Murari Sharma: Who should we fear most?

Last night, I woke up from a nightmare, frightened. Bombs were blasted in my area, and the fire was burning at several places. When a missile headed my way, I woke up in a fright. I was soaking with sweat, and my mouth was dry. Now I have been wondering whether such a scenario is possible for real.

Let me start with the causes of nightmares. According to the National Health Service of Britain, stress, trauma, mental health conditions, and some types of medicines, like antidepressants, cause adult nightmares. Since I do not have mental health issues and do not take antidepressants, the sources of my nightmare are stress and trauma, as most other adults.

Evidently, we live in stressful conditions and complex societies, often visited by traumatic experiences. We worry about our close ones’ and our health, finances, reputation, job, and progress; sometimes, disasters, accidents, wars, and so on also visit us. As human beings, we also worry about communities and nations at large. My personal and family issues are not serious enough to cause me nightmares.

I have been worried about volatile Nepal, Nepal’s neighbors, the burning Middle East, and the simmering war of words between North Korea and the United States.

Though they may not be imminent, my worries are not impossible. As we know, the world has not always washed in hope and enlightenment, in positive progress of science and technology, and in the optimistic and teachings of great saints like Rama, Buddha, Christ, and Mohammad. It has also witnessed the annihilation of peoples and civilizations, creation and use of devastating weapons of mass destruction, and rise of rascals like Hitler, Mussolini, and others like them.

Similarly, both at national and individual levels, we have witnessed the acts of kindness as well as of brutality and predation. For instance, many wealthy countries have been generously contributing to the growth and development of their less fortunate counterparts. To help the poor and dispossessed amongst themselves and halfway across the world, many in those countries have been contributing whatever they can. At the same time, we cannot forget the horrible exploitation by slave-owning nations, colonizers, aggressors, raiders, robbers, looters, and thieves.

Who should we worry most about?

In a rough and ready manner, I put people into four groups: Saint saints, Saint satans, Satan saints, and Satan satans.  Saint saints are those who mostly live for others and to help others, like Buddha, Jesus, and Gandhi. Satan satans live for themselves, such as murders, robbers, and hardcore criminals. Evidently, both Saint saints and Satan satans are a few. Therefore, the vast majority belong to the other two groups: Saint satans and Satan saints.

The Saint satans are those who start out as honest, pious, and charitable but give in to the baser instincts — enriching and empowering themselves by hook or crook while hurting others — as they proceed. Satan saints are those who start with baser instincts but wear the patina of higher value to win trust, fame, and office. Often difficult to distinguish, the majority of politicians, bureaucrats, priests, non-governmentwallahs, journalists, businessmen, and so on, belong to one of these two groups.

How much positive and negative contributions they make depends on how capable they are and what role and how much remit they acquire. Those with limited role and remit do limited good or damage and those who have wide role and remit do the opposite. The source of my nightmare has been these two groups of people at the national and broader levels. We should watch politicians most since they take the driving seat of society.

Before an election, most politicians go to their voters as their humble servants and promise to them the sun and moon. Once they are elected, they treat their voters like trash, pick their pockets, and plunder the country with two hands to enrich themselves, stay in power, and reward their relatives and bribers until the next election. If it serves their interest, these leaders take the country to war.

At the regional level, I have been worried about the politicians in India and China. They have been our frenemies. More out of self-interest than of charity, they have been helping us as a neighbor and friend. At the same time, Nepal has suffered two wars each with these countries and three crippling economic blockades from India since 1969 and sermons to find a modus vivendi with India from China. If Nepal were to work seriously against their self-interest, these neighbors would not hesitate to punish it and its people.

At the broader level, I have been worried about those Western countries and their priests that have been sowing the seeds for the clash between civilizations by supporting or carrying out the aggressive proselytization of the vulnerable Nepali people. Though it looks innocuous now, the seeds will germinate and trigger a war of attrition until Western religions dominate our country or fracture it.

I have also been worried about the Middle East, the source of energy for much of the world, going on between Isreal and Palestine and between the Shias and Sunnies in Yemen, Syria, and other places, where Sunnis are killing Shias and vice versa.

Above all, I have been worried about the war of words between the United States and North Korea, which may escalate into a nuclear exchange. Presidents Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un both have threatened to start a nuclear war and claimed that their fingers are on the nuclear button. Since I have never met any of them, I have no personal opinion about them, but what I have read about them makes me jitter.

The casual remarks made by several knowledgeable people apart, the assessment of 27 psychologists and Michael Wolff in his Fire and Fury, have presented a frightening picture of Trump. Kim’s killing his own relatives in a fury and starving his people while he pursues nuclear ambition have told his chilling story as well.  In other words, both Trump and Kim are whimsical, impatient bullies, if not maniacs. What if they turn out to be Saint satans or Satan saints and do push their nuclear buttons?

