Monday, April 21, 2008

The beginning of a real revolution

As speculated in these columns some time ago, the impending collapse of the Nepali monarchy now seems a surety. The Nepali people, frustrated by years of a non-performing semi-feudal order, disenchanted with a polity that refused to stand up against the monarchy and could not manage to transfer sovereignty to the people, elected the Communist Party of Nepal(Maoist) in large numbers enough to control a substantial number in a new Constituent Assembly.

The CPN(Maoist) was an a-systemic party, a rebel outfit and an insurgent organisation not very long ago. They had formulated their ‘people’s war’ line based out of the fact that the mainstream polity was not willing to address the basic problem that bothered ‘democratic’ Nepal since 1990, the subordination of the standing army to the royalty instead of the elected representatives in parliament. The CPN(Maoist) used the strategy adopted by the Chinese revolution led by Mao Tse Tung to formulate a path of insurrection that would gain them power in semi-feudal Nepal.

This path was to capture the countryside and encircle the urban areas and gradually smash the state apparatus and gain power overthrowing the existing order. Even though they achieved the former, they were not able to defeat the Royal Nepalese Army convincingly enough to get to power. They were held in check as the mainstream polity still had a relevance and power in the urban areas and also because of the fact that international opinion was widely against them. It was very clear that the path of armed confrontation to capture power had led to a deadlock not just strategically or logistically but also it had gained only so much support from the people. Ergo, the Maoists called for a ceasefire and acknowledged mistakes committed by them during the ‘war phase’ where civilians were also killed in the crossfire and due to some anarchic handling. They even dropped the parallel institutions of governance in the areas they controlled.

The new war was now to be waged to capture the people’s minds and especially of those who were supporting the mainstream political parties, the CPN(UML) and the Nepali Congress (NC). This was bound to be a difficult task, but it was made easier because of the acts of the monarch, Gyanendra. By proclaiming emergency, suspending parliament, usurping all power for himself and trying to set Nepal back to the days of the ‘panchayati’ system, Gyanendra only brought the entire political spectrum against him. This in addition to the fact that he was viewed with wide scorn and anger because of the events that led to the earlier monarch, Birendra and his family’s death, ensured that there was popular mobilisation behind the entire political spectrum.

This opened a vista for the Maoists to gain a foothold in areas not controlled by them. By tying up with the mainstream political parties after a prolonged internal discussion, which led to the acceptance of a multiparty democracy, the Maoists gradually came aboard into the stream of legitimacy. The monarch’s obtuse steps in restoring autocracy alienated him not only from the masses, but made it untenable for even the international community to support him, despite the ‘Maoist bogey’ that he used to garner all powers for himself. Thus Nepal’s powerful neighbour, India, distanced itself from the monarch and lent support to the restoration of democracy.

At this precise time, the Maoists took the lead in arguing for a new constituent assembly that would throw the remnants of monarchy and identified the primary contradiction correctly to the general polity: the fact that the Nepal Army was under the thrall of the monarchy and not the elected political powers. Flowing from this was the logic that it was necessary to transfer the sovereign in entirety to the public and that would entail the creation of a republic that will be governed by a new constitution, itself a product of the deliberations of the representatives of the people themselves. Armed with this strong thesis for change, the Maoists were able to convince the entire political spectrum to unite for a new constituent assembly. These parties together launched a civilian protest for the restoration of democracy and were aided in this by representatives of civil society too.

Buckling under the pressure of the entire mainstream polity as well as the loss of international support because of a series of egregious steps, the monarch had to restore democracy yet again. This time, the government formed was in the nature of a national unity apparatus with all major political parties participating based on a common understanding. A leading role was played by representatives from the Indian polity too in forging this common understanding. The Maoists were now very much coagulated into the ‘liberal democratic setting’ and were even offered positions in government. They pledged simultaneously to keep their militias under lock with UN supervision and agreed to an interim constitution.

