Sunday, November 06, 2005

Gagan's Talk In New York

Audio transcript by Samudaya. (1 hour 15 minutes, 49 seconds)

Video Clip 1 (1 minute)
Video Clip 2 (1 minute, 8 sec)

BBC Interview

My priority has been to interact with the Nepali diaspora during my month-long visit. I have been to many parts of the US.

We just saw a documentary. Schools and hospitals have turned into army barracks. Life has become cheap. Death has become uncertain. The documentary shows just the tip of the iceberg. In Kathmandu we put up with this every day. You can imagine how much worse things are in the rural areas.

Nepal is number one in terms of the number of people getting disappeared by the state.

The assault on Kantipur FM shows the state is a criminal.

The largest businessperson in the country who should be paying more in taxes than anyone else has been taking away the biggest chunk of money collected through taxes. That man is king. Someone of my age who is the most irresponsible, undisciplined, rowdy person is crown prince.

Nepal has never been in a tougher spot in history. But challenges also bring along possibilities. The youth have two options. The first is to run away or to go in denial, to take the easy path. The second path is harder. That is the parth of struggle, it might ask for major sacrifices. It might ask for lives to get sacrificed. But that second is the path to help create a new identity for Nepal. In the documentary you saw people with bloodied foreheads. Those young people out in the streets are not taking the big risks for this or that political party, this or that political leader. They are there to create a new Nepal, because it is no longer possible to talk of Nepal as the land of Buddha, as the land of Mout Everest. Our old identity is gone. And we don't want to be known as the country with a businessman king and a criminal prince.

We want to create a new identity for the country. We don't want to just watch as spectators from the sidelines. That is why we are at the forefront of the movement. I am affiliated with the Nepali Congress, true, but my views do not represent that party. I do not even wish to represent the Nepali Congress at this point in time. I instead aspire to represent the youth in Nepal from all political persuasions who are out in the streets agitating. I represent a generation. I request you to look at me that way.

How do the youth look at the politics in the country today? Let's start our discussion with that question. How do we understand the Maoists? The king and the royal institution? The political parties? What do we see as the crisis? What are the solutions we have thought of?

We are very clear about the monarchy. They have 236 years of history. History gets written by the victors. History has been written by the Shahas. That has made it possible for the Shahas to stick around.

After the royal massacre the royal family has lost its traditional, normal legitimacy. But it is still around due to the momentum of 236 years of history. Its biggest strength obviously is its army. But more than the army, what is the real strength of the royal family is the thinking of the Nepali people. We credit it with having unified Nepal. That psychology sustains it. Our thinking that the royal institution is the reason for our unity and sovereignty, that Nepal can not exist without the royal family, it is that thinking that sustains the monarchy.

There might be people in this very room who think Nepal has not been possible without the monarchy, and it can not be imagined without the monarchy also in the future. That thinking has been the monarchy's biggest strength and weapon.

We are clear about the Maoists as well. One is that they are an armed group. And so they have to be countered militarily. That is one school of thought. Another thinking, which is quite widespread, is that the Maoists are a byproduct of the failure of 12 years of democracy. We reject both those schools of thought.

We think the Maoists are a political organization driven by a particular ideology. They think of violence as the only vehicle for change, and they have not been able to break free of that adherence to violence.

The Maoists are not the first group in Nepal that used violence as a political weapon. Nepal was not unified through peaceful discussions like Switzerland. Prithvi Narayan Shaha expanded Gorakha militarily. Prithvi's gun did not shower flowers, it also threw out bullets. In 1950 when the Nepali Congress confiscated power from the Ranas to give it to the Shahahs, the Liberation Army of the Congress used violence.

But where Maoists differ is there are no limitations to their violence. The means become an end. We do accept them as a political organization. We are very clear that the Maoist insurgency only has a political solution.