The half of humanity might get killed, making World War II’s 60 million casualties like a drop in the ocean of mass killing. World War II killed mostly those people whose countries were involved in it directly or indirectly, but a nuclear exchange between the United States and North Korea could end up killing, maiming, or causing deadly diseases in the entire world. Unless you live on Antarctica, you could not feel safe. We have not seen too many Saint saints trying to diffuse this growing crisis.

This time, unlike in the past, the killings would not be distant. The casualties may include you and me, our relatives, or both.  Therefore, I have my nightmare. I hope my nightmare is a mundane incident that happens occasionally with all. Otherwise, all of us need to worry about the gathering threats, seriously.

 

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Murari Sharma: This is what Chanakya would have said

Are you happy with the progress happening in Nepal? Most probably, you are not. I am not happy either. My unhappiness, like yours, is related to the lethargy, instability, lack of direction, corruption, etc. that we witness day in day out in the government. Yet, the country has been moving on spontaneously, with or without government intervention. It would be good if the new government becomes a positive force change. 

The country is on the cusp of having a new government. General elections for the federal and seven provincial legislatures have just been finished, and the left coalition of the CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Center) has won shy of a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament and comfortable majority in six out of seven states. Though differences remain among political parties regarding the election of the upper federal chamber, it will be sorted out one way or another. Therefore, it is time to focus on the future.

Already, the contours of the future have been spelled out in the victors’ election manifestos. For the future, the contours have already been drawn. The alliance members have promised heaven in their election manifestos. If the left coalition delivers only on half of its pledges, Nepal will have a successful economic take-off in the next five years. 

As many elements for the take-off are already there, the country is waiting for a big push to launch it. When I was growing up, I had to walk for three days to reach Dharan, the nearest motor head for my village in Bhojpur. My village had no piped water and electricity. My town, Dingla, had no college. Traveling and working abroad was a big deal. Going to the Terai involved the risk of malaria.

Now, those things have changed. You can travel to Dingla by sports utility vehicles (jeep), at least during the dry season. My village has electricity and piped water and my hometown has a college. Malaria has been eradicated in the plains. Now almost every house in my village has someone working or studying overseas.

On the national level, poverty has declined significantly and standards of living have improved. The people living below the poverty line was 41. 5 percent in 1984/85, 49 percent in 1991/92, and 25 percent in 2015. Income, education, and health services have improved, pushing the longevity to 69 years average (WHO, 2015).

Yet, there is wide dissatisfaction among my friends and compatriots about the country’s performance, especially in the post-1990 period. The country has been waiting for the big push for quite some time, but governments one after another have failed to deliver it. While the failure has been apparent in myriad areas of national life, it is nowhere as pronounced as in enduring political instability, rampant corruption, and anemic economic growth. 

In the post-1990 period, Nepal has suffered political instability as never before. Sure, you cannot and should not expect the panchayat era political stability because democracy is a managed chaos. Every few years, you have elections to change the government, but Nepal’s has been chaotic chaos, not organized chaos. 

No majority government has run its full 5-year course. The majority government of the Nepali Congress collapsed due to the factional fights during the first and the third parliament. The second parliament, as well as the first and second constituent assembly, were hung houses with the attendant frequent changes in government. In addition, we had the decade-long bloody insurgency launched by the Maoists in 1996 and the abolition of the monarchy in 2008, both of which rocked the country to its core. No wonder why from 1990 to date, we have had 24 prime ministers, excluding the cabinets presided over by King Gyanendra twice, and 10 from 2006 alone. 

Such political instability has promoted and nurtured a culture of rampant corruption. Corruption had been around during the panchayat era as well, but it had been limited. Only the royal family could engage in corruption without fear. Now it has been institutionalized and accepted as never before. The institutionalization of corruption is so deep that political bosses have been openly auctioning off public posts and contracts to the highest bidders. They have been appointing people, as ministers and members of anti-corruption bodies, who have been publicly known as corrupt. 

Now corruption has evolved as a badge of honor and basis for state reward. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has become prime minister twice despite touting his own corruption publicly in his 2002 video. Khum Bahadur Khadka and Jay Prakash Gupta received hero’s welcome when they were released from jail at the end of their sentence for corruption. 

As a result, Nepal’s best corruption perception index score has been 90 in 2004 and the worst 154 in 2011, while the rest of the years have been around 125. This is shameful.

