I had a nice long walk in the Baluwate/Chundevi/Maharajgung area in the bandh quietness yesterday. The squalor of the broken, dusty and given-up-for-lost main road gave way to nice winding lanes with trees, neighbourhoods where people had still left space for some bouganville and a jackaranda tree or two, and group of young men discussing the upcoming elections. Women, true to the nature of this election, were not in evidence in public, or in private.
Reading the signs of the election candidates, I realized they were riffing off the main Nepali song. One offered to pursue a republic without federalism. The other offered federalism without a republic. There seems to be other variations on this theme—federalism with certain features. Federalism without certain features. Republic with this and that. Republic without this or that. Et cetera.
There were posters of a few candidates, primarily young women (and one young man), promising to bring about an improvement of leadership. But other than that, none referred to concerns of good governance.
In the general scheme of things, this is an elections just to hash out the new Constitution. So the candidates are primarily running to finish that task. But it appeared to be that none of them appeared to know how to get out of the deadlock around these issues that have plagued the process from 2008 onwards. In fact, the election posters felt like an exact illustration of why the process stalled in the first place—it seemed there are a lot of minute disagreement about minute issues, and no agreement about the bigger picture.
As to how all these suns, hammer and sickles, cows, flaming torches, dogs, camels, and umbrellas are going to get along under the same tent needs to be seen. Especially with that swastika (did they have to pick that swastika? Did anybody else feel uncomfortable seeing that swastika on TV every day besides myself?) It appears to me they are stuck in hashing out the minute details, and have, for the past six years, and missing the broad picture. Somehow I fail to see how designating Nepal into federal zones is going to solve issues of poverty, health care, education, employment, safe migration and gender equality.
But of course not for a female writer to butt into these important matters of state.
In the meantime, I had an interesting conversation this morning with a young man who returned after three years in Saudi Arabia. Although he had a nice easy time in his room with the TV that had Nepali channels, working for a Korean company, some things he said made me think not all was well in this oil paradise. He agreed with me on this--although he was making Rs.70,000 per month, he decided to return home because “money is not everything. There are other things more important in life.”
Amongst other interesting tidbids, he shared these stories—guns are easily available on the street in Saudi Arabia, and even a child can buy one. Then there’s the hangings. He turned around to see why the car had stalled when going to work one day, and saw all these people hanging above him. Police were known to just kill people with whatever lay at hand, including shovels. There are about 100 car crashes per day, with people speeding at 220 km per hour, with many people run over and nobody to take responsibility. And then there were the three Nepalis who are killed by lethal injection and their bodies sent back home—apparently they were accused of looking at the women in the family. If you turn and make eye contact with a woman on the street and she complains, you're dead. “Nepalis,” he hastens to add, “are never cut and made to bleed because they are Hindus.” They get the lethal injection instead.
“Everyone likes the Nepalis,” he says. “They don’t like the Indians or the Pakistanis.” Thank god for small mercies.
It appears incredible to me that our leaders have no concern that they are sending more than 200,000 young people, the cream of our working population, every year to Gulf states into these kinds of situations. Instead, they sit there fighting about what appears to me essentially a stalled matter that is not going to shift into any dynamic solution anytime soon.
Perhaps I am “politically naive,” as a friend accuses me of being. Or perhaps I am astute in other ways that politicians, and those who support the political process, should learn from. This “election democracy”, one size fits all, carefully put over Nepal over and over, and failing to show real tangible benefits, begs the question whether there can be other models.
I saw a woman on TV last night who seem to have solutions. She mentioned that the leaders didn’t want to include anybody, including women, into this political process. “The conditions have to be created,” she said, “so they are not just included in a token manner, but in a way in which they can feel comfortable being present and being active in this political process.”
Say that to the current political process where whoever gets the ticket gets the vote. The internationals are there precisely to make sure that this “fair” process is followed. Interestingly, those who lose may again get their comfy seat back—witness the fabulous Madhav Kumar Nepal who lost twice in the last elections but gets honorary, lifelong membership at the political frontlines. Meaning even the process of winning and losing is essentially a meaningless process.
There are many things that are not fair about this election—not the least that the concerns of this election are concerns of the political elites at the very top. Ask the average guy whether he prefers a republic or a Hindu state, and he will shrug. He’s too busy worrying about that Rs.150 packet of salt that just hit the market.