Side-effect - Harris Khalique - Friday, March 11, 2011

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This time around, a little over a week in and about the capital of Nepal provided me the opportunity to meet diverse people, sift through local press and rediscover the splendour of Kathmandu valley’s wealthy heritage. While some Nepalese remain wary of ubiquitous Indian influence, they have learnt to address their indigenous problems more rationally. Three themes dominate the discourse today. One, the republic’s constitution in the making and the unavoidable tensions the process imposes on the members of the constituent assembly belonging to different parties. Two, senior Nepalese Congress leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai’s death and analysing his political legacy, and three, the management of economy.

It is due to the gallant struggle of the Nepalese people spanning over decades and the inexorable pressure mounted by armed Maoist rebels on the old monarchy that brought about Nepal’s transformation into a republic a couple of years ago. The constituent assembly is busy in statute writing for some time now while the combination of issues that serves as the backdrop to this process include federalism, inclusion of Dalits and other marginalised communities and people belonging to backward regions in all institutions and the matters pertaining to lawmaking, an independent judiciary and a proportional representation of all communities in the army.

Lest we forget Nepal was the only Hindu kingdom in the world with its sovereign enjoying the status of a living god. Major parts of the Nepalese society remain religious but the people of this country through decisive political action have disassociated state affairs from the domination of people monopolising faith or caste. Something the Bangladeshis, living in an equally religious Muslim society, were also able to confirm recently through reasserting the original constitution promulgated after 1971 and the verdict to this effect by their supreme court.

Bhattarai, one of the founders of the Nepalese Congress Party, who served two short terms as the prime minister, passed away this week. He gathered heaps of praise by politicians and people at large for his incorruptibility and his role in the struggle against absolute monarchy. At the same time, some commentators, while agreeing with his virtuous nature as an individual, criticised him for his organisational incompetence and softness towards the erstwhile royal family which caused his sidelining from mainstream politics in the later years of his life. They see his spirituality as a refuge from the rage he felt against some of his compatriots when confronted with contemporary challenges of creating a modern republic.

Creating a modern republic is stressful for the Maoists as well. Their popular and representative United Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN) couldn’t run the government effectively after the defining political change was brought about. As far as the economy is concerned, they seem to have settled for a ‘Socialism-within-Capitalism’, if one borrows the phrase from Meghnad Desai’s seminal work, Marx’s Revenge. Here, I also remember veteran journalist Afzal Khan once quoting Maulana Bhashani, our own Maoist leader of yesteryear. Bhashani was asked, “Why don’t you take over East Pakistan when you have such a huge following among youth?” He said, “They can only fight the system but haven’t learnt how to run it.”

Tailpiece: Visiting another South Asian country always makes one feel how so similar we are and how much we could prosper if regional peace is restored. Here, I quote from Kanak Manik Dixit in this month’s Himal, the coveted South Asian magazine brought out from Kathmandu, “The time will come... when the barbed-wire fences will start crumbling for lack of upkeep.”

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor who works with progressive social movements. Email: harris.khalique@gmail. com

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