Both the political instability and the rampant corruption have cursed economic growth. No prime minister has had long enough time to see his vision implemented for five years. Consequently, the growth rate has suffered over time as well as in relation to other countries. According to the CEIC (a Euromoney Institutional Investor Company), from 1965 to 2016, Nepal’s growth has crossed 7.5 percent thrice, twice before 1990 and only once in the post-1990 period, which does not speak well of the success of democratic governments to deliver economic growth. 

Similarly, Nepal’s economic growth has been lackluster in relation to other countries as well in the post-1990 period. China grew by double digits until it has decelerated in the last few years. India grew close to double digits in the same period. Bangladesh, the sick man of South Asia, has grown by around 7 percent a year in the post-1990 period overall and at around 13.7 percent on average in the 2007-17 period. Bhutan has done much better than us as well.

Despite these ailments in the public sector, people have been taking private initiatives to push the country forward when the government has not worked as an obstruction. For instance, after the government relaxed restrictions on passports and foreign exchange, people have been going abroad for employment and studies, sending back remittances, and bringing back skills, which have contributed to Nepal’s growth.

The remittances have mitigated poverty and kept its balance of payment favorable. The skills have contributed to employment and productivity and unlocked entrepreneurship. Private schools, colleges, clinics, and hospitals have cropped across the country. Growing cash crops has come into vogue. Building local feeder roads have become an obsession, and most people have access to mobile phones, and most towns have Internet connections.

In other words, things are happening in Nepal, though the contribution to them from the government is minimal. Everyone in my village now wears shoes and flip-flops, travels by road, and send their children to school. Of course, the condition should have been much better. I only hope the next government, elected under the new constitution, will be a positive force for political stability and economic growth and an impediment to corruption. 

We, ordinary people, should continue expressing our dissatisfaction, so the king (ruler) would, as Chanakya has said, lose no time when the opportunity waited for arrives. The left alliance should seize the opportunity.

Murari Sharma: What next?

Elections are meant to give one victory and the other defeat. But sometimes, victory and defeat get into your head, and you end up destroying yourself immediately or in the near future. The victor needs to heed the Hindu precept: A wise person should not be arrogant in victory and diffident in defeat.

In the just-held general elections, this is what Nepal needs in the victory of the left alliance and the defeat of the democratic alliance.

The general election is over. Though the votes still being counted, people have already spoken and the picture has become clear.  The left alliance, mainly of the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center), is on the way to a comfortable majority in the parliament and in six provinces out of seven.

Elections are won or lost based on several tangible and intangible things. They include ideology, the performance of the outgoing government, the length of the outgoing party in power, external factors such as war, foreign relations and strength of the opponent and internal factors such as the message and unity of a political party.

Krishna Adhikari,  a Nepali Congress Party supporter and my nephew, has rightly identified reasons why the NCP slid from the first position in the last general election to the third position in the general election whose vote counting is still going on. Because the list is already exhaustive, I do not think anything else needs to be added to it. But it would be illustrative to set it in context and highlight some of the reasons.

Adhikari says the NCP has lost the election not only because the CPN (UML) formed an electoral alliance with the Maoists but also because of 10 other reasons, as follows:

  1. False allegation against the retired Chief Justice Sushila Karki
  2. Injustice meted out to DIG Navaraj Silwal
  3. Higher priority to the panel over the party
  4. Zero organizational work
  5. Zero ideological education
  6. Growing crowd of opportunists, venal and disloyal party activists
  7. Prevalence of thug culture in the party and inertia of committed workers
  8. Lack of interest among the party leaders to understand people’s aspirations
  9. Failure to reach long-term and populist programs to people
  10. Incompetent, ignorant and arrogant leadership

All these points are valid. The only three other things I wish to add and explain are as follows:

  1. The jumbo cabinet as the symbol of misuse and corruption
  2. Lack of vision in the NCP leadership
  3. Inability to speak out when India imposed an economic blockade causing hardships for people.

However, it would be incorrect to say that the left alliance won the election only due to the NCP’s weaknesses. The UML has been the best-organized party at the grassroots, and its alliance with the Maoist Center gave it added strength.  But what helped the left alliance foremost were KP Oli’s vision and his standing up to India.

You need a dream and the determination to realize it and go beyond.  When he was prime minister for nearly a year at the head of the CPN (UML) and the CPN (Maoist Center), Oli had shared his vision: Road and rail network with China, use of Chinese ports for transit, tuin-free Nepal in two years, piped gas in every kitchen, and a ship Nepal can call its own.

Oli’s opponents and political pundits associated with them had ridiculed Oli. They had gone to the extent of labeling him as insane, who should be taken to Ranchi mental sanatorium. Even some of his party colleagues had thought he had lost his marbles.  But I had defended Oli in these pages at that time. I had written then that what he said were within the realm of possibility for Nepal.

