Monday, April 26, 2010

Nepal Seeing Major Political Crisis

There are serious undertones to the Maoists saying they will shut the country down indefinitely from May 1. I still don't fear renewed civil war, but the political paralysis is bad enough news.

UCPN (M) Announces Indefinite General Strike From May 2

The Maoists Have The Right To Peacefully Protest

Vandalism can not be tolerated. And the government has the right to not allow the protesters to enter certain areas of the capital city. So this announcement primarily puts the onus on the Maoist party to make sure their party cadres stay peaceful during the protest programs. They can shut the country down. They can take out processions. They can organize mass rallies.

By now it is too late to ask the Maoists to call off the protests. Now the attempt has to be to engineer a soft landing to the whole thing.

Best Case Scenario

The country is shut down for a week or less. An all party round table conference is organized. It would be best to organize such a conference at the earliest. There is no point in waiting for even a week. I think the parties have to agree to a change of government. That is the way out. But the parties should not simply cave in. The new government should involve the 10 largest parties in the constituent assembly. And the parties have to make it absolutely clear that they are not agreeing to a Maoist government or a Prachanda government. This is still a democracy. And they should put down a non-negotiable demand that they will not accept Prachanda's leadership to that 10 party government, that they want Baburam Bhattarai's leadership, and they can say that because it will not be a one party government of the Maoists. If it were a one party government of the Maoists, the Maoist central committee gets to decide who will lead that Maoist government. But in a 10 party government, it is for all 10 parties to decide who their leader will be.

A 10 Party Government In Baburam Bhattarai's Leadership

Equally important, a 10 party steering committee will have to be formed. Otherwise there will be no guarantees that the Maoists will not repeat the bad behavior that they exhibited during the army chief episode. The army chief could have been legitimately sacked back then, but only with the consent of all parties in the then coalition government.

Another Six Months For The Constituent Assembly

Agreeing to a new government will go hand in hand with agreeing to give six additional months to the constituent assembly to complete its work.

Saying No To One Party State Mentality

Many Maoists talk of an eventual revolution as a prelude to some kind of a communist utopia. That is a dead end. The world figured that out in the previous century. The Nepali Maoists are going to have to figure that out one way or the other. Violence is not an option. A violent revolution is not an option. A one party state is not in the cards. Dictatorship is not happening.

Multi-Party Democracy Is Not Tactics

Multi-party democracy in Nepal is here to stay. Talk of state capture has to go away. There has to be talk of winning elections, and implementing land reform, and taking education, health and job opportunities to the people, to the masses.

The Two Philosophies Of The Last Century: Capitalism And Communism

It is very curious that Nepal has become the playground for the tussle between these two competing political philosophies of the last century. Here the Maoists have consistently refused to take a step that might be the middle ground, a fusion between those two competing philosophies that will also cure communism of the excesses and unintended consequences that the Maoists themselves have admitted to and have disapproved of. That step would be to turn Nepal into a multi-party democracy of state funded parties. But the Maoists will not do that because they have too much money. Prachanda has become too accustomed to slapping super expensive watches around his wrist. When he was Prime Minister he slept in a bed that he bought for 100,000 rupees. That does not strike me as someone who aspires to lead the poor. His ways have been not that different from the corrupt Congress people of the 1990s.

A Multi-Party Democracy Of State Funded Parties

Neither camp is wanting to take this final step that the April Revolution 2006 asks for. Without this step the Maoists will keep dreaming of a revolution some day, they will keep dreaming of a one party state. And the opposing camp will keep up with its suspicions of the Maoists.

Neither camp is willing to make this ideological leap.

The step to take before that leap is to pass a law that requires all political parties in the country to make and keep all their book keeping public. And also there all political parties are opposed to the idea.

The Maoists And Multi-Party Democracy
I Give Madhav Nepal Six Months
The Army Issue Has To Be Discussed In The Parliament
Nepali Diaspora: Rethink Time?
Prachanda Messed Up
Lesson For Maoists: Rule Of Law
ICG: Nepal's Faltering Peace Process
CPN (Maoist) To CPN (Deng)?

Standing Up To Prachanda

Agreeing to everything Prachanda wants could ultimately lead to civil war. You don't appease a dictator. Prachanda has dictatorial tendencies. But you do have to deal with the party that is the largest in the parliament. Without cooperation from the Maoists, there will be no new constitution. But that party has to be treated like the minority party it is. That party alone can not decide who will lead the next government. And the next government will have to be steered by a steering committee composed of all member parties to that government. That check and balance was missing the last time around and allowed for Prachanda to act like maybe it was not a coalition government.

