Everyone is better in advising others

Murari Sharma

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.


Where will Nepal go?

Murari Sharma

Confucius says only the wisest and stupidest men never change. Since we all pretend to be one of the wisest, we want others to change. So change becomes difficult.

Leading change is even more problematic. Mahatma Gandhi says, be the change that you want to see in the world. But do we want the inconvenience that change entails in us? Niccolo Machiavelli is right in saying, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Institutionalizing change is the most challenging of all. It calls for accepting and internalizing new rules, values and institutions and submitting to them. It is difficult everywhere, because everyone wants to do it their way.

For instance, in Britain, Churchill could not accept that India could rule itself. He said, “Power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low caliber and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight amongst themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles.”

Only recently, the proposal to change the voting system for fairer representation, called the alternative voting system, failed.

In the United States, slave owners in the south went into civil war with the north to prevent the freedom of their human chattels. Republican lawmakers in the House of Representative have voted desperately to repeal the Affordable Care Act, alias Obamacare, which partially socialized healthcare, more than 50 times.

In Nepal’s neighborhood, India is still nostalgic about the old Bharatbarsh and China about the old Middle Kingdom when they ruled much of Asia. It is not the geography, it is the people who are nostalgic. No wonder, institutionalizing political change has proved incredibly onerous for the leaders of Nepal.

We had that problem in 1990. The party-less Panchayat system was removed and democracy was restored. Panchayat leaders were sidelined and democratic leaders occupied the central ground. But the new leaders soon proved to be somewhat refined Panchayati leaders in their attitude and behavior.

The problem of institutionalizing change became even more serious after 2006. When the monarchy was first suspended in 2006 and abolished in 2008, political leaders simply transformed themselves into new royalties in their attitude and behavior, only by far worse. Take for example, health tourism and perks.

The royal family obtained treatment for common diseases in Nepal, occasionally went to India for complicated cases and flew seldom to the advanced countries for medical care. Now our democratic leaders travel to wealthy countries at government expense even for minor checkups and minor ailments like gastritis. You know who I am talking about.

During the Panchayat days, only the king and his immediate relatives operated over the law and enjoyed perks from the state — allowances, security compliment, vehicles, fuel, secretariat, maintenance expenses, etc. Now every political leader of some stature has secured these elaborate and generous perks.

Marx says, human quest for progress is constant. That includes better healthcare, perks and opportunities. Therefore, our political leaders are making hay when the sun is shining. But this is what sets them apart from statesmen. Statesmen like Washington, Gandhi, Mandela, Lee, etc. made personal sacrifices for the benefits of their countries, rather than making the hay for themselves.

Although Nepali leaders might be blamed for their own self-centric behavior, we the voters should also partake of some of this phenomenon. We complain about the same leaders all the time but elect them again and again. We can make and break leaders if we looked beyond family, tribal, ideological loyalty in the polling booth and can change the political landscape. That is the beauty of democracy.

We witnessed that in the second election for the Constituent Assembly itself. In the first CA, the Maoists were the largest party and the Madheshis as the fourth force. But the voters did not like their goal and methods. So in the following polls, they reduced the former to the distant third place and voted many Madheshi leaders out.

Consequently, constitution writing is inching closer to the finish line. But significant obstacles remain, mainly related to the number and the demarcation of states.

The number is significant. The more states means higher administrative expenses, higher taxes on the public, lower resources for investment in developmental activities and slower growth. A prudent tradeoff is required between each ethnic group having its own state and ability to deliver growth through increased investment in development.

The Maoists have realized the resources imperative now and came down from their 14 states to six or seven states now, as proposed by the Nepali Congress and UML. But the Madheshi leaders, according to Lalbabu Yadav, the professor of Tribhuvan University, are confused. They first wanted one state for the entire terai, but the plain districts with Tharu and hill people’s majority wanted to be no part of such a state.

Now it is not clear what the Madheshi leaders, other than Bijaya Gachhedar, are demanding and protesting for. Gachhedar, who endorsed the six-state model with two states in the Terai, now wants one more state there. But the problem is the majority in Jhapa, Morang, Kailali and Kanchanpur, which will be affected, do not accept his proposal.

Other Madheshi leaders’ demands, as Professor Yadav claims, are hard to discern. Before the six-state model was floated, they wanted no hill district to be part of Madheshi states. Now that they have won a Madheshi districts-only state in the eastern plains, they want some hill districts to be included in it. But the people of these hill district vehemently oppose this idea.

Protests mainly in the hill districts and partly in the Madheshi districts sank the six-state model, paving the way for the seven-state model, which pacified the agitating districts. However, Gachhedar has stood against this latter model and walked away from the four-party framework that had agreed on the six-state model.

Madheshi leaders have been fomenting unrest in the plains. Since people did not respond to their call for agitation, they have announced 5.0 million compensation from the would-be Madheshi state if someone died in protests, to lure the young people into violence. Three things are notable about this cynical announcement.

First, the leaders who made the call would not send their own children to protest in the hope of receiving 5 million rupees. Would they? Second, this announcement is unlawful incitement to terrorism. In a  developed democratic country, these leaders would have been hauled to jail right away. Third, western democracies do not compensate for the death of protesters unless the court finds the state responsible for using excessive and unwarranted force.

But in Nepal, everything goes.

Where will Nepal go now? Hard to predict. If the protests continue and violence spreads, there will likely be no new constitution; the country will face civil war and even potential disintegration.

I hope this is not the direction Nepal will travel in the days ahead. But the situation in the country makes one thing absolutely clear: Our leaders are failing in leading and institutionalizing change. Only time will tell who earns the most blame.