Saturday, April 29, 2006

To: The Kathmandu Media

Hamro Nepal
April 29, 2006 (sent to The Himalayan Times)

I am the only Nepali person in the diaspora I know of who has been doing Nepal work full time - more than full time - for almost a year now. Even before that I was giving it a whole lot of time right after 2/1. And so I keep getting suggestions that I should go to Nepal to enter politics. I think that suggestion does not take into account the two megatrends of the contemporary world: globalization and the internet.

Instead of going back to Nepal, I have invented an organization: Hamro Nepal. The name has a definite ethnic flavor, like Taco Bell, and was coined by the founding Vice President Anil Shahi.

Hamro Nepal has been talked about for months. It has been taking shape. Finally it was launched on the D Day of the April Revolution, when the people were going to gather around Ring Road and march onto Narayanhiti. It is an organization committed to a Democratic Republic. We believe the revolution is very much on, and we hope to see it through. Money, message and organization: those are the three tools of power in a democratic setup. We hope to marshall all three to the cause.

The organization hopes to achieve the goal of a republic, and then it hopes to contribute to rapid economic growth. Other than that, it also hopes to earn voting rights for Nepalis in America. Blacks earned it half a century ago. Nepalis don't even realize they don't have it. It is not true Nepalis in America are ahead of the Nepalis in Nepal.

We hope to grow the organization in as many countries as possible. Each country chapter will be locally registered and autonomous. The goal is to politically empower the members and Nepalis in general. The organization will also work to expand and reach out and forge a stronger Desi, and a newly coined blac identity, Black Latino Asian Caucus, to inject some much needed pride and dignity among the non-whites of America and Europe. The April Revolution just might have launched the Asian Century. The revolution's reverberations are already being felt in New York City. It has been a novel experiment in non-violence.

Hamro Nepal has been hailed in the blogosphere as the "world's first digital democracy organization." Lofty as the goals are, the real innovation Hamro Nepal is offering is in the way it is set to be organized. I would like to believe it is cutting edge.

At the core of the organization is to be a virtual parliament. The organization hopes to cultivate a culture of transparency, democracy, egalitarianism, empowerment and efficiency. Elections are to be held for the five Officer positions each year, online. There is face time, there is screen time, and there are bridge activists, members who connect the offline members to the organization's online interface and vice versa.

I expect the organization to grow at a rapid pace, and I expect its culture to become infectious. Hamro Nepal might be a much needed antidote to the racism prevalent in the west, as much as it might end up the most effective bridge among the Nepalis worldwide.

Going Forward
April 29, 2006 (sent to The Kathmandu Post)

The April Revolution of Nepal will go down in world history as the first major revolution of the 21st century. Nothing like this has happened in recenty memory in any country. Not in Eastern Europe, not nowhere. It was like the entire country poured out into the streets for 19 days. The entire country was shut down. People were out literally in all towns, all villages, all cities, people from all walks of life. The people surprised the seven party alliance, the Maoists, the king, and the world. The people surprised themselves.

House revival was a political decision. There is no particular provision in the 1990 constitution that would have allowed for House revival. And thus this paves way for the next few political decisions all the way to an unconditional constituent assembly.

But challenges lie ahead. The Maoists are still an armed group. The seven parties are still unclear on many specifics. If the spirit of the revolution is to be respected, all seven parties need to formally adopt the concept of a federal republic. So far the parties have been saying on the monarchy that it is for the people to decide, and that is skirting responsibility. Each party is going to have to take a formal stand on the monarchy. The two Congress factions, the Sadbhavana are going to have to come out and say if they are for a republic or not. The UML, the Maoists and the Jana Morcha are formally for a democratic republic. The other parties need to follow suit. And if not, if they are going to come out for a ceremonial monarchy, I believe that is going to cost them a lot of votes.

Looks like the two Congress factions will stay separate, and that is not a bad thing at all. It will be healthy for democracy to have four large parties - the two Congress factions, the UML, and the Maoists - and three small ones: the RPP, the Jana Morcha and the Sadbhavana. Like in India, we might be about to enter an era of coalition governments, and that can work beautifully. A united Congress was too much bigger than the UML in the parliament, and there was not enough healthy competition for power.