A 10 Party Government In Baburam Bhattarai's Leadership

Worse Case Scenario

Prachanda might opt for a game of brinkmanship. The smart thing for the rest of the parties to do is to publicly declare that they are okay with the idea of a 10 party government lead by Baburam Bhattarai and then let the rest of the country watch Prachanda oppose that idea for a week or so. His standing among the people will go down. It will look like he is keeping the country hostage for no reason other that he is opposed to Baburam Bhattarai, a Maoist, leading the government.

Worst Case Scenario

Things could get violent here and there in unplanned ways. The regressionists might make their moves and create incidences to sow confusion. The state security agencies might have to come into play. Things might get a little out of hand.

It is best to avoid such possibilities by exercising the political options right away.

How Do You Know The Maoists Are Willing To Play Ball?

The Maoists not willing to consider someone other than Prachanda to lead a 10 party government will be a clear sign that they still are not willing to embrace a coalition government culture. At that point the ruling alliance will have no option but to continue in government because the government still has the confidence of the parliament.

Don't trigger crisis, EU tells Nepal Maoists
Maoists call indefinite Nepal bandh from May 2 Times of India
Maoists set for indefinite strike to topple Nepal government Daily News And Analysis
Soon, a 550-km long India-Nepal trade route: Chidambaram Economic Times
Prachanda to govt: Step down by May 1 Indian Express
Maoists announce indefinite strike The Hindu
Nepal's Maoist leader calls for massive public protest Sify
Maoists set for indefinite strike to topple Nepal government Daily News And Analysis
Search for Prime Minister other than Prachanda A new form of storm has emerged in Nepali politics especially in the UCPN Maoist following the statement made by Prime Minster Madhav Kumar Nepal. PM Nepal has clearly stated that he would quit his post for the consensus candidate other than UCPN Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.
Nepal Maoists train cadres for 'decisive war' Hindustan Times
Prachanda moves SC on CC move Himalayan Times

Monday, April 12, 2010

Organizing Nepalis In America: Conversations With Simon Dhungana

Simon Dhungana is currently serving his two year term as president of the Association of the Nepalese in the Americas, the ANA. Most people know ANA for the annual convention it puts together the July 4 weekend. It just might be the largest Nepali organization in America.

Simon dai was a few years senior to me at high school. And so we have a personal friendship going back long years. These past few weeks we have been in conversation on the topic of how to best organize the Nepalis in the Americas. I will not talk about everything we have talked about, but I think it is okay to touch upon some topics that have been publicly talked also by others. And there are some topics I will bring up that I hope to bring up with Simon dai himself in some of our future talks.

Nepali Diaspora: Rethink Time?

Superior Management Skills 

I have great confidence in his management skills. I think you will see evidence of that at the convention in Boston. When the convention runs smoothly, it feels like it is so easy to put one together. Most people are not aware of the months of work that goes into putting together one.

Not only has he been doing a good job with all that the ANA has traditionally done, he has also been breaking new ground. Just a few days back the ANA opened up its offices in Kathmandu. There seems to be this telemedicine initiative that is in the works. He has put together an impressive national team.

Nepalis In America

There are 300 million people in America. There are perhaps 150,000 Nepalis in America. That is one small crowd. But we have our needs. Those needs have to be met. There is the need to bond. There is the need to serve the community. There is the need to give back to the country of origin.

My Personal Involvement

Showing up for a Nepali event in America as a Madhesi is like being a Madhesi in the Nepal Army, or being a Madhesi student at Budhanilkantha School. (The Word Madisey: Madisey Bhanne Shabda) Usually there are one or two in a room if that. You could argue Upendra Mahato, a Madhesi, served as the founding president of the NRNA - Non Resident Nepali Association - for years. Simon Dhungana himself succeeded a Madhesi - Naveen Dutta - as the ANA President. I myself was the only Nepali in America to have worked full time for Nepal's democracy movement a few years back. There were many, many part timers who did great work, but I was the only full timer. So it is not like I have been passive. But my involvement has been political and digital. My digital democracy organization Hamro Nepal has been my vehicle. Other than that I have not joined any organization. I am strong on Madhesi rights, and I am the person who introduced ANTA - Association of the Nepali Teraian in America - into New York City, but I never joined ANTA.