For instance, the ship. I had applied for a job when Nepal had leased a ship and named it Narendra Laxmi when I was looking for a job as a young man.  If Oli promised to have another Narendra Laxmi after 40 years of the first Narendra Laxmi, how was it insanity? It was lack of vision of his opponents and political pundits associated with them.

Increased connectivity with China is feasible and should be promoted. A Chinese technical team has already visited Nepal and found the increased road and rail links possible. They will increase trade and economic cooperation between the two countries. They could at least be insurance against any obstruction of supplies from the south. If the cost is comparative to and from the Indian ports, such links will make Chinese ports viable as transit points for Nepal as well.

The piped gas to every kitchen is expensive and time-consuming but not impossible. In the UK kitchens, the gas comes from Russia and Ukraine through pipes. For the cost conscious people, pipe-delivered gas is much cheaper than the bullet-delivered in the long run.  If Oli can control only a small portion of leakage from the public coffers, he will have more resources than he needs to make Nepal tuin-free in the next 3 to 5 years, if not in two years.

But the NCP leadership forgot what Poet Laxmi Prasad Devkota has written: You must have the goal of touching the moon. It forgot how John F Kennedy dreamed in 1961 of sending a man to the moon and in 1969, the United States landed a man there. When Kennedy said it, it had sounded as incredible and insane as KP Oli’s dreams.  

Indeed, Oli might have taken an insane risk by calling the Indian economic blockade of 2015-16 as such. India, the hegemon in South Asia, is a decisive influence in Nepal due Indian dominance of Nepal’s economic, cultural and political factors. While the pussy-footed NCP leaders blamed a few Madheshi activists for it to remain in the good books of New Delhi, Oli called a spade a spade.

I am not suggesting that we should have adversarial relations with India. We need close, friendly and cooperative relations with the rest of the world, especially with our immediate neighbors. But such relations should be based on mutual respect. But the Nepali people elect their leaders to serve them and their national interest, not someone else’s.

This time, the Nepali people have rewarded Oli with a victory considering his dream and his guts to stand up to India on their behalf. Now the ball is in Oli’s court.  Now he needs to do two things: One, remember what Poet Lekha Nath Paudel has said: The tree that bears fruit is always bent. He must show humility and magnanimity in victory because he needs cooperation from other parties to realize his dream.

Two, he must avoid corrupt transactional politics and continue with his transformational politics, which he had started with his patience and push to promulgate the new constitution in 2015, defying the pressure from different quarters.  It will do him and the Nepali people good.  The Nepali people will see some progress and Oli and his party will not be pulverized in five years, as the NCP has been this time.

By the way, this is not an application to Oli for a job. I am beyond that stage. I will be pleased if Oli keeps the promises he has made to the people before this general election.

 

 

 

Murari Sharma: This General Election will have Lasting Impact

Nepal has held the general election in several districts on 26 November and will have it in the rest of the country on 7 December 2017.  While one would like to believe all general elections are equally important for a country, that is not always the case. Like this one.

Because of its timing, political alignments, and potential for reshaping politics for the years to come, this general election is one of the most significant ones for Nepal in its democratic history.

This general election is taking place at a critical time in the country’s history. This is the first election for the normal parliament after the country went republic in 2008. Both the 2008 and 2013 elections were for the constituent assembly to write a new constitution, not for a normal parliament.

Therefore, this election, being held under the new constitution for the first time, marks the end the political transition started in 2006 and beginning of a new political era. This election heralds the end of a unitary state and the beginning of a federal country for the first time.

In this election, we have seen the kind of political alignment that we had never witnessed in the country. The main left-parties, the CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Center), have formed a coalition and indicated that it could lead to their merger after the general elections. Similarly, the Nepali Congress Party has aligned itself with the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party and to some extent with the Rashtriya Janata Party.

To remain relevant, smaller independent parties have formed their own coalition. They need to meet the minimum threshold — at least one directly elected member of parliament and 3 percent votes — to appoint members from the proportional representation category. Out of 275 seats, 110 will come from proportional representation.

This election will possibly shape Nepal’s future political course. First, the emerging political alliances indicate that they could evolve into two grand coalitions or two loosely organized political parties, leading a two-party state, like in Britain and the United States. It will inject some degree of stability in the political arena, which has been highly unstable and volatile most of the time since 1990, especially after 2006.

Second, the federal structure will make or break the country. If the political leaders make necessary compromises and accommodation to hold the country together, the country will follow the footsteps of India and other federal states, which had highly troubled past. For starters, India used to have a number of secessionist movements, in Punjab, Tamilnadu, and eastern states.

