All posts by prashantjha

What next in Nepal?

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’s resignation on Monday afternoon once again reveals how the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is different from any other ‘mainstream’ party that inhabits the Nepali political landscape. Most observers, including this writer, fail in assessing the Maoists correctly because we end up using the same categories, attribute the same motivations, and expect similar tactics from them as from other political actors.

The PM’s resignation came after a two week long political thriller leading up to the executive’s decision to dismiss Army chief General Katawal and appoint General Kul Bahadur Khadka in his place. Continue reading What next in Nepal?

Closed minds

The Constituent Assembly’s ‘Committee to protect and preserve National Interests’ has suggested that a passport regime be introduced at the Nepal-India border. Committee Chair Amik Sherchan has said this is necessary to ‘protect waning Nepali nationalism’ and ‘to treat both China and India equally’. Sherchan claimed that ‘majority of the Nepali people share this view’, an assertion hard to believe.

The clamour to end the open border relationship comes from three different quarters of the Kathmandu (and yes this is confined to the capital) political spectrum. The first is the nationalists who borrow the Westphalian notion of absolutely sovereign nation states. In this version, the Nepali state has never been totally independent because it has not controlled the movement of people across its boundaries. The act of walking across unchallenged is seen as an attack on state authority. Continue reading Closed minds

BJP without RSS?

Right since the controversy over L K Advani’s remarks on Jinnah, there is a section of the ‘liberal’ Indian media which has argued that all the BJP needs to do is divorce/separate/delink itself from the RSS. It would then turn into a ‘normal’ right wing party. I remember this was a line taken up strongly by the Indian Express. The subtext of their editorial position was that there is a strong left tilt in Indian polity; Nehruvian socialist rhetoric remains ingrained; and a ‘non-communal’ BJP can provide the right balance. (Where they see the left tilt when few of us can or how much further right they still want to push India is an altogether different debate). In a chat with CNN IBN website readers, Ramchandra Guha takes up a similar position arguing what India needs is BJP without RSS. (and ‘a Congress without the dynasty and a modern and unified left’).

I do not understand Indian politics too well, nor have covered the BJP. There are others who have written about the relationship between the two in great depth. But from the little I have seen of them while reporting in a few Indian states, here is a simple thought – the BJP will not be BJP if it is detached from the RSS. To assume that BJP can remain a party without the RSS structure to back it or BJP can separate itself from the larger ‘parivaar’ seems to be based on a limited understanding of both the BJP and RSS. Continue reading BJP without RSS?

Save the left from left scholars

I have just returned from an atrocious talk delivered by a famous Nepal expert, David Seddon, who claims to belong to the ‘old British Marxist tradition of Eric Hobsbawm and E P Thompson’.

So this Mr Seddon is well known in Nepal for a book he wrote three decades back – Nepal in Crisis. More recently, he got along with a local activist to edit a book on the People’s War.

Now, Seddon sahib comes here. He tells a Nepali audience how he is worried about the rising violence and the ‘law and order’ problem. He links the violence with identity – “people feel they have a legitimate basis to pick arms and throw stones because they belong to a caste and ethnic group.” He tells the audience, many of whom have struggled for long to bring some change in the exclusionary Nepali state structure, that ‘identity politics is profoundly undemocratic and federalism is not necessary.” And here is the clincher, “When your constituent assembly members adopted a federal democratic republic, I am sure they were thinking only about the republic part. No one really thought about the federal part.” Continue reading Save the left from left scholars

Exclusive TV tamasha at Ashoka Road

I was in Delhi for a few days last week to cover, among other issues, the pre-election mood for a few Nepali publications.

Now, it is not as if I am totally unfamiliar with the Indian media scene. We watch Indian news channels here in Kathmandu and know the nature of the beast. I have friends in the Indian TV business who had come to cover Nepal elections last year but ended up reporting on adventure sports despite the huge Maoist win. “Boss, no one is interested in Nepali politics. Rafting will sell,” they had said. And we saw India TV go hysterical when the Maoist government appointed Nepali priests in the Pashupati Temple to replaces the ones from Karnataka – the media induced pressure forced ‘secularists’ like Mulayam Singh and Amar Singh, on a visit to Kathmandu, to force the government to retract and got venom spewing Ram Yatris like L K Advani to make calls to Prachanda to convey his ‘disappointment’. Continue reading Exclusive TV tamasha at Ashoka Road

A Fragile Peace in Nepal

In the six months that Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ has been Prime Minister, he has realised that running a state is more complex than waging a war.

Since mid-August when he took charge, the PM has had to deal with multiple challenges – an intense ideological debate within his party; a deadlock in the peace process; breakdown of consensus with the G P Koirala led Nepali Congress (NC); acrimony between the defence ministry and Nepal Army (NA); opposition from sections of civil society suspicious of Maoist commitment to democratic norms; rampant lawlessness in the eastern Tarai and ethnic assertion in eastern hills; the collapse of basic services with 16 hour power cuts; and the impact of the global meltdown with remittances dipping. Continue reading A Fragile Peace in Nepal

“Why?”

(Uma Singh, a journalist with Radio Today in the southern town of Janakpur in Nepal, was killed on 11th January 2009. The Federation of Nepali Journalists has mounted a campaign asking for immediate action against Uma’a killers and a firm commitment by the government to the freedom of press. Uma’s killinng comes in the wake of attacks on different media houses in Kathmandu. Like Lasantha Wickrematunge in Sri Lanka, Uma was killed for writing and speaking fearlessly at the other end of Southasia.)

Janakpur: It was impossible to believe that Uma Singh at Ganga Sagar Ghat on Tuesday morning – an FNJ flag draped over her still body, face bandaged all across, the cuts on the head visible – was the same Uma I had met two months ago.

Uma’s looks were deceptive, for the tiny frame contained abundant energy. By the time I strolled into Radio Today’s studio at 6 am in mid-November, Uma had wrapped up her morning bulletin. She was running around the office and passing instructions in a matter-of-fact professional way

She briefed me on the format of Janakpur’s most popular Maithili political discussion show, Garma garam chai. I still remember how Uma said to both her co-anchor and me, “Please avoid English words. The programme is meant for people in villages.” I nodded, a little ashamed my Maithili was not as fluent. Continue reading “Why?”

Understanding the Nepali mandate

(Three years back, Nepal was in the middle of a miserable war. 7 people were killed every day, mostly by the army but also by a ruthless Maoist military. An autocratic monarch ruled from his palace in Kathmandu. The street agitation led by established parties was not going anywhere. The Maoists were waging an armed struggle with control over most of the hill hinterland, as well as the strength to block supplies to the capital. There was a political deadlock among the three power centers and a military stalemate between the Royal Nepal Army and the People’s Liberation Army. Continue reading Understanding the Nepali mandate