Murari Sharma: The devilish practice that refuses to go away

Kantipur, the Nepali vernacular, reported the incidence child marriage has picked up in the southern part of Lalitpur district. Even kids studying in grade five have been running away from home and getting married. According to the report, social media, peer imitation, and poverty of the family are mainly responsible for it.

This devilish phenomenon is not new in the country. Child marriage was common in urban as well as rural areas of Nepal. Even after the introduction of the legal minimum marriageable age, it continued unabated. Over time, the spread of education and social awareness reduced child marriage swiftly in urban areas, though the reduction was slow in rural areas.

However, the Maoist insurgency (1996-2005) halted or reversed the progress in the rural areas. The Maoists abducted or lured young children in general and unmarried girls in particular to join their guerilla force. Those parents who could send their children to safer urban areas did so, while others married their girl children off young.

After the insurgency was over, the well-off parents went back to their normal parenting routine. But the poor ones continue to have their children marry either for extra farm hands or for the reduction of economic pressure on the family.

Then arrived Westernization and social media affecting all, but mainly urban areas. The media — films, soap operas, explicit literature, arts and news — exposed and lured children to liberal, even promiscuous, way of life of their Western contemporaries. The impressionable children imitated their Western peers blindly.

Social media exposed children in Nepal to Western culture, which is now deemed as the gold standard, connected immature children to each other from a safe distance without their parents’ knowledge or intervention, and created peer pressure. Hence the new surge in child marriage and child pregnancy in parts of Lalitpur district.

Swami Vivekanand (1863-1902) says, “I have a strong hatred for child marriage.” After a hundred years, the problem remains entrenched despite legal restrictions, education and awareness building efforts. Nepal has made such provisions as well, but the result has been far from satisfactory.

The reason is simple. The enforcement of legal provision has been weak and patchy. There is no reporting on the cases of child marriage. When they are reported, the police do not take prompt and effective action. Politicians protect the culprits if their known supporters are drawn into the matter. Even courts are lax about the enforcement when the cases are brought to them.

Formal education has been less effective than expected to reduce child marriage for three reasons. First, textbooks have no content specifically directed against child marriage.

Second, neither government nor non-governmental organizations have made concerted and sustained efforts against child marriage. The government’s reach is limited, especially in rural areas where most child marriages take place. Non-governmental organizations are Kathmandu-centric and do not operate widely in the rural areas where the epidemic of child marriage is widespread.

Third, social pressure is often more powerful than the influence of education and awareness campaigns. For instance, the very social workers who campaign against the chhaupadi (seclusion of women during menstruation) are forced into seclusion in unhealthy conditions during their period.

So the child marriage continues. Resolving the problem requires concerted and multi-faceted efforts. For instance, the government must bring to justice those who promote or encourage child marriage. It can also make a difference by including the appropriate material in school textbooks on social evils that need to be eradicated.

Besides, the state should launch anti-child marriage campaign. It ought to be done in association with the non-governmental organizations working in the sector and involve teachers, religious leaders, and village elders, who wield influence in the area, to drive the message home.

The non-governmental organizations need to get out of the comfort of Kathmandu and a few large urban centers and reach out to rural areas.

Children are our future. Stifling them from rising to their full potentials through early marriage and other social evils is a crime that must be eliminated. The incidence reported in Kantipur is just a tip of a large iceberg. Child marriage must be tackled with the emphasis it deserves if we want a better future for our children, society and nation.

Murari Sharma: Rise of Ultranationalism

Ultranationalism has made a roaring comeback across the world after a relative obscurity following the end of World War II.

Nationalism is essential to build unity in the midst of diversity. But ultranationalism, which feeds on chauvinism and mercantilism, leads to chaos, wars, bigotry, racism, intolerance, violence, tribalism and the disintegration of states.

BR Ambedkar, who drafted the Indian constitution, said, “I want all people to be Indians first, Indian last and nothing else but Indians.” It was crucial for the integrity of India.

Ultranationalism has produced Hitler and Mussolini. It has fomented civil wars from Sudan to Ukraine and from Indonesia to Moldova.

In recent times, the tide of ultra-nationalism started to turn with India. Though the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party formed government in India in 1998, the moderate Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee blunted its edge. Therefore, the real move to the right arrived in only 2014 with the BJP leader Narendra Modi winning the election and become the prime minister of that country.