There will also be enough autonomy for states to pursue their own course within the federal structure and stay together, as again in India, Nigeria, South Africa, etc. 

If the political leaders fuel the fire of identity politics, which has become visible and vituperative after 2006 more than ever before, the country may fall apart. Ethiopia, Sudan, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, most Central Asian countries have gone down this route and become independent from the larger entities. Provincial structures, mechanisms, and resources will help secession efforts, unless stamped down, as in Catalonia.

Third, neighboring countries — India and China — have deep strategic interests in Nepal, which they are trying to pursue by changing their approach in the new context. Both rivals fear that one could Nepal and its territory against the other.

Previously, China used the Palace, leaders sympathetic to it,  and economic assistance to safeguard its interest. India used political fraternity as well as economic and cultural diplomacy/strong-arm-tactics, as necessary, to shape Nepali politics and policies in its favor.

But in the post-2006 scenario, the previous balance has been upset. For instance, the monarchy is gone. The identity politics in Nepal has fractured the old alliance-influence structures, and federalism has created its own challenges and opportunities for Nepal’s neighbors to influence its politics and policies.

China, worried about Tibet and other minority regions seeking autonomy or secession, has taken steps to increase engagement with Nepal. It has agreed to provide transit facilities for Nepal’s third-country trade, strengthened its contacts and assistance to the Nepal army, proposed closer road and rail links between the two countries, and increased investment in Nepal.

In other words, it has taken important steps to prevent Indian influence in Nepal from increasing in the new context.

India, on the other hand, has tried to keep its overwhelming influence unabated. While it has continued nurturing the old political fraternity and using economic and cultural diplomacy/strong-arm-tactics and economic and cultural leverage, it has also tried its best to impose its desire to have only one state in the Nepal Terai, which abuts India and which has people readily identifying as Nepalis of Indian origin.

The origin thing is spurious at best, but it seems to have been working as an effective propaganda tool.

For example, India tried to impose its desire to have only one state in the entire plains of Nepal by sending its Foreign Secretary to prevent the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015, used its diplomats to stir unrest in the plains demanding one-Terai, one state demand, and imposed  an economic blockade when the Nepali leaders did not bow to its wish.

Any election can produce leaders that could change their countries or the world, but only some are designed to be that way. For instance, the normal elections produced leaders who have destroyed/shaken the system from within, such as Hitler, Gorbachev,  Trump, and Modi. But Nepal’s current election belongs in the latter class, such as the first post-independence elections in various countries or the first post-apartheid election in South Africa.

However, the media and most political pundits have not focused on the historical significance of this general election. They seem interested more in which-party-will-win-and-which-will-lose-game. This speculative game makes an interesting reading, like a romantic story. But at the broader and deeper level, this election will determine the course of Nepal’s political and economic future, including the influence of its neighbors in the process.

So this election is way more important than other elections. It is not an election just for the normal transfer or reaffirmation of power. It will define how the power is structured and used in Nepal and whether Nepal remains territorially as we know it.

Murari Sharma: An inward-looking America is bad for America and the world

More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar, to Bangladesh, in recent months. This number is steadily rising towards a million. If President Donald Trump had not withdrawn the United States from the world, the generals in Naypyidaw probably would not have ordered the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Rakhine State.

Some American leaders and celebrities have declared President Trump unfit for his office. Some psychologist and mental health experts have doubted his fitness as well. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stieglitz says Trump “has fascist tendencies.” These things are for the American people to decide. 

I respect the American people’s decision. So I am interested only in how Trump’s policy and personality have been affecting the United States and the rest of the world, including Nepal.   

Donald Trump ran on the nationalist, anti-trade, and anti-regional arrangement agenda and won the election. Naturally, nationalists in general and far-right nationalists, in particular, have felt that his election has mainstreamed their own beliefs. Trump is not one of the mainstream internationalist Republicans, who believe in free trade. And he sees regional groupings and their collective strength to bargain antithetical to US interest.

His personality is volatile, impulsive, and unpredictable. His threat to North Korea or his urge to investigate Hillary Clinton’s already investigated emails, his tweets at 3 am, his Access Hollywood tape, his call on Russia to hack Clinton’s emails, his trashing of minority judges because they decided against him in court cases, etc. do not speak for his trust and dependability. 

Already, Trump’s policies and personality have produced some negative impacts for him, the United States, and the rest of the world. For instance, his military general has said he would not follow Trump’s ‘illegal order.’ His attorney-general has said cannot abide by his urge to investigate his opponent. Such cases put Trump’s command and control in doubt.  