We are also very clear about the political parties. They are at the forefront of the democratic struggle, true, but they represent only a small elite. The 1990 movement only expanded an already existing elite: it did not empower the people. The political parties today are politically and ideologically confused and strategically the weakest. When they are at Ratna Park, they are still trying to decide whether to head towards Singha Durba or towards the Raj Durbar. That is where they stand even today. The leadership of the parties are limited to a certain class, caste, gender, ethnicity and region.

But we still think the political parties are indispensable. There are no alternatives to the political parties.

The conclusion we have reached is that the biggest problem we have is our thinking, our mentality. What we have is not a problem, it is a crisis. Problems can be solved through administrative chicanery. A crisis asks for something much larger.

The crisis is the structure of the state. The solution lies in restructuring.

So what should be the goal of our movement? The conclusion we have reached is there is no need for a monarchy. Nepal will be much better off without it. The primary target of the movement has to be the monarchy. Only in a Nepal minus the monarchy can genuine restructuring be imagined. That is our conclusion. The political parties are not there yet. The intellectuals in Nepal are not there yet. This is the conclusion of the youth in Nepal.

We have faced many allegations for standing by our conclusion and we continue to do so. This is youthful anger, this is a weapon to get into power, this is an irresponsible outburst: we have been told. But we are still standing by our conclusion because we have reached it after some major historical analysis. We have thought throug it in a major way.

The first thing we notice is that the crowd that says the monarchy is necessary, and some of you in this room might be part of it, and there are people in Kathmandu who are part of it: we asked them. Why is it that the country can not run without the monarchy? They said the political parties have not delivered. We said that is not logical. If or not the parties have delivered can be our second question. The monarchy's relevance is to those who have benefitted from it. That is a small number of families, a small elite, a privileged class. Nobody outside that small circle was able to tell us why the monarchy is needed.

So we reached the conclusion the monarchy is a feudal institution, and that is all there is to it. At the lower levels you might have landlords, zamindars, at the highest levels you have the monarchy. If you want to maintain the traditional hierarchical society then the monarchy is indispensable. On the other hand, if you want to create an egalitarian society where the emphasis is on consciousness, science, on merit, then the monarchy is highly unnecessary. That is the conclusion we reached.

Then we asked if Nepal has functioned without a monarchy before or not. We found many historical examples. During the times of Gautam Buddha, people elected their own kings. Before the Shahas, we had the Lichhavis, the Kirats. Monarchies have come and gone. Because the Shahas have not always been around, they do not always have to be around.

Science tells us only those who contribute should exist. So we asked, what has the monarchy given us? We came to the conclusion we have misunderstood history, instead of history we have internalized propaganda. The history we have been taught has been misleading. We need to smash the falsity that our history is. The glorious history of Nepal that we have sung in truth has not been our history. This has only been the genealogy of the Shaha dynasty. Prithvi did not unify Nepal, he expanded Gorakha. We looked for the contributions of kings after that.

You are in America. America is two years younger than us. But why is America like it is today? We talk of leaders from George Washington to Bill Clinton. Because of those leaders America is what it is today. During that same time frame, Nepal has stayed backward, and Nepals' kings need to take responsibility. The kings are the reason Nepal is the poorest country on the planet.

Look at history. Prithvi's son Pratap Singh got his own brother Bahadur Shaha arrested. Bahadur Shaha cut up Sarbajit Rana. Then we have Rana Bahadur Shaha. But he was still great, because His Majesty was the king. Rana Bahadur Shaha married a widow who was on a pilgrimage to Pashupati. There were major fissures among the queens and the courtiers. Immoral kings got played by their queens, and generations of courtiers were erased. If you keep reading, the names change, but the acts don't. Then you have Rajendra. Rajendra was cruel. Then you have Surendra. Surendra was literally out of his mind. He was insane but he was still great, because His Majesty was the prince. (Applause)

We have been taught all these stories of glory.

We were made slaves to 104 years of Rana rule. When Europe was passing through a major phase of resurgence and revolutions, we were slaves of one family. Who is responsible for those 104 years? Which of your and my ancestors are responsible for those 104 years? A handful of queens and their lustful kings brought about those 104 years. Is that true or not?