The Conservative Party, threatened by the ultraright UK Independence Party, has become UKIP-lite in the UK. Then-Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron held the referendum on the EU on 23 June. The British voters bought into the ultranationalist slogans — Take back control from Brussels, British jobs for British people, independence from Brussels —  and cast their vote to leave the regional economic bloc.

The vote has irrigated the plant that could bear the fruit of Britain’s disintegration. Scotland, which held an unsuccessful referendum for independence in 2013, as well as Northern Ireland and Wales are uncomfortable about leaving the EU. They do not want to forgo the free access to the EU single market. The Scottish Independence Party has threatened to hold another referendum, should Britain leave the single market.

The Judaic chauvinist Benjamin Netanyahu has been reelected as prime minister of Israel for the third time in 2015, at the head of the Likud Party. He publicly supports two-state solution for peace in Palestine, but consistently expands Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas to kill the idea of two-state solution and peace.

In Austria, the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party almost captured the presidency, though he failed in the final round. His agenda, among other things, was ‘Austria First’ and anti-immigrants.

The United States found in 2017 the mercurial  chauvinist and mercantilist Donald J. Trump as president on the Republican ticket. Trump’s racist, misogynist, anti-Islam, and anti-free trade posture is already riling the world. His protectionist policy is threatening to destabilize the global economy. The Republican Party that swept both houses of Congress and the majority of state governorship and state legislatures seems to tag along with Trump.

The mercurial Rodrigo Duterte, who praises the US President Trump and who used curse words against former US President Barack Obama when he was still in office, has been running the Philippines.

Even President Xi Jinping has been playing the nationalist card more than many of his predecessors in China.

Ultranationalist parties are posing threat to several other European countries as well. In France, Marine Le Pen of the National Front is seriously challenging her rivals in the French presidential elections this year. Seven other Western European countries have witnessed a surge in the popularity of conservatives or far rightist parties.

In Nepal, ultranationalism in at its climax. On one hand, minority groups have rooted for its most restrictive form — the tribal nationalism. On the other the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), the main opposition party now, has taken a nationalist posture after India interfered in the constitution writing and imposed the third, unannounced economic embargo on Nepal after the statute was promulgated in 2015 over its objection.

This catalog is enough to suggest that the world, after being largely liberal for the last four decades or so, has suddenly begun to embrace some form of the far right ideology.

How much damage it will do would depend on whether the surge of ultranationalism is a passing fad or a new trend. It is not yet clear whether the new swing to the right is a fad or the beginning of a trend. At this stage, it could be either.

It could be a temporary fad, a one-time expression of public anger towards elitist political leaders. Some view it as a fad. For instance, Andrew McCarthy, a former assistant US  attorney for the Southern District of New York,  writing in National Review, has said the Trump victory and its interpretation are just a fad.

Or it could be the beginning of a new rightward trend and the beginning of the end of liberalism and globalization. People like the US Senator Mike Lee, tend to believe that the Trump victory is the start of the trend of principled populism.

But the sustainability of the movement will depend on what happens in the coming elections in some major countries and how the ultraright parties perform in power.

The significant elections to watch would be in Germany and France and in the USA over the next two years. If the ultraright forces win the elections in Germany and France this year, and if the Tea Party Republicans make an impressive gain in the US in 2018, the pendulum might swing decisively towards narrow nationalism. Otherwise, the rightward swing could prove temporary.

More importantly, much will depend on how the ultraright leaders and governments perform in power.  If Brexit becomes a success, without major economic woes, narrow nationalism will triumph in Britain and it will have ripple effects beyond its borders.

Similarly, if the Trump administration performs in office well, it will hugely contribute to make the ultraright politics sustainable for a while. The United States, the foremost global military and economic power, still has big sway in world politics.

Otherwise, the euphoria created by the ultranationalists will crash on the hard concrete of reality, triggering a backlash against them. However, for now it appears that ultranationalism espoused by fundamentalist forces is winning the day.

 

Murari Sharma: An uncharted territory

At his inauguration as 45th president of the United States on 20 January 2017, Donald J. Trump said, “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first — America first. . . Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. . . We will follow two simple rules — buy American and hire American.”

Though it sounds enticing to many Americans, it is a chilling stuff. From now on, America will be self-centered, protectionist, and less generous to the rest of the world. Clearly, the United States and the world have entered an uncharted territory.

Nobody knows whether Trump is going to follow through his priorities or to grow into his job and become a mainstream president. But so far, he has essentially refused to behave like the president of a multicultural country and the most powerful country on earth. This should worry the American people more than the rest of the world.