The United States has already suffered some significant setbacks on the world stage. For instance, he withdrew the United from the Paris climate change agreement, and China and Europe stepped in.  Washington has lost the opportunity to lead and shape the climate change agenda, and it might miss the climate-friendly technology gravy train.  

Likewise, President Trump withdrew from the Transpacific (trade) Partnership negotiations, but the other countries in the region have decided to move forward with the negotiation without the United States. Washington has effectively ceded the leadership of and influence in the region to China. 

Citing that the agency was anti-Israel, Trump withdrew the United States from UNESCO even though it had rejoined the agency after staying out for several years. The agency will continue criticizing Tel Aviv, now without any moderation from the United States. 

Trump has threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if other members do not agree to amend it to America’s advantage. He has issued similar threats to several other countries. These countries will move on without the United States because they can do it now.

The United States is a major economic player, but it is not as indispensable now as it was 30 years ago. For example, according to WTO, the European Union was collectively the largest trading bloc in 2016 with the trade volume (export+import) of 3,821 billion dollars, followed by the United States 3,706 billion, and China 3,685 billion. China and Japan together posted 4,937 billion dollars. 

Similarly, while the US remains the foremost technological and financial powerhouse, other countries have been catching up and reducing US leverage. China is charging ahead in green technology. America is near the bottom in the industry’s share of GDP. London has superseded New York as the largest financial center.

During President Trump’s recent visit to Asia, the relatively reduced stature of the United States was visible. For instance, Japan and South Korea — where Trump’s trust rating is 17 and 24 percent, almost one-third of his predecessor — did not provide many trade concessions to oblige him. It is yet to be seen whether they buy American weapons in the volume Trump wants. 

China treated Trump nicely for not raising human rights issues and keeping at bay the dumping and currency manipulation issues, which he had raised repeatedly during his presidential campaign. It signed a few relatively minor trade deals. Beyond that, there was nothing to write home about. 

In Vietnam, the APEC countries rebuffed Trump’s single-minded emphasis on bilateral trade and decided to move ahead with the TPP without the United States. In the group photo, Trump was made to stand in the second row, slightly to one side.

In the Philippines, Trump endorsed his equally volatile counterpart, Rodrigo Duterte, who has been killing anyone suspected of being involved in drugs, blatantly violating human rights and the due process of law. And yet, Duterte made his soft corner for China clear as soon as Trump left Manila.

While there is nothing wrong for a leader to promote his country’s national interest, the problem is with the identification of such interest.  The Trump brand fails to recognize the fundamental logic that Winston Churchill had recognized long ago: With power comes resources and responsibility. If you do not have one, you will not have the other either. Paul Kennedy has asserted that the empires of yore rose and fell with their command over resources.

For instance, the industrial revolution gave Britain resources and power to bring much of the world under its control. When Britain was stretched thin, the resource-rich United States powered ahead. The colossal loss it suffered in World War I and II and in the independence of its colonies relegated Britain to the second, even third-rate power. 

If the Trump brand of Make America Great Again succeeds, the United States is likely to follow the British trajectory. To prevent such a course, the United States needs to continue building alliances to share the cost and maximize benefits for its friends and allies around the world.

That brings me to Myanmar. The Myanmar military systematically persecuted the Rohingyas, the Bengali Muslim minority, and the Nobel Prize-winning foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi did not stop them. She even sought to brush the issue under the carpet, including in her speech at the UN General Assembly in September this year.  

If the Myanmar generals had not witnessed the United States abdicating its global leadership, they would have thought twice before ordering the ethnic cleansing, thanks to the UN provision for humanitarian intervention in cases of extreme human rights violation. To be sure, the provision has been inconsistently implemented. But the mere possibility of it could have restrained the generals.  

As for Nepal, the outcome has been mixed in the past under Republican and Democratic presidents. For example, President Johnson, a Democrat, and President Reagan, a Republican, welcomed King Mahendra and Birendra in America, respectively. Often Republican presidents have been more liberal in providing aid and trade concessions.

But President Trump is different. He wants to cut aid, reduce trade concessions, terminate the Temporary Protection Status for thousands of Nepalis living in the United States, and end the diversity visa program. So, the prospects under Trump are not bright for Nepal. I will be happy if proven wrong.

 

Murari Sharma: Nepal’s Most Consequential Elections

We have seen nothing like this in Nepal in the past. I am talking about the upcoming national and state assembly elections. These elections might make or break democracy in the country.      

The ‘make’ part is easy to figure out. The elections will officially end the long political transition, convert the country de facto from a unitary state into federal, and mark the endorsement of the Constitution 2015 by the Madheshi parties.  