Give me one name from this royal family, someone, anyone, who fought inside that royal family for the benefit of the people. Noone can estimate what Birendra's wealth was, what Dhirendra's wealth was. Have you ever heard one person in the royal family who ever said he was going to spend his entire wealth on educating the people? One? Any one king who spent his personal wealth to build hospitals? Any king? Any prince?

Hence our conclusion is this royal family has made zero contributions to the progress of Nepali society. This family stands in the way of progress.

Some intellectuals ask, why not follow the British model? Why not the Scandinavian model? We also tackle that line of thought. We have our own views. Every country has its own unique historical experiences. What has been ours? In 1950 we handed power from the Ranas to the Shahas. The character of the monarchy in this country has been that they talk a little humble when they are weak, step back a little, but as soon they gather strength, they come right back pounding. They attack and take away the few gains we might have made. They are always plotting counter revolutions, like Lenin said. Tribhuvan did that, Mahendra did that, Birendra and Gyanendra did that. Some people talk of Birendra as a gentleman king, I do not suffer from that illusion: I am free. The 1990 democracy was not an act of love on the part of King Birendra. The 1990 limited achievement was a compromise reached between a conscious people and a temporarily weakened monarchy. But before the ink dried, the monarchy started plotting a counter revolution.

This is a fundamental disagreement we have with the parties. There can not be any room for a ceremonial monarchy. If we do not uproot the monarchy, we will still be fighting Paras and Hridayendra decades down the line. The monarchy in Nepal has a fundamental character flaw. In Nepal's context, the monarchy and democracy can not go together. It is not possible. That is our unique reality. That is the conclusion we have reached.

The monarch has been presented as the symbol of national unity. Just in this room there are people from all sorts of backgrounds inside Nepal. We should ask ourselves, a king who represents only one religion, only one caste, only one language, only one cultural background, can that king represent us all? We are from different backgrounds. The Sherpas and the Khas in this room celebrate different festivals. I say it is not possible for this king to represent the entire country. Not at all.

Is the monarchy a symbol of the country's sovereignty, of territorial integrity? We have been engulfed in misleading interpretations of history. We have been taught it is because of brave kings in the past that Nepal never became a British colony. The truth is the Ranas and the Shahas did all the British wanted them to do, and that is why we did not become a British colony. We have not maintained our separate identity between the two giants India and China because of the king. We ourselves have maintained our separate identity. If kings would protect countries, India had more than 500 of them, but India still became a British colony.

We have reached this firm conclusion through historical analysis that the monarhcy is of no use, and is no good, and that is why we need to fight against it.

Then the big question that people raise is so did the political parties do good during their 12 years? I am not saying those 12 years were great. But we don't agree that the underperformance of the parties justifies the king's takeover. The key is that we did not really have democracy during those 12 years. 1990 did not bring forth democracy. The king said in 1990, let's keep the structure intact, and I will keep the army. And the parties said okay. 1990 was only an agreement. The Nepali state has a criminal character. The state has a hunter's mentality. The Nepali society is fundamentally diverse. That diversity has not been reflected in the state structure. Even a teacher is Humla gets his appointement in Singha Durbar. That centralization is fundamentally wrong. Why did the Tamangs living near Kathmandu not see an upward mobility after 1990? It is because the 1990 movement enlarged the elite, but did not change its fundamental character. 15 became 100: that is all. A few names got added to the roster.

Centralized state, feudal social structure and democratic exercise: those three do not go together. The pre-1990 corruption continued after 1990. The movement now has to be to change the very character and strucuture of the state. We don't want to go back like the king and the parties. We are not interested in reviving the House. We want to go forward.

Someone from Karnali might allege the democracy has been Kathmandu-centric, women might say it has been male dominated, the Janajatis might say it is Khas-centric, a Dalit might say it has been the democracy of the upper castes.

The democracy we envision is one that will be inclusive. The people will not only say the nation is theirs, but that also the state belongs to them.

