Murari Sharma: Dahal’s India visit — none would have been better than bad

Jog Mehar Shrestha was an accomplished politician of the Panchayat days. When he was living in Kupandole, I bumped into him while visiting my friend who lived next door to Shrestha, and greeted him. I was a mere student and he a former minister.

He asked me how I was doing, how my family was, and how my father was, as if he knew me for ages. I had never met him before, and he did not know my father. But he asked all those questions in a fake familiarity that is often typical of politicians. While the first two questions were innocuous in which you could not go wrong, the last one was sensitive. Thank god, my father was alive. Otherwise, how would I have answered him?

Like Jog Mehar Shrestha’s questions, India seems to have prepared the joint statement before what Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal met with his counterpart Narendra Modi. So the statement was issued soon after they spoke to each other, in the middle of the visit, not towards the end. The text shows it is unbalanced, in India’s favor.

Foreign Minister Prakash Mahat has claimed that the visit was successful in putting things back on track. Poor Mahat, what else could do in his position? Even if Dahal and Modi had broken each other’s teeth in a fight, Mahat would have said the meeting was warm, cordial, and fruitful. It goes with the diplomatic territory.

Besides, it takes integrity and courage of conviction to call a spade a spade and shake things up; many people and a majority of politicians lack such qualities.

India has been helping Nepal with its development activities as well as at times of disasters, and Nepali people should be grateful to India for their generosity despite their own economic problems. Indian politicians and bureaucrats are often reasonable if Nepal presents its case honestly.

At times, India has also been high-handed to protect and promote its national interest. However, the bulk of Indian high-handedness is invited by Nepali leaders and bureaucrats themselves to curry personal favors. My Indian counterparts told me a couple of times two things about our political leaders and other senior policy makers.

One, our people would request their counterparts in private only for personal favors, nothing for the country. Two, they would promise everything but deliver nothing, which irritated their Indian counterparts.

Which essentially means, Nepali leaders and policy makers promise the sky to their counterparts in private to realize their personal goal, without ever intending to deliver on their promises. And they talk to their Indian counterparts about our national interest only in public, formal meetings for public consumption. In the latest joint statement, even that low bar has not been crossed.

In Nepal, it is wrongly assumed that a joint statement indicates the success and victory in a high-level visit. It could be just the opposite. Not issuing a statement does not always mean the visit was unsuccessful. It only indicates that there were some fundamental differences between the two sides.

In principle, Dahal’s visit has been wanting in many respects. One, you usually do not include anything in the joint statement on which there are differences between the sides. Two, you should respect each other in form and substance, Three, you try to strike a balance and reflect each side’s views equally if there are differences. Four, you do not commit something that is not in your national interest. Five, you only commit something if you can deliver.

Dahal’s India visit has failed all these five tests, and more. It was stupidity on Nepal’s part to include the issue of its constitution in the statement if India was not prepared to welcome it. India has been successful this time to establish that the prime minister of Nepal has endorsed its position on the statute , opposed previously by Nepal.

Remember the 1950 Treaty between Nepal and India? Deemed as unequal, it was signed by the Indian ambassador and Nepali prime minister. Under the joint statement, we will have a monitoring mechanism of the Embassy of India and Nepal. It could mean the Indian ambassador and Nepali prime minister would co-chair it. Was there no foreign ministry officials sleeping when the statement was being prepared? Or did Dahal’s political team overrule the officials?

Across the points included in the statement, Nepal’s position has been reflected as a beggar, who has done nothing to do its bit, not as a partner. While there is copious mention of what India has done, there is nothing to show what Nepal has done. So, the statement is unbalanced, tilted in India’s overwhelming favor.

If true, here is the most distressing part, a blatant betrayal of the country by Dahal. Dainik Nepal has cited an Indian newspaper with the photo of the news that Dahal has agreed to maintain a distance with China. This was in reference to various Nepal-China agreements signed under the former Prime Minister KP Oli to reduce Nepal’s total dependence on transit and petroleum products.

Finally, Dahal has committed many things he cannot deliver. For one thing, his tenure is short, not even nine months if the Corruption Investigation Commission moves ahead quickly with its investigation into the huge financial irregularities occurred in the management of the camps of Maoist combatants on his charge. Ethically, it will be untenable for him to continue in his position. Do not foreget: Dahal’s own party has already investigated and found the irregularities worth billions of rupees.

For another, I recall what Om Pradhan, Bhutan’s former minister and ambassador, had told me in New York. He had read about the Karnali project when he was in Class 5; but that project still remains on paper.

So much for the substance. There were also glaring weaknesses on the part of logistics. Leaving the minor ones, let me point out one diplomatic faux pas.

When Sita Dahal, the prime minister’s wife, was sitting with Indian leader Vijaya Jolly, her one foot was on the sofa and the other on the ground, out of her sandal. Did not the Foreign Ministry and New Delhi embassy officials brief Dahal and his wife about diplomatic etiquette? Or Dahal and Mrs. Dahal disregarded what they were told?

However much the poor Prakash Mahat burnishes Dahal’s India visit, it was a sort of disaster from the national interest perspective. Dahal and Mahat scored a few personal points as New Delhi loyalists, but the country has lost. Quiet frankly, Nepal would have been better off without Dahal’s hasty, unprepared visit to India.

