Nepal Today

Saturday, June 22, 2013

OPINION STRINGING A STORY FROM BITS AND PIECES Kathmandu, 22 June: Nepal’s first democratically elected prime minister did not, after all, succumb exclusively to a supposedly power-hungry feudal tyrant. Shashank Koirala, whose attempt at inheriting the political mantle of his father B.P. Koirala has so far sputtered, has prodded us deeper into the murkiness of that era. In an exhaustive interview with a leading Kathmandu daily, Shashank all but accused then Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru of instigating King Mahendra to oust B.P. in December 1960, Maila Baje writes in Nepali Netbook.. Nehru’s relations with B.P., according to Shashank, turned frosty after B.P. established diplomatic relations with Israel, then a pariah in much of the developing and communist world. When Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito called B.P. the “rising star in the Asian horizon”, the Nepali monarch simply flipped out. Shashank should know – his side of the story. B.P. must have repeatedly recounted those tumultuous times amid his family and friends. Yet, B.P.’s first elaborate explanation on the subject could have come only eight years after King Mahendra’s takeover, when the ousted premier was freed from incarceration in 1968. (Unless, of course, father, son or whichever relative discovered some code to evade the royal eavesdroppers during the jail visits.) Admittedly, the love-hate relationship between King Mahendra and B.P. Koirala did much to define a crucial phase of Nepal’s political evolution. As someone who happened to witness some of it from both sides, Maila Baje can affirm that the full story, once it emerged in public, would help us understand our national plight better. For now, piecing the bits and pieces emanating from the two sides (mostly, though, from B.P.’s side) into a coherent whole is the best we can attempt to do. It is no secret that Nehru had a difficult relationship with B.P. While admiring some of B.P.’s ‘excellent qualities’ like ‘push, drive etc.’, Nehru also saw him as ‘far too impulsive’. “But by over-reaching himself [B.P.] might not only injure his own changes but, what was important, injure Nepal’s interests.” (quoted from Nehru’s letter to M.P. Koirala dated February 28, 1952). B.P. himself felt India had a role in denying him a prominent role in power after his resignation in 1952 as home minister in the Rana-Nepali Congress cabinet. (This was a controversial and highly suspicious contrivance in itself, which Maila Baje has detailed in previous posts). After Nepal’s first democratic elections in 1959, when King Mahendra took his time in inviting the massively triumphant Nepali Congress to form a government, B.P. recognized how the delay might have had to do with the monarch’s reluctance to work with him. Nehru, too, was said to be more amenable to the king’s choice: Subarna Shamsher Rana, the more soft-spoken leader of the election government and principal financier of the party. But after B.P. lobbied hard with Nehru through intermediaries, the Indian premier openly advocated his candidature with the palace. How that came about is not entirely clear. But certainly all three personages involved must have recognized the incongruity of depriving the most popular leader of the majority party – and one who won a seat in parliament – from heading the government. Despite their mutual admiration for one another, the Mahendra-B.P. experiment was bound to fail on account of their divergent outlooks and temperaments. B.P. had a modern and reformist – and even an historic – vision of his role, but one, in retrospect, that was far ahead of what cold war dynamics would have permitted to be viable in Nepal. King Mahendra’s own idea of the monarchy’s supreme and personal role in defining Nepal’s independent and sovereign identity was shaped not only by his isolation during Rana rule but also the machinations under way during his exile in New Delhi in the winter of 1950-51. In his view, B.P. was moving too fast for Nepal’s good. Externally, during B.P.’s premiership, the issue of Israel meshed with that of Tibet and growing Sino-Indian rifts to create a geopolitical maelstrom that was propitious neither to B.P. Koirala nor Nepal’s nascent democracy. This was a time when the world’s two communist behemoths, the Soviet Union and China, had opposing interests in Nepal, as did the world’s largest democracies, the United States and India. Before his takeover, King Mahendra had completed visits to the United States and Britain during which, according to subsequently declassified documents, both western powers were stepping up their campaign to use the Tibet issue as a tool against international communism (both through covert armed action and more public political-diplomatic maneuverings.) India, whose relations with China were deteriorating after the rosy expectations of Asian solidarity, had granted the Dalai Lama asylum in 1959 but was not ready to go all out with the West on the larger Tibet issue. Moscow, which was in the early years of the split with Beijing, was wooing countries like Nepal also as part of its larger campaign to prove its ability to coexist peacefully with countries possessing different traditions and political systems. It would be preposterous to conclude that Nehru perceived any kind of threat to his international persona from B.P.’s emergence as democratic Nepal’s face to the world. (That delusion, however, is widespread in the Nepali Congress to this day). It was all about Nehru’s policy and practical expectations from Nepal and from B.P. at that crucial moment against the background of a wider cauldron. Even if Nehru had wanted only B.P.’s removal from the premiership but a continuation of the political structure – the conventional wisdom – the pressures against Nepal’s open and democratic political system were far more pervasive. It’s easy in today’s Nepali political discourse to forget how Nepal was part of a cold war pattern in Asia, Africa and Latin America where democratic governments fell like dominos to authoritarianism of the right and left. Throughout his life, B.P. was willing to absolve only China from any role in his ousting. King Mahendra, for his part, would stun quite a few interlocutors by asking whether they really believed he alone bore responsibility for B.P.’s incarceration. For years after the ex-premier’s release in 1968, B.P. and King Mahendra both could be heard wondering aloud in their disparate settings how differently events might have turned out had they been able to surmount in time the efforts of the likes of Surya Prasad Upadhyaya and Surya Bahadur Thapa to push them apart, resulting in B.P.’s flight into exile in India. Nehru, of course, was long dead. Nnnn