The Madheshi parties had refused to endorse the new constitution until their demands were met.  They had asked for one state, and not more than two states, covering all 22 districts in the plains, but the major did not agree. So only 8 districts have been included in the Madheshi only State 2 (the states are yet to be named). 

Now the Madheshi parties have decided to participate in the national and state assembly elections, partly due to the fear of losing their workers and voters to other parties and partly due to Indian suasion.

New Delhi had serious reservations about the constitution and imposed an economic blockade on Nepal for failing to fulfill its demands. But the UML’s  electoral success in the local polls and its nationalist stance alarmed India, prompting the Madheshi parties to participate in the federal and state elections. 

In the local election, the UML emerged as the largest party although it became third in State 2, where its nationalist stance lost many voters. This failure prompted the UML to reach out to the Maoists and other left parties towards an electoral alliance, which will make them competitive in State 2 and strengthen the hold of left parties across the country.  

This triggered the non-left parties to work their own alliance to remain competitive. But the beginning has not been as good for the non-left alliance as it has been for the left alliance. At both federal and state levels across the country, the left alliance has managed to agree on the official panel of candidates.  However, the other alliance has failed to agree on a common slate in State 2.

In State 2, therefore, there will be at least a three-way contest among the candidates of the left alliance, Nepali Congress, and the Federal Socialist Forum-Rashtriya Janata Party, a mini-alliance. 

At stake are 275 seats in the federal parliament, 165 to be elected by the first-past-the-post method and the rest from proportional representation. The number of State Assembly members will be twice as many in the same ratio. Which alliance enjoys the better prospects?  

In the 2013 general elections and recent local elections, the left parties were able to win nearly 60 percent seats up for the contest. If that ratio holds, the left-alliance will likely be a clear winner in the upcoming national and state elections. However, the rebel candidates against the alliance candidates on both sides might not let the outcome to so straightforward. 

Whatever the outcome, the emergence of the left and the non-left alliance is a good step in the right direction. If these alliances outlast the elections, it could be the beginning of a two-party state, like in the United States and the United Kingdom, which will contribute to political stability and offer a clear choice for voters.

But if the two alliances fail to become competitive, the ‘break’ part will likely ensue, harming democracy and the country.  Democratic elections make government representative and check it if it fails to deliver or misbehaves. But they also create autocratic leaders on both left and right. 

For example, Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were members of socialist parties in Germany and Italy respectively. They started World War II, which took six million lives across the world. Currently, several elected leaders are either autocratic or fret about not having the freedom to be so. They include the Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump,  Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to name just a few. 

In Nepal, the prospect of something like this happening is real. If the left-alliance wins the elections comfortably, it will have two models of government to choose from. The Deng Xiaoping model and the Jyoti Basu model.

The Deng model — let me call it capitalism with a communist face — controls politics and gives entrepreneurs the freedom to invest and make a profit. If it wins a two-thirds majority in the federal and state elections, the left alliance will follow Antonio Gramsci’s advice and change things around from within. But it cannot go as far as converting Nepal into a one-party state like China and implementing the Chinese model.  

So the obvious choice for the victorious left alliance is the Basu model. The model — communism with a democratic face — keeps communists in power in a democratic country without economic development. Under this model, the Marxists converted West Bengal, once one of the most advanced and prosperous Indian states, into one of the most backward ones but kept Jyoti Basu and his disciples in power for nearly four decades. 

The trick was simple: On the eve of every election, redistribute resources from rich to poor through land reform, taxation, and unsustainable labor contracts to win the vote. While redistributing resources like this is the right thing to do to a reasonable extent, the Marxist government took the matter too far and drove the landowners and entrepreneurs from West Bengal. The result was reduced investment, economic opportunities, and jobs, hurting the state in general and the poor in particular, in the long run.

The objective of redistribution should be to promote development and equality in wealth, not stagnation and equality in poverty. For this, the pie must grow to give everyone a larger slice.  We have witnessed the inclination of Nepal’s left parties towards redistributing without enlarging the pie. For instance, several of the welfare provisions, including the old-age pension,  have been introduced, without commensurate measures to expedite growth under the left government.    

What is more, though both the UML and the Maoist have accepted multiparty democracy, for now, their ultimate goal remains proletariat dictatorship. If their alliance wins an overwhelming majority in the elections, will they remain committed to democratic freedoms and human rights as we know them? Will the non-left alliance be strong enough to prevent Nepal from being an illiberal democracy? Will India tolerate it? What will China do?

I have no answers to these questions yet. We will see whether the upcoming elections make or break democracy only after the vote, which will take place in two phases — later this month and early next month. 