Here is why. Trump’s racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, and misogynist language that has given wings to the white supremacists and alt-rights will further widen the fissure that already exist in American society. The spike in hate crimes, as reported by The New Yorker, will make American minorities and American street less safe for all Americans. The reversal of women’s rights under Trump will affect American women more directly and deeply than women elsewhere.

America’s protectionist policy will harm America more than other countries in the long run. Other countries will retaliate with countermeasures, triggering trade wars in which America will be fighting against the rest of the world. Though trade contributes to only 11 percent of American GDP, millions of Americans will lose their jobs that depend on the trade. Trade wars will increase tariffs on American imports and raise the cost of living for American consumers, and will put at risk the American investment in other countries, as capital controls are imposed, making most Americans worse off.

If the USA undermines and weakens NATO, as Trump has threatened, European countries will find a new modus vivendi with the resurgent Russia. China will try to fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of America from the Tranpacific Trade Partnership in Asia and the Pacific, and the countries in the region will warm up to Beijing.

In fact, Beijing has already made such an overture with the Investment Bank, Silk Road, and free trade initiatives. The Philippines has already been looking to Beijing as the replacement for Washington.

Germany, China, and India will take the lead to contain climate change and keep the Paris Agreement alive. If Mexico is offended too much by Trump’s wall on the border and his harsh conditions for the NAFTA to survive, it will look to other countries for economic alliance and allow its citizens to cross into the US illegally.

Trump’s America First policy will reduce foreign aid and trade concessions the US gives to the developing countries and temporarily cripple those nations, until they find new sources of support or they develop their own capacity. It will also have several serious consequences for the United States.

For instance, the US will lose its global influence when other countries fill the void left by America. It will not be able to protect its military, civilian and commercial assets spread around the world and to prevent the flow of refugees headed to its shores from the conflict-ridden countries if it does not help resolve their political and economic woes at the source.

In other words, the impact of Trump’s policies will be relatively short-term for the rest of the world. But America will sustain long-term damages. It will be a mistake for the US to forget that, though the end of the British Empire unsettled the world for some time, it harmed Britain permanently and helped the United States and other countries. The end of the American Empire will not be any different in its impact.

The rest of the world is  worried about the transient impact of Trump’s posture, not permanent damage. The Guardian editorial dubbed the Trump’s inaugural speech as “a declaration of political war.” German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel predicted a “rough ride.” Concerns have been expressed in China, Mexico and several other countries.

Only two countries seem pleased with Trump: Russia and Taiwan. If the US pulls back from the world, Russia will have more room to project its power in the world. Taiwan expects Trump to water down America’s “One China” policy. But that is too few countries to sustain the American Empire.

But who knows. Trump might not do what he has said or will say and do the right things as president. Or his cabinet colleague might convince him to take the middle road. If that happens, the uncharted territory Trump is pulling the US and the world into could prove to be a good one. I wish Donald J. Trump moderation and success.

Trump’s disruptive new world order and Nepal

Donald Trump will start shattering the existing world order in less than two weeks, if he governs as he promised during his election campaign. Such disruption may benefit the US in the short run, but it will harm America in the long run. The rest of the world, including Nepal, will suffer from Trump’s policies.

Of course, leaders campaign in poetry and govern in prose. That might eventually turn out to be the case with the US president-elect Trump. But his toxic post-election Twitter messages and statements and his selection of ministers does not presage such transformation.

If Trump does not change himself, he will change the United States and the rest of the world strategically, politically, economically, environmentally and socially in the next four years. I am assuming that Trump will not be impeached during that period.

Incidentally, Professor Allan Lichtman, who forecast his victory, has predicted his impeachment as well. But that is a separate issue for the future.

In the strategic domain, Trump has threatened to pull the US out of the NATO, questioned the ‘One China policy’ adopted since 1971, supported the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, and praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and Basher Assad of Syria. He has appointed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

A weakened NATO will embolden aspiring super powers and destabilize the world. China may take an aggressive stance towards Taiwan if Trump deviates from one China policy, destabilizing North and South East Asia.

Trump’s praise and his appointment of Tillerson, whose heels are dug deeply in Russian oil, have given heart to Putin to press on in Ukraine and Syria. His praise for dictators has strengthened the hand of existing and aspiring dictators.