I believe the April Revolution has given Nepal an opportunity to shoot for a cutting edge democracy such that the April Revolution can stand in the same league as the October Revolution in Russia, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and the Indian Struggle For Independence. But whether or not we will qualify will depend on if or not we can give an original twist to the concept of democracy in our next constitution. I think we should shoot for a democracy where parties do not get to raise funds, instead they get state funds in direct proportion to the number of votes they earn, and they keep all their book keeping online.

The people have barely earned the right to free speech, the right to peaceful assembly. Now they need to use it. The Madhesi community comes to mind. Madhesis in all towns and all villages and in all parties need to organize and march for a federal republic, for language rights, for one person one vote democracy. The same might apply to other marginalized groups like the Dalit, the Janajati, and the Mahila. All four groups qualify for reserved seats in the parliament. The pressure has to be maintained or the political party leaders might go slack.

But the key issue still is Maoist disarmament. I propose that we dismantle both armies. Nepal does not need an army. We are not about to go to war with China or India. We need to be spending on education, health and micro credit, not on defense. Dismantling the two armies is the least complicated path to lasting peace. A second choice option would be partial or total integration, but that has to be tantamout to reorganizing the army to make sure all communities get represented, the Madhesis more than most, since the army so far has acted like the Madhesis are not part of Nepal.

Many questions have been raised as to the procedures of a constituent assembly. I think the solution is easy. Divide the country into 300 seats of roughly equal population, roughly squares or circles or approximations, ignoring the district boundaries, and hold elections. The largest may not have more than 5% more people than the smallest. Otherwise it will not be one person, one vote, but something else.

I stand optimistic, but I do realize there is still a lot of work to be done, a lot of revolutionary work. The revolution is very much on. People came out into the streets when they had to face batons and bullets. Now they will have to come out in the streets when they do not have to fear batons and bullets. This is extra true for the DaMaJaMa: Dalit, Madhesi, Janajati, Mahila.

Hamro Nepal, Latest
Hamro Nepal: Draft Constitution
Organization: Hamro Nepal
Your Many Identities

Ensuring Victory Was of the People

By Anil J. Shahi

The most recent proclamation by the King to restore the dissolved House of Parliament, and the subsequent welcome of the decision as the “people’s victory” by the Seven-Party Alliance comes as a bitter disappointment to those who believed the movement could have – or should have -- achieved much more: A Republican Democracy. What Nepal needs, we believe, is a total structural transformation, not just a power shift from feudalistic guardians to political elites. The total annihilation of the feudal structure, which protected the monarchy, and which, as in the post-1990 revolution, will probably continue to protect the political elites, should have been the ultimate goal of the recent movement. Given that the movement had gained tremendous momentum towards achieving that goal, sudden “agreement” to end it is seen by many as a great opportunity sorely missed.

Well, we have been hit by a heavy dose of realpolitik. The masses on the streets were probably beginning to feel battle-fatigue; common Kathmanduites beginning to feel the pinch caused by soaring prices of food, or the lack thereof. Many were likely getting tired of almost three weeks of curfews and unrests. The international community, particularly the Indians, still held firm to their long-standing policy of “twin pillars” in Nepal. And, most importantly, our so-called leaders never had the courage, or the vision, to believe in Nepal without the monarchy. Their demand of the revival of the dissolved House of Parliament was fundamentally flawed right from the beginning -- I am still wondering how the House that is to be governed by the Constitution of 1990, which does not allow amendments on the issue of a constitutional monarch, will be able to announce a Constituent Assembly that would ensure that the fate of the monarchy will be decided by the people.

Given that the outcome of the movement, however bitter, is probably sealed for now, I, for one, am willing to accept defeat and look forward, and try to make the most out of it. If the political leadership is to prove to the Nepalis that the movement was genuinely targeted at restoring sovereignty on the people, and not merely another grab at power, they must then act swiftly and decisively on several issues that are of utmost urgency at this transitional period.

