists control about two-thirds of Nepal because they talk about, and provide, fundamental amenities. And what most people do not understand is that Nepal's Maoists are not talking about 'revolution'--they are open to negotiations, so long an interim government is formed with their representatives and those of political parties, the palace and other interested groups. What they have wanted all along is a democratic set-up.

Such a demand cannot, for any reasonable length of time, be stymied--by censoring the media, cutting telephone lines, denying access to the Internet and attacking protestors. There is only one card Gyanendra has up his sleeve. He will appeal to 'the international community' to save Nepal from the Maoists. That is a bit of a joke. But the likelihood is that donor countries, multilateral agencies and ngo s will buy the argument--because Nepal is good business.

As for New Delhi, cancelling the saarc summit is an easy way out. But when it comes to paranoia about the ultra-left movement within its own borders, the Nepal experience probably mirrors its own way of looking at the failures of development and equity.

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