Trump has undermined the two-state solution for the Middle East, a mantra of the successive American administrations. He has supported the Netanyahu government’s policy of setting up and expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. He has also appointed a pro-settlement man as his ambassador to Israel.

In the political realm, Trump has failed to win the confidence of leaders at the helm of US allies across the world. He continues to root for his campaign’s “big and beautiful wall”at the US-Mexico border, which the former Mexican President Vincent Fox has called a racist monument.

In addition, Trump has promised to stop regime change and nation building outside the United States. This has encouraged the existing and aspiring tin-pot dictators, who were exercising restraints in the face of American emphasis on democracy and human rights in the past.

In the economic sphere, Trump is likely to trigger a trade war. He has vowed to crush the Trans-Pacific Trade deal, poked China in the eye by criticizing Chinese trade and threatening to impose tariff on Chinese imports and by appointing an anti-Chinese hawk as commerce secretary, and undermined the NAFTA. If America adopts protectionist policies, other countries will retaliate.

Trump might gut the environmental protection gains. He has vowed to pull the US out of the Paris agreement on climate change and appointed a climate change denier as head of the Environment Protection Agency. These measures will lead to decline in US aid to sustainable development in the developing world.

Under President Trump, US aid for developing countries may suffer a major decline in other ways as well. Trump will reduce the nation building aid, which is a significant part of the aid package. His protectionist measures will derail the capacity building efforts of developing countries, which require access to rich markets for their goods and services.

Trump may reorder social values and institutions in the US and across the globe. He has already given a new lease of life to racists and misogynists in the United States and the rest of the world. He himself has mainstreamed anti-minority tirades and misogynistic behavior. He has anointed the white supremacist outfits like the KKK and Brietbert News as mainstream organizations. The racists and misogynists in other countries will follow the American example, without the fear of sanctions.

One of the biggest contributions of Trump presidency could be the elevation of corruption into a legitimate goal of public office. America has been at the forefront of the campaign for transparency and clean government in the past. But Trump is already changing it by refusing to disengage him and his family from his global business, by using his position to make a profit for his businesses, and by appointing many ministers with similar conflicts of interest. As a leader, you lead by example in the corruption field.

All these factors will have direct and significant impact on Nepal. The renewed tension and trade will undermine Nepal’s security and affect its exports and imports. The reduction in US assistance will affect Nepal’s development and environmental protection activities. The US lack of interest in democracy, human rights, gender and racial equality, and in clean and corruption-free government will encourage Nepali leaders to disregard these fundamental values and institutions as well.

But several caveats are in order here. First, the Russian cyber war and the FBI director James Comey’s intervention to get him elected have undermined Trump’s legitimacy and position even before he has moved to the White House.

Second, Trump will be able to do only as much in many of these areas as the Republican controlled Congress will concur. While he may not have much problem with the House of Representative, where decisions are made by a simple majority, he might face major hurdles in the Senate due to its personal and institutional complexity.

Personally, every Senator sees in himself a future president. So Senators often do what is in their own best interest, rather than blindly supporting the president. They, elected for six years, afford to defy the president without the fear of public outrage. For instance, the hearing on Russian influence on the US presidential elections went forward despite Trump’s serious objections.

Institutionally, the filibuster could prove a major hurdle to Trump’s agenda. The Republicans need 8 votes from the Democrats and Independents for the filibuster-proof majority to pass major legislations or ratify major appointments. Further, the situation may worsen in two years when all members of the House and one-third members of the Senate would be due for election.

Therefore, while Trump agenda is definitely scary, how much of it is actually implemented will depend on how much he grows up in the office and how much Congress will support. Let us hope he would abandon the poetry and govern with prose as soon as he moves to the White House on 20 January.

Murari Sharma: Nepal’s democracy is at stake

The proposal to amend Nepal’s constitution for the second time within a year has polarised the country. It has divided the political parties, the Nepali population, and even the neighboring countries. At stake is Nepal’s democracy.

Obviously, the ruling coalition is pushing the amendment to accommodate partly the demands of the Madheshi regional parties. These parties want to make Hindi a national language, to open the highest posts to some naturalized citizens, to allocate the upper house seats based on population, and to separate hill and Terai states.

But the amendment has no future. The Madheshi regional parties have said they will not accept the amendment without further changes to accommodate all their demands. The opposition has vowed to continue preventing the discussion in the house and protesting in the street.