To put the record straight, I like Dahal more than his egotistic nemesis, Baburan Bhattarai. And Modi and Dahal’s was a meeting between the two unequals, like Jog Mehar Shrestha and me. A meeting between the confident Indian Prime Minister Modi, recently adulated in G-20 summit, and his timid Nepali counterpart, cast aside for long for his occasional anti-Indian sins.

More precisely speaking, Dahal’s visit was not meant to advance Nepal’s interest. It was aimed at expiating Dahal’s anti-India sins and reinstating him as New Delhi’s loyal poodle once again. The visit was an enormous success in that respect.

 

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Murari Sharma: Solace for the lazy

I might not have been expelled from school if the Florida Gulf Coast University had its research on laziness and intelligence out when I was a student.

I was expelled from my school once for being lazy and sleeping for too long. It first happened in Haridwar, India. I was admitted into a good Sanskrit school where education, food and accommodation were free. I was lazy: I used to go to bed early and get out too late. The school management warned me twice, and when I failed to change my habit, it chucked me out like a fly from the milk.

Another time, I survived an expulsion by a whisker. After the first exit, I had obtained admission in another school in Rishikesh, India. Once again, the school management objected to my habit and almost threw me out. A teacher, a Sanyasi, who knew I was not too bad in studies, came to my rescue and saved me from a second disgrace.

I wish I then had the findings of the FGCU to defend my laziness and protect my fragile honor.

A team of the FGCU, led by Todd McElroy, monitored 30 thinkers and 30 non-thinkers for a week and found that the thinkers were less active than the non-thinkers. The findings were published in the Journal of Health Psychology as highly significant and robust.

The findings arrived too late for me. But for others like me, they may prove god-sent.

I know, many people work hard in Nepal. They work their heart out to eke out a living and still find themselves mired in poverty and destitution by the accident of their birth. I am not talking about them.

But there is no shortage of lazy people, either. Have you seen able-bodied men who spend their valuable time lazily lounging around in the local market or engaging in empty political talks in restaurants and under the banyan trees of their areas, while their women sweat themselves to death to provide a decent life for the family?

Politicians are the worst sort of parasite of our society. In other countries, politicians tend to have other means of livelihood: a business, a career, a part-time career, a farm big enough to sustain them, or inherited property enough to support them. They come from their respective backgrounds, serve people as politicians and go back to their own business or career from which they had come in the first place.

In Nepal, politics, and the opportunity for corruption that comes with it, is the ultimate profession or career and a source of abiding and massive wealth.  The FGCU findings must have warmed the hearts of politicians, providing they read the related news at all. I have used this proviso because our leaders in general tend to be the least educated and least enlightened among their counterparts from around the world.

Do not get me wrong. I have no intention to pillory all politicians. I know there are several Ph.D. holders in the legislature. Many have Master’s and lesser degrees. We have learned about politicians who went to take the SLC exam after they became members of the legislature, who studied in jail and acquired degrees, or who studied at home and acquired enough knowledge to challenge the professionals intellectually. I am not talking about them.

Many other politicians, though without any formal qualification and opportunity for it for one reason or another, have an unquenchable hunger for education and knowledge. I am not talking about them, either.

I am talking about the bulk of politicians that has an aversion to anything that has to do anything with reading, writing or thinking constructively.  I am talking about those politicians — the members of the Constituent Assembly cum parliament, who decide the destiny of our country and its citizens — who fought hard to exclude any academic qualification whatsoever in the new Constitution to become a member of parliament, whereas those who want to become a driver or peon need a high school education.

There is no shortage of such politicians. In my professional life, I have seen a prime minister who never read any newspaper, magazine or book, even though he could read. I have also seen several ministers who could not read or write other than their own names. Interestingly, however, the premier and ministers used to carry tons of newspapers and magazines home every day, perhaps to hide his aversion to reading or inability to read and write, as relevant.

When the US presidential candidate claimed that he knows more about the ISIS than the military commanders fighting that terrorist organization, the world laughs. Our ministers all the time claim to have more expertise than professional experts themselves, but nobody laughs.

In a democratic system, you respect the people’s mandate the elected representatives bring  and recognize their duty to express their political priorities. But occasionally, I have had ministers lecture me beyond their brief and their competence on specific professional issues, even though they did not know what they were talking about and whether what they said made any sense.

Fortunately, I had no major problem with any minister under whom I served. But some of my colleagues were not as lucky as me. They suffered under too smart and too naive ministers with wrong intentions. But things went down the hill gradually.

A friend of mine who replaced me after a few of my colleagues tells me that we were lucky. He says when I was at the head of a ministry, democratic politics posited some respectability and hope; there was still some discipline left in the political leaders and bureaucratic officials. However, after a bunch of murderers has become integral to the ruling class in Nepal, he says, there is an intense  aversion towards civility, education, qualification, discipline.

In other words, to anything that a society and system needs for the progress of the country. It reminds me of Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s speech on 1 May 2010 from the open air theater in Kathmandu, calling publicly on the “uneducated and rustic” to punish the “educated and civilized” when they can. Now he heads the government.

The FGCU findings will help our political leaders to justify their scheming — oh, thinking — for power and staying away from sullying their hands and dirtying their boots.