Inherent as it is with ‘noisy democracy’, the Maoists had to come down from several positions for example to provide guaranteed representation to all hitherto neglected sections and minorities in Nepal, including those of the plains region (the Terai) in Nepal while getting the interim constitution passed. This resulted in a widespread protest and alienation in the Terai region, which was also stoked by forces close to the monarch and saboteurs in the international community apprehensive of the growing clout of the Maoists. Over a year and a half, many little turmoils characterised the eight party alliance-led government; elections to the constituent assembly were postponed twice and the Maoists themselves were bogged down by the Terai issue and the complications created because of being part in a multi-class/party-based government.

They responded by retaining their powers of threat and persuasion by refusing to rule out a return to the ‘people’s war’ phase and ratcheted up their opposition to all forms of monarchy (constitutional or otherwise). Despite being part of government, they engaged in constant mobilisation and interaction with the masses through a strong network of activists who branched into the remotest part of Nepal and kept making headlines with their demands and arguments. The policy of containment played by other parties (the UML and the NC) did play out initially, but in the end, the Nepali people proved that they need genuine and radical change from the state of affairs that was commanded by the mainstream political parties since 1990.

In essence, this has resulted in the major victory for the hitherto a-systemic communist party of the Maoists in the recently concluded constituent assembly elections. The people have given them a resounding mandate expecting them to harness Nepal’s potential in natural resources for inclusive welfare and to honour political representation for vast teeming masses who were left out in the days of autocracy and controlled democracy. A herculean task still remains for the Maoists as the embers of anger in the Terai have not yet been contained as also the fact that there are seemingly insurmountable challenges to overcome in a predominantly poor and underdeveloped Nepal. They would still have to utilise their popular alliance with the entire political spectrum in formulating the new institutions, which would bring about the process of change and development. The real revolution for them has just begun.

Article written for The Post

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The new mystery spinner

Ladies & Gentlemen, the new sensational spinner on the horizon from Spin-land : Sri Lanka:

Ajantha Mendis


Friday, April 11, 2008

A veritable victory

The Supreme Court yesterday came up with a judgment to implement 27% reservation for OBCs in Higher Education. Coming from a constitutional bench, the verdict was virtually unimpeachable.

For someone who was a conscious activist in favor of reservation (with caveats) when this issue flared up in 2006, the verdict is what I would call a resounding victory. The caveats were clear: a) The reservations must be limited with a creamy layer identification and cut off, b) It must be subject to a periodic review based on yet another caste commission, and c) Reservations must be seen only as one of a package of welfare measures and should not be affecting those who will not avail it. That means, that there should be a increase in public funding for higher education followed by increase in investment such that there is also a hike in the seats in a manner that 27 out of 100 students are not affected as 27 get reservations (meaning a 54% increase in the seat outlay).

Now, a) and b) have been expressly handled by the Supreme Court in clear terms. Both the creamy layer argument and the reconstitution of the OBC reviews have been mentioned as part of the judgement. c) has been assured by the government and has been instituted in a vision document attested by the National Knowledge Commission.

Can one get any more happier? Apparently not.

Hey...but before I keep patting my back for this vision.. I must point out this: . An article by Prakash Karat in the People's Democracy in 1990 on the OBC reservation issue.

Relevant extract:


Therefore, where the caste status contributes to the backwardness of communities under the OBC category, and where anti-caste movements have not been able to cut across caste barriers and build powerful class-based mass organisations, there is a justification for providing reservations to such communities. This is the basis on which the CPI(M) supported the implementation of the Mandal Commission report since 1981-82 and earlier in States where due to prolonged movements the OBCs were accorded reservations.


The CPI(M) has, however, qualified this support on two counts. Firstly, it has argued for an economic criterion within the reservation for OBCs. This is a demand distinct from the blanket reservation for the SCs and STs for whom no economic criterion is necessary. Four decades of socio-economic developments and growth of capitalism have led to class differentiation within the caste structure. In the case of OBCs, it is well known that there are a few castes in different States which contain influential strata who own land and other means of production. They are well represented in the political power structure also. The complexity of the OBC problem lies, thus, in the fact that within some communities of the OBCs there is a great economic (inter-caste) differentiation and also there is inter-caste differentiation, i.e., compared to a few better-off communities there are a number of more backward communities.