Foreign backing for and against has made the amendment even more toxic. India has openly sided with the Madheshi regional parties. China has tacitly supported the opposition to thwart India from furthering its strategic advantage in Nepal.

In this situation, one expects the government to find a compromise acceptable to all sides. But Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has failed to do so.

Dahal’s legendary arrogance and propensity to self-harm have come in the way. They had sunk him and his government in 2009. This time, they are preventing him from seeking a common ground, which will be possible only all three sides move to the middle.

Besides, the coalition itself is putting Dahal in a tight spot. Sher Bahadur Deuba, the leader of the Nepali Congress Party and the largest coalition partner, has been waiting for his turn to replace Dahal. He seems in no mood to give credit to Dahl for the safe-landing of the Madheshi regional parties, in view of the elections in the early 2018.

Even for Deuba, it is not going to be a smooth sail. The Madheshi regional parties, which lost significant ground in the 2013 elections, would not want to hand him victory and cement their previous loss further in the next vote. The opposition leader KP Oli, who has become popular due to his anti-amendment posture, would want to cash his popularity for his party, not for the Nepali Congress.

Such bickering between democratic leaders and parties has given room to neighboring countries to advance their self-interest in Nepal at the cost of Nepal. When they were together, they promulgated the new constitution in 2015 despite strong external opposition. They reached the 16-point agreement prior to the promulgation of the constitution in the similar circumstances.

However, the problem before us is not beyond resolution. If all sides come together, then there will be either no problem to resolve or it would be easy to solve. But if anyone suggests that the current impasse is caused by only one side, they are either partisan or lying.

People and institutions are guided by self-interest: Self-preservation and self-promotion. Such self-interest may range from eating and drinking to keeping immigrants out. You will fail if you ask people to forgo their self-interest, as they define it for them and not as you define it for them, at their cost.

Whatever we say and do is motivated by self-interest, and the collection of self-interest is the national interest. Even this preachy article is self-promotion aimed at advancing the national interest.

In other words, you cannot divest self-interest from the national interest. So we who claim to be in the middle should be practical and fair to all sides. Otherwise, the extreme right and left will threaten democratic institutions and even hijack democracy itself.

For example, Donald Trump won the presidency in the USA because the mainstream candidates failed to recognize the self-interest of the common people. The Brexit and the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany also fall in this category.

Nepal has seen it all. Now former King Gyanendra has issued a statement indicating that he is prepared to save the country. The fringe Maoist parties and Terai separatist groups are fishing in troubled waters. The disgruntled people may throw their support behind these fringe elements, as they had done behind the Maoists only a two decades ago.

So the government must take a step back and begin discussions with all sides in the present impasse to find a common ground before it is too late. Otherwise, Nepal’s democratic institution and democracy will suffer an unspeakable damage in the days to come.

Murari Sharma: Nepal heading into crisis

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is rushing blindfolded to a precipice with his proposal to amend the constitution. If he does not listen to the calls to open his eyes before it is too late, he will fall off, taking the country with him. That is scary.

Dahal’s blindness to the apparent facts is baffling. He needs 396 votes out of 595 in the parliament to approve his proposal, which he does not have, even if all his coalition partners stick with him.

Here is the math. The UML and other parties that have 200 members are openly opposing the amendment. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party, a coalition partner with 27 members, has made it clear that it would not support the amendment.

Besides, the Madheshi parties, with around 18 seats, have said they would support the amendment only with further concessions, without mentioning what.

It gets even more complex. Some leaders of Dahal’s own party have openly opposed the amendment in full or part. The Nepali Congress Party, the largest coalition partner, has the same problem.

A five-year old child can see this simple math, but Dahal does not see or care.

Why? Enter India. Dahal has been pushing the amendment to appease India, rather than satisfy the Madheshi parties. Indian leaders want the amendment and the Indian ambassador in Kathmandu had overtly lobbied the Nepali leaders to deliver it.

What is India’s motivation? India has provided development assistance to win the hearts of the Nepali people in virtually all sectors of the economy: From education and health to agriculture, roads, and power.

India has also sought to integrate Nepal in its security and economic architecture since it became independent from Britain and punished whenever Nepal has defied its dictate.

The 1950 treaty provides the framework for such integration. It established common security interest and granted equal rights to each other’s citizens in residence, trade, contracts and movement. Further steps followed.

For instance, in 1953, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru extracted agreement from his counterpart Matrika Koirala to coordinate the two countries’ foreign policy, only to be pushed back by a fierce opposition in Nepal.