Murari Sharma: Confront Rise of Racism in West

Recently, someone I know told me that a white customer asked her to go back home at a store in London, where she works. Such incidences have substantially increased after the 2016 referendum on its membership of the European Union.

No wonder, England and Wales recorded 80,393 hate crimes in 2016/17, a spike by 29 percent over the year before, according to the Home Office. Eighty-five percent of them were broadly race related — 78 percent race and 7 percent religion related.

Racism is not new in the West. For various reasons, it had taken a back seat for some time, but now it has come back with a vengeance. Should we care about racism in the West?

Indeed, we should stand up to racism everywhere, particularly in the West because what happens in the West spread across the world like wildfire. Western countries set the global political standards and control global commerce and institutions. If unchecked, the resurgent racism will lead to bloodshed in Western countries and elsewhere.

There was a time when Westerners treated non-Whites as sub-human. They liquidated the Red Indians, Aborigines, Maoris, Eskimos, etc., appropriated their land and riches, and consigned them to reservations and to the margins of society.

They colonized Asia, Africa, and Latin America, plundered their wealth and resources, and enslaved their citizens and treated them like animals. In many places in India under the British Raj, for instance, the Indians and dogs were not allowed in. The locals could not ride the same bus and train and could not go to the same school in South Africa.

World War I weakened and World War II destroyed European powers, and colonies successfully removed them and secured independence. The United Nations, established to prevent wars and promote human rights of all, nudged racism from the center. Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans stood up against racism and colonialism and won independence and equality for their citizens.

Some pursued violent means to do so, like in South Africa and Vietnam. Others shamed the foreign powers to do it, like the Indians under Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership. Yet, much blood was shed in the process.

But racism remained very much alive in Western countries in a major segment of the population, only constrained by the law in the book and propriety in public. If racism were not alive, the celebrated British leader Winston Churchill would not have caused the great Bengal Famine to feed the White British and let the poor Indians die of hunger, arguing that they had never enough to eat anyway.

Or Enoch Powell would not have made a name for himself by being openly racist. Or Ku-Klus-Klan and other White supremacist groups would have vanished from the earth’s face.

In recent times, racism has risen its ugly head once again in the West, and it is being mainstreamed under the patronization of several rightist and far-rightist Western leaders. Start with the US President, Donald Trump, and the United States.

Though Trump has barely escaped personally implicating himself as a racist, he has done everything racists often do. He had paid fines for discriminating against the blacks in his properties. He has hired ultrarightist as presidential advisers. He has demonized minority people, including a senior judge, and patronized White supremacists groups.

Remember his comments on the Charlottesville mayhem where a White supremacist drove a car into the peaceful protest against the far-right rally or his comment about an American judge of Mexican ancestry?

More broadly, a large number of Americans entertain racism in private; otherwise, Trump would not have been the president.

Now Britain. Brexit, the British decision to leave the European Union, is largely a product of Britain’s closet racism. I have already cited the rise racist hate crimes in the country. While some like the UKIP leader Nigel Farage have been openly racist, a large section of the British leadership and public proved to be racists privately.

Elsewhere in the West, too, racism has raised its dirty head. For instance, in the 2017 presidential elections in France, the National Front President Marie Le Pen secured more votes than the socialist and conservative candidates. She lost to Emmanuel Macron, of En Marche, a new Party, bagging 34 percent votes in the second round.

Norbert Hofer the right-wing, nationalist Freedom Party secured the largest number of votes in the first round of the presidential election last year in Austria last year and lost the ballot in the second round by a small margin.  The same party clinched the third place with 26 percent votes in the parliamentary elections there this year.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD), the far-right party, emerged as the third largest in the German parliament in the 2017 elections. Its leaders, Alexander Gauland and Frauke Petry, are in leagues with Farage and Le Pen.

How will this phase of racism end? In bloodshed, as in the past. For example, if push comes to shove in the minorities in the West will fight back. The disenchanted have been already joining the terrorist groups. Terrorism will increase, and so will the revulsion towards minorities, in a spiral.

Sure, those who resort to extremism own the blame for their choice and action. However, society at large that has failed to integrate them or pushed them inadvertently to extremism cannot remain blame-free either. The net effect would be increased acrimony and bloodshed.

Therefore, racism ought to be contained in the West, before it gets out of hand, to protect humanity from another cycle of violence and bloodshed. Though only Western people can do it, the voice of the rest will be important to give heart to the fair-minded Westerners and widen their support in the West.

Britain’s statistics are frightening. In other Western countries too, hate crimes have increased significantly in recent time. If fair-minded people across the world do not join forces to defeat it in the West,  the resurgent racism there will engulf the rest of the world quickly as well.