Predators and Prejudice



As a child, I had read a revealing fable. A jackal used to come to a village to steal chicks. If the villagers were not on guard, he would steal the hatchlings quietly. If they were, then he would announce from a hideout that an eagle was about to filch their pets. When the villagers looked to the sky for the eagle, the jackal pilfered their baby birds. 

Some of our leaders have been constantly using the jackal’s trick to advance their petty personal interests. They compromise our independence, misappropriate revenue, and make money from corruption quietly, when possible. Otherwise, they do so by sounding false alarms about and pointing the finger at the eagle—mostly, India—to divert our attention and anger away from them. The controversial installation of Lokman Singh Karki as head of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), apparently made at India’s behest, is one such case. 

Sure, every country tries to protect its national interest, even by waging wars. Nepal has fought two wars with India. India has let anti-establishment Nepali leaders use its soil against Nepal contrary to the 1950 treaty provision and encroached on the border; and it has unilaterally built bunds, on rivers at the border, which inundate our land. The 1965 letter attached to the 1950 treaty and the agreements on Koshi and Gandak water use are unequal; but I don’t know whether India coerced us to sign them, or our leaders did it due to ignorance or to curry personal favor from Delhi.

Due to its security concerns, India wants to have a friendly prime minister, home minister, and home secretary, and chief of the police in Nepal. However, Delhi has no interest in interfering in the appointment of heads of the CIAA, Public Service Commission or Auditor-General’s Office, which are not significant to it. Some analysts have overstretched their imagination to suggest that Karki’s appointment was a step towards Sikkimizing Nepal. Well, if Indians ever decide to absorb Nepal, they will use the passel of loyal political leaders and parties, not the CIAA or Auditor-General’s Office. 

On the contrary, some Nepali leaders and businessmen have—as Mahabir Paudyal has mentioned them a few days ago (Wheeler dealers, May 14, 2013)—had vested interest in Karki’s investiture, for they are allegedly involved in major scandals which the anti-graft body has to tackle. They hope Karki will cover their tracks and their backs in the future. Only time will tell whether Karki obliges them or emulates TN Sheshan, India’s former chief election commissioner, who let his mentors down. 

How does India get dragged in these non-consequential cases? As I have witnessed many times, it works in one of three ways. One, potential beneficiaries—the candidates and other people with vested interests—simply drop India’s name to tilt decisions their way. Two, the beneficiaries request Indian officials for a personal favor. Three, Nepali decision makers suo motu seek Indian officials’ view on key appointments to ingratiate themselves or neutralize opposition parties. 

In the first case, Indian officials come to know about it one only if it spills out in the media. In case two, they mostly ignore the request and occasionally communicate that someone had approached them with such a request. In case three, they say it is Nepal’s decision. Nepali decision makers then interpret and manipulate all this to suit their own interest. If the decision becomes popular, they claim the credit. If it turns controversial, they blame India or some other convenient scapegoat, as they did in Karki’s case.

This is not the first time our leaders have done this. A former Indian ambassador to Nepal bitterly complained to me that when he was serving in Kathmandu Nepali leaders indulged in many filthy things to promote their personal interests and pointed their finger at Delhi to divert public anger away from them. An official from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs in a closed briefing to media people back in April disclosed that Nepali leaders seek to advance only their personal goals, not national interests. 

The charges are not entirely wrong. I have known and witnessed many Nepali leaders implore India for financial support or blessing for a powerful post; scholarship for their children and relatives in Indian educational institutes; and free treatment for them and their family. They criticize Delhi when their demands are rejected. I have also seen that they often blame India to hide their weaknesses or misdeeds. 

One of my friends who used to work with an Indian joint venture bank in Kathmandu tells me that he is disgusted by several leaders who criticize India during the day and visit junior Indian diplomats to collect their paycheck at night. 

Let me cite a few instances, from 1990 onwards, of our leaders blaming India for their misdeeds. Once, Nepali ministers issued a license to a businessman to import a large number of mobile phones at a time when mobile phone service had just been introduced in the country. When Delhi complained about the phones being smuggled to India, our leaders told me and the media that India was interfering in Nepal’s trade and internal affairs. Smuggling is banned by the Nepal-India trade treaty.

In one of the most egregious cases, ministers issued a permit to a trader to import palm oil from Malaysia in huge quantities. In a sample check at the Calcutta port, the oil was found laced with cholesterol, which exists only in animal fat. Because there was excess cholesterol and it was suspected to have come from cows or pigs, India held up the adulterated palm oil. To get the oil released, our ministers assured Indian officials that they would take stern action against the importer and destroy the contaminated oil. 

But no action was taken against the importer and the oil was sold locally and exported as a Nepali product or smuggled to India. So Hindus and Muslims in Nepal consumed some of that oil and their Indian counterparts did the rest, against their faith, without knowing it. When Delhi raised this hypersensitive issue, Nepali ministers sought to foment anti-Indian sentiments.

More recently, one former prime minister, who has made a secret pact with Indian intelligence agencies to attend to Indian concerns in Nepal, excoriated Delhi for intrusion into Nepal’s internal affairs when he, prevented by the President, could not fire an army chief. To justify his government’s poor performance, another former prime minister said the country’s key is in foreign hands. The culture of accountability is alien to most of our leaders. So, the fault always lies with someone else. 

Many of our swivel-eyed leaders have been able to play the trick of the fable’s jackal with us because pro- and anti-Indian rhetoric sells in our political and intellectual market. In some pockets, we buy pro-Indian rhetoric blindly; in others, we procure anti-Indian harangue without a question. So our leaders use this prejudice, as necessary, to fob off their faulty products on us, hide their fraud, compromise our independence, and misappropriate our resources. Occasionally, Indian officials also prime the market, as SD Mehta did for an undivided state in the Tarai. 

Here is the nub: Politics is notorious for passing the buck. Jackals blame eagles to divert attention, as they did in Karki’s case. We must protect our precious chicks—independence, freedom, revenue, development outlays—from both groups of predators. So next time a jackal says an eagle has taken our ear, we must examine its motive and feel our ears before running after the bird of Jove, to preserve our sanity.


Published on 2013-06-02 01:09:38

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