Conventional wisdom says those who live in glass houses should not pelt stones at others. But if you are big and powerful, you can put the wisdom upside down and constantly throw boulders at others’ door. Take the USA in the world and India in South Asia.
India, the elephant in the South Asia room, has been chaotic politically ever since its independence from Britain. The partition, three wars over Kashmir, Khalistan, continued Bodo, Naga and Naxalite problems, war with China, Assam uprising, Gorkhaland agitations, frequent communal riots, to name a few crises.
Gujarat, the home state of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been in the eye of storm at least twice in last 15 years. The Patels have currently been agitating for a caste-based quota for their relatively wealthy business clan. Nearly a dozen people have been killed in the related violence, but the government has refused to concede.
In 2002, Modi as chief minister presided over Hindu-Muslim communal riots in Gujarat that killed more than 2,000 people.
Neither India nor Modi appreciate external intervention in their internal affairs. Be it a suggestion to accommodate the Patel clan’s demand for the quota, to talk to the Kashmiri rebels or to protect minorities from majority excesses. I am sure Modi hated western countries for denying him a visa or ostracizing him in other ways over his dubious role during the Gujarat riots.
Curiously, the same Modi lost no time to exhort Nepali Prime Minister Sushil Koirala to accommodate the demands of some Madheshi parties, in a clear interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. His home minister went several steps ahead and announced, in his own words, “India will safeguard the interest of 10 million Indians living in Nepal.”
Sure Koirala should have talked to Madheshi leaders on his own. But that does not justify Modi’s and his home minister’s intervention, which is objectionable at least on three different levels. First, Madheshis are Nepalis. They are not Indians living in Nepal. Surprisingly, only a few Madheshi leaders objected to the Indian home minister’s highly derogatory statement for them.
Second, both Nepal and India are wedded to Panchasheel, the five principles of peaceful coexistence. Accordingly, Nepali leaders have rarely, if at all, inserted themselves in India’s internal affairs. They did not open their mouth in direct or indirect support of Gorkhaland demanded by the Nepali speaking Indians. You may say who would listen even if they said something, but it is also a question of principle.
Third, how would Modi feel if Koirala exhorted him to meet the Patels’ demand, accommodate the Kashmiris people’s will or concede the Gorkhaland demand, in a quid pro quo. If you want respect from others, your should respect them as well.
To be fair, Modi is not the first Indian leader to interfere in Nepal’s issues; he has only continued the vapid, old tradition. Besides, he was invited by our Madheshi leaders to intervene. And if every Tom, Dick and Harry representing the western countries finds himself qualified enough to stick out his neck, why not Modi?
Yet the question of principle remains. Modi is, therefore, guilty of breaching Panchasheel, flouting the golden principle — do to others what you expect from them — and engaging in gratuitous paropadeshe pandityam — wiser in advising others than doing it himself.
Nepal’s commentariat is guilty of such pandityam as well. Most pundits have never been in politics; neither have they had the experience of running any organization — forget a country. Yet they dish out their vacuous wisdom generously as if they knew politics inside out. This is their omniscience run amok.
Its consequences are obvious for everyone to see. The high priests often offer simplistic and impractical solutions for complex issues. For instance, they say only the Big Two — Nepali Congress and UML — must show flexibility and compromise for consensus over the draft constitution, not smaller parties. It takes two sides to tango, though the Big Two should take the lead, for power comes with responsibility.
I am sure our wise heads are fully aware that Nepal is one of the most divided countries on earth. Perhaps no other country of our size has as many political parties as we have. Yet our high priests suggest that the Big Two, Three or Four — at different times — can bring on board nearly 100 parties with conflicting ideas, 125 ethnic groups with different priorities, and 28 million people by showing a little more flexibility.
All this however does not exculpate the Big Two, Three or Four of their failure to lead. Their imperious ad hocism has been appalling. They first approved six states without explaining the basis — ethnicity, geography, viability, political demand. At the first whip of discontent, they swiftly opted for a seven-state model, again without expounding the underlying logic.
If the Big Ones had based their decisions on some coherent logic, real facts and established process, they could have explained their agreement away more easily. The smaller parties that have hit the street too would have found it more difficult to justify their opposition.
The public does not care about federalism. Two recent public opinion surveys and the public consultation over the draft constitution have manifested it. Minority leaders need states to rule. Federalism will not be a panacea to Nepal’s poverty and instability, but it is worth trying.
The Big TWo, Three or Four have failed in their leadership, partly they themselves have differences and partly they have shunned the participatory decision-making process.
Part of the trouble now is that minorities have conflicting territorial claims for their states. The Big Ones could sort it out by bringing the Madheshi and Limbu leaders together and resolve their mutual claims over Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari or the united-farwest group and Tharus over Kailali and Kanchanpur, the key contentious points.
This is a simple measure that could help resolve the complex problem. If it does, it will not hurt anyone. Granted, neither negotiations nor solutions are as straightforward as they look from outside.
Yet, dialogue paves the ground for understanding the severity of the problem in hand and for give and take. The best outcome of negotiation is one that makes everyone almost equally unhappy.
More states may easily resolve the problem, but that is not a viable option. Already, seven states are too many. They will eat up most of the revenue for administrative costs, leaving little or nothing for investment in development. But if there is any prospect to go back to the six-state model, why not.
Oscar Wilde’s has said, “The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on.” I have passed it on. But I am aware, as John Steinbeck has said, “You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.”
Our leaders may dismiss the panditocracy’s paropadeshe pandityam, but what about Indian leaders‘. Conventional wisdom gets often beaten in politics and power play.