First and foremost, they must consider replacing the Constitution of 1990 with an interim constitution. The new constitution must severely curtail the authority of the king. This should include, but not be limited to, his command of the army. Given the king’s notorious past records, there is a distinct possibility of him ordering the troops back into the barracks once again, making it extremely difficult for the new government to rule. In order to ensure firm loyalty of the army to the civilian government in the new structure, it might even be advisable that the new interim government replace senior army officials who might still hold utmost loyalty to the king with those who would be likely to submit to the collective will of the people of Nepal. The declaration of a new interim constitution would also pave the way for an unconditional Constituent Assembly election, ensuring that the fate of the monarchy would be in the hands of the people of Nepal. [The Constitution of 1990 sets forth the consolidation of “Constitutional Monarchy” in the preamble, making it not subject to any amendments.] This insistence on an unconditional Constituent Assembly does not presuppose a republican government as the ultimate goal; rather, the matter should be left for the Nepali people to decide through a Constituent Assembly. The wounded tiger is likely to strike back with greater vengeance, thus the new government must take into consideration any measure that would prepare them for any such surprises.

As stated in the agenda of the Seven Party Alliance, the issue of bringing the Maoists into peaceful mainstream politics should be of utmost priority as well. They should not only work to enhance their 12-point Memorandum of Understanding with the Maoists, but should make serious and honest efforts to reach a permanent peace accord with them. The peace agreement must be comprehensive and far-sighted – every aspect of conflict transformation must be addressed. Some that come to my mind at the moment are: Issues of gender, caste, and ethnicity; displacement; rehabilitation; disarmament; transitional justice; post conflict development; integration of the Maoist soldiers into the national army, etc. It would be prudent to seek international help in this regard. Maoists must also learn two important lessons from the recent Jana Andolan: a) Peaceful protests proved far more effective than armed revolution; and b) If the Nepali people were capable of making the monarch with a solid backing of the army capitulate, they can surely handle the Maoists too if it came to that. The Maoists must give up violence and their extreme communism.

It is also imperative that the interim government at least establish a framework for prosecuting any serious cases of corruption in the past, and of gross human rights violations during the conflict. The latter should not only include violators from both the security forces and the Maoists during the years of Maoist rebellion, but also those who committed such grave crimes during the 18-day nationwide uprising. From army generals to high-ranking officials of the king’s government, to the corrupt officials from the parties themselves, these criminals and rights violators must not be spared.

Many Nepalis have also been disappointed by the old leadership’s (leadership in this sense is already plural) refusal to recognize their past mistakes, step aside, and pave the way for new faces. That is to say, democratization of the leaders’ respective parties should also be in the agenda. After all, one cannot fathom a truly democratic country until the elements ruling it are democratic themselves. A good start would be for the members of the interim government to commit themselves to resign permanently from politics after the results of the Constituent Assembly are in and the new constitution formulated. I am sure people have appreciated all of their contributions to the country, and to the cause of its democracy, and would respect them even more if they submitted to new leadership, for the betterment of our country, in the nearest possible future. It would be a farce in the name of democracy if the people were to see the same Prime Minister who has failed the country in the past be allowed to assume the responsibility again.

Finally, the Nepali civil society that played a highly praiseworthy role in the fight for democracy must also not rest so fast. They must remain vigilant and alert of not only the king’s surprise actions, but also of the future democratic governments. It would be their duty to continue to ensure that people’s voices are being heard, and that the victory will not go futile, for the war is still going on.

While it may not have met the expectations of many, the end of Jana Andolan 2006, has ushered in a new era in Nepal, and has opened a window of opportunity for a better future. It surely is up to the leaders of Jana Andolan 2006 to prove to the disenchanted that it is not going to be an utterly disappointing déjà vu all over again. It is incumbent upon the leaders to prove that the Andolan was truly about the people and not just the political leaders. Nepalis have had to fight for democracy five times in nearly six decades -- almost once every ten years – in 1952, 1962, 1979, 1989, and 2006 – and one would hope that this time, it’s for good.

1 comment:

DC Peaches said...

I have great hope for your vision.
Keep the pressure on!