In order to see that the landless as compared to the richer landed, the poor as compared to the affluent, the more backward as distinct from the strata of the developed -- i.e. the majority of the poor and deprived of these communities -- benefit from reservation, the CPI(M) wants an economic criterion. This criterion need not necessarily be just an income ceiling, but can be a package in which income tax assessments, extent of landholding, professional status of parents, etc., can be taken into consideration.


This was written in 1990, 18 years ago.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Democracy From Above

A royalty-guided democracy takes shape in Bhutan.

Bhutan joined the list of democratic nations with elections to choose candidates for its lower house of parliament, the national assembly, on March 24. Among the royalist parties that contested, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) party was the main victor in these polls, winning 45 out of the 47 seats. Jigme Thinley, the leader of the DPT is designated to become the prime minister of the country. The elections were held following a royal decree that persuaded citizens to vote.

Bhutan's transition to democracy has thus been guided by the benign hand of the hitherto absolute monarch. The current king, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck had come to power after his father Jigme Singye Wangchuk abdicated and promised a shift to a constitutional monarchy in the predominantly mountainous state. The royal family in Bhutan controls most of the wealth and owns two of the largest business conglomerates. The current king had however made all efforts to ensure that many of the eligible Bhutanese get to vote in the elections to the national assembly. But a significant number of Bhutanese were disenfranchised owing to the fact they did not “fit” within the cultural parameters set by the monarch to be eligible for Bhutanese citizenship. These sections, primarily Nepali speaking, are concentrated in southern Bhutan and have refused to accept the verdict of the elections of which they were not a part. Many Nepali speaking Bhutanese had been exiled to Nepal earlier as refugees, complicating the problem.

Bhutan figures among the poorest in the world in terms of the usual economic and human development indices. Over the past few years, the monarchy has promoted state-led investment in education and health to alleviate the situation and there has been some betterment in living indicators such as literacy and life expectancy. Bhutan is still dependent upon India in matters of economy, with high levels of financial aid from New Delhi. The monarchy had instituted the concept of “gross national happiness” to measure Bhutan's progress, bringing in abstract notions of spiritual development and keeping in focus traditional Buddhist norms of living combined with respect for the environment. It is understood that the ushering in of democratic governance and the installation of democratic institutions guided by the monarchy were intended to placate the growing resentment among the Bhutanese.

The transfer of executive power to an elected authority should bring about improvements in living, provided the ruling party and its officials continue to instil democratic consciousness and function better than just being an appendage of the palace. However, both the main parties are only committed to continue the status quo – praise the concept of gross national happiness and to pay obeisance to the royal family. Yet a new beginning has been made to create an accountable executive and legislative authority and it is hoped that a democratic consciousness will gradually seep into the Bhutanese state.

It is here that Nepal, yet another mountainous monarch-ruled nation, offers both an interesting contrast and a parallel. Forced to become a constitutional monarchy instead of an absolute one, owing to peoples' agency in 1990, Nepal is now poised to become a constitutional republic after the rejection of the concept of the supremacy of the monarch by almost the entire political spectrum. The Nepali Maoists to whom much of the credit for such a remarkable culmination must be due, are taking part in an election to a constituent assembly which will decide a new republican constitution. The usurping of total power by the king in 2002 hastened the fall of monarchy and the transition to a republic will hasten the downfall of feudalism that ascribed divine power and suzerainty to the monarchical order.

In contrast, the transition to a constitutional monarchy in Bhutan has been a process initiated from above and has seen little agency from the masses. Nevertheless, a new consciousness of democratic norms and values and the benefits of a representative form of governance should help usher in the transfer of sovereignty to the Bhutanese people. Although the transition is in the nature of democracy from above, from now on, any further amelioration of the iniquitous conditions of living, it is hoped, would be the result of peoples' agency.
( An EPW editorial )