During the 1997 local elections of the thousands of elected officials at the district level, not one was Dalit. It is because our structure has not changed. The Madhesh issue, the Dalit issue, the Janajati issue, the gender issue, all these issues will have to be addressed by the democracy we will help bring.

Being able to vote alone is not democracy, that those votes get counted and are valued, that is democracy. Being able to speak alone is not democracy, also to be heard when you speak, that is democracy. Rule of the majority is not democracy, protection of the minority, that is democracy.

We want to burn all the crowns in the country, and not just that sitting atop the king's head. We want to change Nepal, we want to create a new Nepal. We know the path we have chosen is difficult. It is challenging. It is not important that we survive. But it is important that the goal is achieved.

Every time the Nepali Congress president meets the king, the youths of the same party take to the streets. Compromising with the king gives them power, and that is why they are eager to compromise. The UML youth are the same way. We inherited a half baked democracy from the previous generation, but we also inherited a culture of slavery. That is not what we want for the next generation. We want a Nepal where everyone is born equal.

We want this fight to be the final fight. We don't want another generation to have to fight this fight all over again.

There is an Indian student leader who is part of our delegation. He says, "We are on the verge of being a superpower." I will never forget those words. He kept repeating that statement. He has a dream that within 20 years India might be able to take over the United States. He sees China as competition. He wants India to grow faster than China.

I envy his dream. We never had the opportunity to fight for Nepal's prosperity.

You are in America enjoying your democratic rights. We want to do the same in Nepal. We don't want to get instructions from Tulsi Giri or Jagat Gauchan. We also do not care to know as to how able the political party leaders are. Because we believe in ourselves. I am good enough for self-rule. You can not want freedom and be indifferent to the cause of democracy. We have fought the political parties from the inside. But democracy is not for the leaders and the parties, it is for the people. The ruler is not my master. I am the master of the ruler.

We want the Nepali people to forge a new constitution through a constituent assembly, that is our goal. There are Nepalis who have been in America 7, 8 years. I met some in Dallas too. They talked of poor Dalits, poor illiterate Nepalis, they were not able to sustain democracy. If anyone here has that same illusion, please, let go of it. Nepal has changed a whole lot. People in the remotest villages have become much more conscious. They might not have internet access, but they have access to the Maoists and the army. The Nepali people are conscious.

Don't justify the king's move for the wrong of a few leaders. You had monarchy for more than 220 years. They built the Pashpati temple, Singha Durbar and a few statues. If that is your idea of development, go for it. Compare the king's 220 years to 12 years of democracy. The problem in the 12 years was too little democracy. The problemm is it was an incomplete democracy. The solution is more democracy, a full democracy.

What can the Nepali diaspora do to help? You organized a rally in New York recently. People in Kathmandu think that rally was the reason the king cancelled his visit to the UN. (Applause)

Your DC rally sent 500 more people out into the streets in Kathmandu. Even when you have small programs of 20, 30 people, that has a huge impact back there in Kathmandu.

Your second contribution can be to lobby the lawmakers here in America. You are in a position to influence the US Congress.

The biggest contribution you can make is to not blame 12 years of democracy for the king's coup. Do not say that. You go out into the streets against Bush. But if you disagree with our going out into the streets in Kathmandu, what message are you sending?

Mistakes were made in the past. But don't be hung over it. Instead tell us where to go next. Guide us. We are in the middle of a major discussion. Contribute to it. You should lead that discussion. What should be the economic and social structure of tomorrow's Nepal? Tell us. Look at the Chinese diaspora's contribution to China and the Indian diaspora's contribution to India.

The recent attack on Kantipur should tell you as to the extent of the repression in the country.

During a street demonstration, a tear gas shell fired at me hit a friend of mine by mistake. He is still in Bir Hospital with a fractured skull.

You might have to organize a memorial ceremony for us right here. But we are not scared. Our request is that you not mix us up with the mistakes of a few leaders from the past, that you do not stay hung up on those mistakes, that you put those in the proper context.

Thank you.

(25 minutes of discussions.)

1 comment:

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