05 June, 2009

Milk and rice

Sushma Joshi

I am the youngest of seven cousins. When we were little, we used to play lukamari, or hide-and-seek, games in the garden. My eldest cousin sister, taking pity on me, would allow me to be a dudh-bhat (milk and rice) during our games. A dudh-bhat is someone too young to play the game adequately, but the older children allow this young one to tag along and never be “outed” from the game because they might cry if made to leave. So this means you are endlessly in the game, even when in reality you should really be out. Of course, being the youngest means you may always retain the status of a dudh-bhat even when you do grow up. In Nepal, as we know all too well, the hierarchy of age allows the young some privileges, along with the old.

It appears to me Madhav Kumar, even though he's lost the game twice in two elections, is being allowed to be the dudh-bhat by his wiser and more tolerant elders. He is allowed to be in the game endlessly even though in reality he should really be out. Now this would be all very well and good if the game was just hide-and-seek. The problem is, this is a much bigger game. And what happens when the dudh-bhat suddenly finds himself leading the game? Well, strange things start to happen. People start to bomb churches, realizing that the rules of secularism and tolerance no longer apply. People start to parade women naked around Ratna Park right in the middle of the capital, because they realize that the rules of fundamental rights no longer apply. The Indian security forces start to loot and rape and drive away Nepalis, because they realize the rules of international treaties and sovereignty no longer apply.

Wanting to treat your youngest and dearest with special affection is a common instinct. The problem with our national game is that the leaders seem to have forgotten that it's a bigger issue than hurting Madhav Kumar's feelings. This is a game to set democratic rules, and democratic precedents for a nation bigger than one individual or one party. If you come out after a long drawn out elections and you say that really who should lead the country is a two time loser, than you're basically saying that the whole exercise was a mockery, just a game played by children which didn't really mean anything very much. If the leaders themselves don't play by the rules, you are allowing the rest of the 26 million to say: f*** it, if they don't follow the rules, we don't have to do it too.

The Maoists were clearly riling up a lot of people trying to grab more power than their fair share. At the same time, they were also not being given the support they needed to make decisions adequately and on time. Now we're back to Square One or Mangalman as we say in Nepal. It's back to Girija trying to push Sujata as foreign minister and forgetting that he'd pledged not to go along with hereditary monarchy principles. Its back to the small-minded confusion of UML-NC nexus trying to work out who should be Prime Minister next since everybody, it appears, must take a hasty turn to sit on that chair at least once.

The worst fallout of all this, as I see it, is that Katawal comes out a clear winner in all the confusion. Sitting at a café, I was rather surprised to hear somebody who I thought held rather different political opinions say: Of course I support Katawal! I don't want Nepal to be taken over by India! Rather than discussing ways in which the security forces of Nepal should be made more accountable and modern, rather than discussing ways in which the transitional justice mechanisms should be implemented to deal with the hundreds of disappearances and extrajudicial deaths, the discourse has now shifted to how the Nepal Army is going to save Nepal from what is surely inevitable -- the takeover of Nepal by India which happens as Madhav Kumar and company happily buzz around Kathmandu in their motorcade breathing a sigh of relief that they made that historic position at least once.

The problem with Nepal, as well all know, that our sense of national responsibility is less than our sense of personal responsibility. How many amongst us would give up the prime minister's chair if the choice was between us becoming prime minister, or the choice of supporting a more difficult man who may, at least, steer the country towards a clear definite path? The sad thing is that Madhav Kumar is doing nothing more or less than what many other Nepalis would do.

As Nepalis, we hate to hurt anyone's feelings. But the problem with not hurting Madhav Kumar's is that we hurt the democratic and ethical sentiments of 26 million Nepalis. From my conversations, I know that many civil society people cannot get over their outrage. As one artist told me-Nepalis have drowned in a ladle. Apparently this evocative phrase catches the smallness of what has just happened in our nation-state.

Now while that sense of national responsibility to an ideal larger than one puny human being is being instilled in the next generation, can we please reinstitute new rules? How about starting with saying that someone who loses the election twice cannot be made Prime Minister? Now that he's taken his turn and is happy, can we let Mr. Kumar go and bring onboard somebody who at least received some votes?
(Sushma Joshi's book "End of the World" is available in Quixote's Cove, Vajra, Mandala, Educational Book House and other bookstores)

Posted on: 2009-06-05 20:42:47 (Server Time)


Anonymous said...

Harsh on PM

I was amazed at Sushma Joshi's vitriol against Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal (“Milk and Rice,” June 6, Page 6). We ought to remember that Nepal didn't lose a prime ministerial election; he was only defeated in an election to choose lawmakers. Moreover, it was the biggest party in the Constituent Assembly (CA), the UCPN (Maoist), which wanted him in the CA heading the constitution draft committee.

The writer fails to consider that the prime minister represents all of Nepal, and not just the constituencies he wins or loses. And most important, he was the consensus candidate, chosen at this critical juncture because of his deep knowledge of Nepali politics. It's not as if Madhav Kumar Nepal rose to power through force!

I also feel the time is not right to nit-pick about the new prime minister's deficiencies; it's rather the time to help him build national consensus. In the days ahead, I am afraid there will be no milk and rice for the new premiere; he will have to swallow and digest some very bitter pills.

Yogesh Oli


As you toast said...

I ask Mr.Oily one thing; I didnt wanted that pampered Madhav to be the PM, nither my classmates, nor my comrades; so why the F*** is he there? Is the prime ministerial post a lolipop to be given to some loser like him? This whole act was a complete mockery of democracy. And if you really think that this is a nation buiulding time, call Bob the Builder, pick up some load with him, and stop writing wannabe stupid comments.