The 1965 letter, exchanged as part of the 1950 treaty, has stipulated that Nepal acquire all defense supplies from India and obtain India’s approval before importing them from third countries.

India has punished Nepal whenever its dictat has been defied. For example, it imposed an economic embargo on Nepal in 1969/70 to chastise King Mahendra for removing the Indian check posts from the Nepal-China border.

In 1989/90, India imposed the second economic blockade (reduced the number of transit points from 14 to 2) because King Birendra imported Chinese weapons without Indian approval.

The king paid a huge political price. The blockade crated enormous shortages and angered people. The banned democratic parties launched a democratic movement, tapping the anger, and India support it. The movement reduced the king to a constitutional monarch.

The growing protests ended with the induction of multiparty democracy, and the king became a constitutional monarch.

Similarly, King Gyanendra lost the monarchy in 2008 for insisting, among other things, on making China an observer in SAARC.

Indian punishment has extended to the elected leaders as well. For instance, in 2009, New Delhi openly prevented Pushpa Kamal Dahal from becoming prime minister again because he had criticized India.

In 2015, India imposed the third economic embargo when Prime Minister Sushil Koirala refused to delay the promulgation of the new constitution written by the constituent assembly.

New Delhi said Nepal’s Madheshi parties had obstructed the border, but it was only partly true. The Madheshi picketed some border points, notably Birgunj, but India curtailed the flow of sensitive goods, such as petroleum and medicine, from even those points where there was no obstruction.

In 2016, India openly campaigned against Prime Minister KP Oli because he had criticized the Indian economic blockade and had signed trade and transit treaties with China to reduce Nepal’s economic dependence on India.

Dahal succeeded Oli by promising to become friends with India and amend the constitution. And he is trying to keep his pledge. He is aware that, if he fails to deliver, he will lose his chair.

But he has bitten more than he can chew, substantively and constitutionally. In substance, the proposed amendment covers re-demarcation of state boundaries, citizenship, language, and representation in the upper house.

The boundary issue is by far the most explosive. The Madheshi parties insist that all districts in the plains should come under one Madheshi state or two  Madheshi states. The Hill people do not agree with that demand.

Dahal has sought to placate the Madheshi parties by disengaging the hill and plain districts in State 5 and by referring other plain districts to a boundary commission. But the districts in State 5  have raised the hell of protests against the proposal. That is a clear indication as to what could happen if a similar solution is found for the remaining plain districts.

On citizenship, the Madheshi parties want foreign women married to Nepali men to obtain Nepali citizenship as soon as they initiate the process of renouncing the old citizenship and to have all the rights of the Nepalis born in Nepal.

No other country in the world has such a generous provision. For instance, it takes 7 years in India for Nepali women married to Indian men to get Indian citizenship. It takes 2 to 5 years in Western countries. India prevented Sonia Gandhi, a naturalized Indian citizen, from becoming prime minister. The United States bars such citizens from becoming president.

On language, the Madheshi parties want Hindi to be recognized as one of Nepal’s national languages. India has included Nepali in its constitutional schedule. But it has no fear that the Nepali language will crowd out Hindi there. In Nepal, Hindi might wipe out Nepali language and identity altogether.

The representation in the upper house is relatively simple to resolve. Currently, each state is given eight members, regardless of their size, as the two senators from each state in the United States. The Madheshi parties want the representation based on population only. An accommodation is possible by setting aside the equal minimum number of seats to each state and assigning the rest based on population.

Constitutionally, amending the statute requires the consent of the two-thirds of states, which are yet to be created. Yet, the first amendment had gone through early this year because no one raised its constitutionality.

But this time, the UML has placed the matter front and center, and the Supreme Court is hearing cases in this regard. If the court sticks to the letter of the constitution, the amendment would be impossible without fulfilling the due process.

Politicians blame each other for the impasse, and partisan political pundits parrot their leaders. Do not believe them. Actually, the issues on the table are complex and delicate, and they cannot be resolved without concessions and compromises from all sides.

The solution must be found to hold the elections, due in a little more than a year, and avert a constitutional crisis. It can be found if Prime Minister Dahal removes his blindfold and opens his mind. Otherwise, he will fall off the precipice, taking the country with him.

 

Murari Sharma: Is the World Moving to the Right?

