ELECTION results in Nepal should come as a surprise to India. New Delhi’s failure lies in not gauging the popular mood.
This should be a point of concern because the span of thinking between India and Nepal turns out to be not a few months, but many years. People were changing and New Delhi was stuck in its wishful thinking of saving the kingship and its old ally the Nepal Congress.
To say officially that India would deal with the government which emerged in Kathmandu was to admit that it did not want what had happened and, now that it had, it would accept it. What choice does New Delhi have? People have returned the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) in the election. Who are we to comment on their choice?
In fact, the vote for the Maoists was also a vote against India. Nepalis have experienced New Delhi’s excessive involvement in their affairs. The Maoists raised the question of India’s ‘big brother’ attitude at a poll meeting. The treaty we have with Nepal is not to their liking. We should have scrapped it long ago. Why did we not do so is beyond me.
In the same way, I do not understand former President Carter’s appeal to America to accept the change in Nepal. The most powerful democracy in the world as it is, the US should realise that, however unpalatable, the outcome of free and fair elections is final.
It does not matter if one country does not like the government in another. It is the people’s free will which counts, and Carter, who supervised the polls, should know this.
Still, not many will understand or appreciate what the Nepalis have done. Theirs is a feudal society which has lived for some 235 years with the idea that the king is god and in his rule rests democracy and prosperity. Disparities are so entrenched in the country that any call to turn against the past finds a responding chord. Hopes that their lot would improve had begun to take shape. Maoist leader Prachanda has only utilised the atmosphere.
When the whole city of Kathmandu came out into the streets in support of the demand for the abolition of kingship two years ago, it was an expression of a suppressed society to set itself free. The promise to switch over to a republican setup gave them hope of change. They have supported the change, pinning their faith on the betterment of the people.
The Maoists have been returned, not because the voters are impressed by Marxist ideology but because they trust that those who have promised a different economic order will get them out of the poverty in which they have been stuck for centuries.
True, the element of fear was there because the Maoists ‘ruled’ the countryside for years with the gun. It is an open secret that the Maoists have not surrendered all weapons as agreed upon long before the elections and have stacked them somewhere. Yet the people had no alternative. They had rejected the king. They did not want to go back to the Nepali Congress which they had tried again and again and found lacking.
It was, however, amusing to see election posters showing a photo of Stalin along with pictures of Karl Marx, Lenin and Engels. Stalin killed hundreds of thousands who dared to differ or speak out. But then Stalin’s portrait hangs prominently also at the CPM headquarters in Kolkata. Still, the CPM is part of the mainstream and puts its faith in a democratic system.
The Maoists in Nepal will do the same when they assume power. The disillusionment against them would begin, as has happened against the CPM in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, if and when they fail to deliver. The Maoists in Nepal may also come to rationalise that the establishment of a welfare state is not possible in a capitalist system, as the CPM is doing.
I am vehemently opposed to what the Naxalites (also called Maoists) are doing in India, indulging in an orgy of bloodshed and crime. But then, they make no secret of their opposition to the democratic system. They do not want to come into the mainstream because their faith is in coercion, not consensus. This is precisely the reason why the Maoists in Nepal and those in India may not join hands. One is conformist, the other against conformism. The Indian Maoists may back the radical group within the Maoists in Nepal to support the concept of a ‘red corridor’ extending from ‘Pasupati to Tirupati’.
Nepal is, however, an example which can teach the South Asian region a lesson if it is willing to learn. No doubt, poverty gives birth to desperate remedies. The feudal order negates democracy. People revolt when they are convinced that they have no way to escape the oppressive order except through violence.
Democracy gives people a peaceful option to vote against those who oppress them or do not perform. The Nepalis have done that. The question which the Maoists have to answer is whether they have the ability and determination to improve the lot of the people. The polls which the Maoists have, more or less, won are for the formation of a constituent assembly. The same people can throw them out if they do not see any promise in the constitution to be framed.
The Maoists have said they would not go back to arms. Not long ago when I met some of their leaders at Kathmandu, they told me that even if they were defeated at the polls they would not pick up the gun again. This is how democracy functions. People change masters; masters do not change the people as happens in authoritarian and military-run states.
I am not sure whether the Maoists who have emerged through violence can stick to their word if they feel they may lose power. This demands an unshakable faith in methods. Mahatma Gandhi emphasised that if the means were vitiated, the ends were bound to be vitiated. India has not lived up to that advice even though it won freedom through non-violence. Democracies, wherever they are, have to show their faith in the methods they employ.
In fact, the US of today has changed beyond recognition. It has compromised with oppressive laws and violation of human rights. Nepal’s Maoists do not have to follow it even if it is a democracy. Their undertaking not to pick up their guns again will be watched with anxiety. n
The writer is a leading journalist based in Delhi.
Courtesy: Daily Dawn, 18/4/2008