NEITHER CIVIL NOR SERVICE Kathmandu, 22 June: Retired bureaucrats and even the incumbent ones frequently complain about the politicization in Nepal’s civil service. It is a fact that the civil service is often neither civil nor a service, Trikal Vastavik writes in People’s Review. . Some incumbent bureaucrats recently complained publicly that employee unions were politicized and interfered in work. This is nothing new when noted that the state of affairs has been going on since the early 1990s. One needs to go back to 1992 when Girija Prasad Koirala headed the Nepali Congress government and Madan Bhandari, leader of the main opposition CPN (UML), was keen to pull down the majority government that was installed after the first multiparty polls in more than 30 years of partyless polity. At UML’s call, civil servants cried for pay hike and unions on party lines were constituted at various organizations and public corporations. Indiscipline and lethargy were the result which was worse than during the panchayat years. Nepali Congress and UML leaders openly encouraged partisan movements in the bureaucracy in the name of the rights and interests of the employees, which, for all practical purpose, was to serve party interests more than anything else. In retaliation to the UML protest rallies and “non-cooperation,” the Koirala government introduced a policy of retiring government servants and corporate employees. Three exits were created to hound out those considered not to the liking of the ruling party. Those considered to be close to the CPN (UML) were also retained. Others were forcibly retired treating them as deadwood, incompetent or retaining sympathy for “regressive elements” which meant the former rulers. The three exits for retirement were (a) if an employee had completed 20 years of services, (b) if the employee had completed 30 years, or (c) if the employee had attained the age of 58 years. Previously, there was only one exit route: completion of the age of 60. The indiscriminate dismissal had its consequences. Civil society leaders, human rights campaigners and NGO activists did not raise any objection in any forceful voice, as they had their own axes to grind, having their own party loyalties to cover. Many civil servants and corporate sector employees moved the court of law and won verdicts that retained them to their posts. The court found the multiple exits arbitrary interpreting the multilayered discretionary routes as open invitation for discrimination. Civil service was never to be the same and a culture of knocking at the doors of politicians by civil servants, corporate employees became a norm. Politicization of civil service and corporate employees began briskly and in a deteriorating manner. The 1994 general elections gambled by Girija Prasad Koirala to the chagrin of his own party’s majority of senior leaders, created a hung parliament that opened hornets’ nest. In the public corporations, naked dance of partisan practices in staff recruitments, transfers and promotions became common, with party loyalty dominating as the deciding credentials. This is a practice that has worsened over the years and it broke all records since the new dispensation in April 2006 was announced for “change and new Nepal.” Today, civil servants and public corporations are plagued by deep-seated politics. Party affiliation is brandished for lucrative posts, easy work and even impunity. Unions carry different banners that are known to be affiliated with political parties. They do not make any secret about it. They are keen to flaunt their political affiliations and party connections in what seems to be their sense of power and assertion of political clout. Fake academic certificates to the tune of tens of thousands are believed to be treated a genuine at various sectors run by public money. Political connections have played a big part in selectively scrutinizing cases and charges of such certificates. No one really knows the number of civil servants working for the interests of individual political parties. A guess is that up to 40 percent of them belong to such category and they are the ones who prevail upon others because the majority is not unionized. At a private gathering of a number of former secretaries the other day, one retiree of considerable public repute said, “Turning a blind eye to some cases and threatening to open the files of others is the practice. This reins in the potential trouble makers or activists of parties other than the one to which the head of an institution belongs to.” He also predicted, “Within the next few years, there will be more civil servants unionized as party activists than independent bureaucrats.” Conditions, therefore, allowed corruption to grow cancerously affecting development projects whose original targets get severely diluted. The huge loss of resources in a resource-strapped country inherent in a least developed context had serious fallouts on various fronts. At a program of bureaucrats in April, retirees themselves decried the rampant corruption which they termed the result of politicians-business community nexus and employees-business sector nexus. Is this a recent or decades old phenomenon? In the panchayat years, corruption prevailed but on no account to the extent coinciding with the political changes in 1990. These days it is not millions but multi-crores of rupees that pass hands under the counter. The fact that corruption in Nepal is the worst after Afghanistan among South Asian countries is a telling indication of the prevailing state. Existing extent of blatant impunity indicates that things will grow worse in the days ahead in the absence of effective investigation that brings the larger sharks to face the law for their misdeeds. Has any minister in the last seven years been booked for investigation by any quarter? Or is it that there has been no corruption in high places in seven years? Is it that only junior officials are tempted to take bribes and misuse their positions? In conclusion, corruption has grown by leaps and bounds. In a dispute-ridden country faced with downturns in numerous sectors, there is a national consensus that corruption has taken a swift upward swing. The nexus between politicians and business groups has thrived at the cost of the masses of this impoverished country with a few billionaires amidst a sea of poverty-stricken people. An energetic, efficient bureaucracy bent on working for the people can be called civil and service-oriented. In its absence, the expected ethos goes missing. Under the protection of political patronage, impunity sets in, corrupting institutional operations and transactions. The result: rhetoric rises and performance nose-dive. nnnn


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