My organization Hamro Nepal is completely digital, but it is not a diaspora organization. It has members also in Nepal. It is a global organization. It has been a perfect vehicle for the political work I have done for Nepal so far, and will be for some more work I hope to do. It suits my needs. Yesterday I saw its Google Groups page had had almost 5,000 visitors in four days. That is not counting the people who access that mailing list entirely through email.

The digital nature of the organization also means I can stay camped in New York City. Like I said to Ratan Jha back in 2006, ANTA is social, cultural, I am political, I wish you all the best, but I can't join.

Nepalis In America, Madhesis In Nepal

When I think about Nepalis in America, I think about political issues like immigrant rights. But Nepalis are not exactly Beer Gorkhalis on that topic. They are largely missing in action. I find myself instead claiming my South Asian identity in New York City. I am half Indian anyway.

Reshma Saujani Courts South Asian Voters in Upper East Side Congressional Race (I have been quoted.)

Work At Hand

When we had dictatorship in Nepal, I worked full time for democracy. I did not work just for the Madhesi. Then I worked for the Madhesi movement. The lack of Pahadi moral support was noticeable. Equality has not yet been achieved for the Madhesi in Nepal, and I will continue my work, but for that work my digital ways are the best. It makes more sense to pick up the phone to talk to someone like Jay Prakash Gupta than to even hobnob with the few Madhesis in New York City who are better at having mastered the ways to happy being the Token Madhesi in the room than to being the Madhesi who questions why he - and it is almost always a he - is the only Madhesi in the room.

More importantly, I have moved on. Internet access is the voting right for this 21st century. And that is not a Nepal or Madhesh level thing. That is a Global South level thing. It is about the Blac identity, Blac as in Black, Latino, Asian Coalition. That is what my tech entrepreneurship is about. I might have to take a detour and work a job for about a year or so, and then relaunch my startup. (Union Square Ventures Job Opening: I Am Applying) I was done raising round one money and then most of my investors walked away last February reacting to the worst economy in 70 years.

Not Too Impressed

I have not been too impressed with the Pahadis in America. I was the only full timer Nepali for democracy in Nepal, but I was not asked to address even one democracy gathering in New York City of that time period. One event that was co-organized by my organization and I was to be the speaker, the Pahadi emcee managed to get my name off the list and tactfully introduced the final speaker and himself left the premises. The Madhesi movement in Nepal was met with outright hostility by some of the Pahadi democracy activists in New York. The anti-Madhesi prejudice is well and alive.  

Most Nepalis working odd jobs in New York City have Indian bosses. There are some genuine workplace issues that have to be addressed. But we also lack the political consciousness to embrace the South Asian identity to empower ourselves.


I go to Nepali events I go to. I go to Madhesi events I go to. I am friends with people I am friends with. But my digital organization (Hamro Nepal) is the only organization I see me involved with. I went to the ANA Convention in DC in 2002 because I was in DC that summer. I went to the ANA Convention in New Jersey in 2006 because it was nearby and I really wanted to meet Upendra Mahato in person, which I did. I might go to Boston for a day, if only because Simon dai and I have been in conversation. But my constant desire is to want to see 35 Madhesis in a room of 100 Nepalis, either in Nepal or in America. That will not be brought about by anything I might do in America. It will be done through political work in Nepal. Hello Nepal, America calling.

Madhesi Self Hate

To me it feels like I dropped out of high school in 1989 and I dropped out of college in 1997.

Monday, April 05, 2010

A 10 Party Government In Baburam Bhattarai's Leadership

The way out of the ongoing political paralysis in Nepal is a 10-party government under Dr. Baburam Bhattarai's leadership. Of course the Madhav Nepal led government has to be duly ousted by a no confidence motion in the parliament. That is the only way. And the 10 largest parties have to cobble a new coalition.

Dr. Baburam Bhattarai has exceptional personal qualities. He has intellectual heft that Prachanda does not. He has a clean image that he maintained as Finance Minister. A 10 party coalition will not coalesce around Prachanda, but it will around Bhattarai.

The 10 party participation will keep the Maoist excesses in check. A government with a two third majority in the parliament will be able to more fruitfully work on the new constitution.

Giving the constituent assembly another six months to complete its work might be a good idea.