Nigel Farage, the acting leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, said recently in a program in London that 2016 would be remembered as a year of big political revolutions. He made his assertion in reference to the British vote to leave the European Union and the US presidential election.

Indeed, these two votes clearly demonstrate the rightward political lurch in these two countries. But are they the harbingers of change from the liberal democratic political and economic trend of the last 70 years in Western countries towards an illiberal and undemocratic one? If yes, how is it going to affect the rest of the world?

Let us start with the British vote. The British voters, in a referendum in June this year, decided by 52-48 to leave the European Union, after 43 years as of membership, and to build their future outside the economic grouping.

The Brexiteers, the leaders who campaigned to leave the EU, used hard nationalism and soft racism to win the vote. They said they would take British sovereignty back from Brussels, control immigration, secure borders, give British jobs to British worker, and divert the 350 million pounds a week paid for the EU membership to the cash-strapped NHS.

Such nationalist and racist undertones were unusual in Britain after the political demise of John Enoch Powell.

More importantly, the vote clearly repudiated the liberal, tolerant, and globalist worldview that had governed British politics and its main players — the Conservative and Labor parties, which have their marginal differences.

In the United States, the Republican candidate Donald Trump won the election on the plank of hard nationalism, hard racism, hard misogyny, and authoritarianism. During the campaign, he promised to build a wall on the US-Mexican border, to walk away from NATO if other members did not pay more to it, and to tear trade treaties if other signatories did not give the US a more favorable treatment.

Trump called Mexicans criminals, described the African-American communities as crime-ridden, and promised to ban Muslims from entering the United States. He insulted women — from his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton to Megan Kelly, a television anchor, to Rosie O’Donnell, a talk show host, continuing his pre-campaign objectification of women in general.

He threatened to put his opponent in jail and haul his critics to court if he were elected, denigrated the US elections as rigged, and refused to acknowledge the outcome of a democratic election if he lost. And he praised authoritarian leaders  and called on hackers to hack into his opponent’s emails.

All this was the repudiation of civil, liberal, democratic, globalist politics and policy that had governed the United States at least since 1945.  That is not to suggest the Republican Party and the Democratic Party saw eye to eye. They did not, but they shared the fundamental values, from center-right or center-left.

That brings me to the question of whether the British and US votes suggest the beginning of a new trend or a temporary setback, in the long liberal political and economic journey started in 1945.

A sample of two incidents is not enough to indicate the arrival of a new trend. We need to wait and see how Germany, France, and other European countries move forward in their elections in 2017. If the National Front leader Marine Le Penn and the AfD leader Frauke Petry win the elections in France and Germany, respectively, it will be clear that liberal, globalist worldview is beginning to retreat, at least in Western countries.

Otherwise, the Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory would be only a temporary setback. However, even this setback might have significant impact on the rest of the world, mainly in those countries that look to Washington and London for political guidance, economic assistance, and military support and those that have rivalry with them. Such impacts would be felt in political, economic and human rights matters.

Broadly, the promotion of democracy and human rights will take a back seat. Donald Trump has criticized US involvement in nation-building in other countries and supported harsh interrogation tactics. So the dictators and human rights violators will be at ease.

But impacts in other areas would be mixed. For instance, if the US pushes it against the wall on NAFTA, Mexico will be more hawkish with Central American republics and reach out to the rest of the world to substitute the lost market in the US.

India, where the rightward lurch has already occurred under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, might enjoy better economic relations with Washington and London but will be more hawkish with its neighbors in its strategic and economic relations. It may consider building walls on its Pakistan and Bangladesh borders.

China under Xi Ping might be more worried about its trade and strategic relations with Washington and less about its human rights record. It might be tempted to erect a barrier on it border to the troubled North Korea.

Israel would be encouraged to complete the wall on its border with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

If Britain does well outside the EU, it may inspire other members to quit the regional organization as well. But if it suffers in the process of separation or after the separation, other countries might not venture into leaving the EU.

In Nepal, the impact of Brexit may be significant in development assistance and limited in trade. If Britain becomes inward-looked after its exit from the EU, its development aid will decline. Any change in trade will be limited, if at all.

The Trump presidency would be more significant for Nepal in many ways, but mainly for two reasons. One, it will affect US assistance to Nepal. Two, Trump’s approach will embolden India and put China on its tenterhooks, resulting in increased tension in the region.

Will these impacts across the world force a paradigm shift, as Nigel Farage seems to suggest? I hope not. Bit let us wait and see.