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Monday, December 19, 2011

Climax of mobocracy in Nepal

Nepal’s transition is plagued by the rule of mob among many other problems. The level of institutionalization of the practice over past few years has been dangerous and one latest incident propels the country further in the direction of anarchy.
In Nepal, politicians have come and gone and parties have risen and fallen. Ever since the multi-party democracy was established in 1990, one or the other major party has been at the helm of executive power of the country except for a brief spell of direct rule by monarchy before it was to come tumbling down in 2008. For this reason, the deeds and attitudes of political parties have been instrumental in shaping the contours of present day Nepal.

Institutionalized corruption and brazen loot of the state wealth through more subtle means has been, as in most of the other poorly developed nation states in the world, the major national trend for long in Nepal. The wealth to be gained and the power and privileges accompanying that have been the major factors behind the lust of most of the politicians in the country to higher posts in government. With time, while a tiny fraction of politicians is being punished for corruption, the majority has been able to utilize the loopholes in the legal system to remain unscathed.

In this backdrop, most of the political parties in Nepal have discovered a new and effective tool to amass wealth and power with absolutely no possibility of having to be held accountable for those. This new 'wonder' mechanism involves creating proxies by recruiting the musclemen in a win-win arrangement.

The political leaders ensure that the goons are protected from the police in the first place. If they are to be arrested ever, then the politicians use all their clout to set them free.

In return, the goons; through their coordinated networks, make sure that the interests of the particular leader or the political party are safeguarded in different parts of the country. That ranges from settling scores with the rivals to coordinating with the local cadres in other political activities.

But most ominous of the activities of those proxies is the institutionalized practice of coercing certain kind of people into 'donating' large sums of money. While the businessmen, industrialists and contractors are the people most affected and terrorized by this kind of activity, the government offices are literally hostage to such 'Chulthe-Mundre's' as known in Nepali as almost every new tender to be invited is subject to physical interference of such people who are hired by certain contractors to avoid other competitors even from submitting their proposals.

A good amount of this money raised by the goons goes to the party or politician to whom the particular group or unit is affiliated. The cycle then renews and the relationship between the musclemen and the politicians remain as fresh and strong as ever.

Though this attitude was present to some extent in years after the change of 1990, this increased explosively over the past few years as the decade-long armed conflict came to halt ending the sharp polarization of the political scene and multiple players entered the field of politics.

First, after facing the fiery protesters for weeks on behalf of then king Gyanendra in 2006, the security apparatus in the country was thoroughly demoralized and the triumph of people over monarchy also heralded, in a sense, an era of literal impunity and lawlessness.

When the extremely corrupt and politicized police machinery was recuperating from its period of lethargy, the interest groups had grown so strong that a criminal was defined by his affiliation rather than his crime.

Second, as every political force in the country was dead set at gaining political power and thereby wealth and privilege in the changed circumstances, every means at disposal was used to its fullest. What could be more handy than taking help of persons and groups that needed no documentation, not even any acknowledgement of such relationship? Eventually the dual lives of the political parties became their unavoidable realities. The fact that their fellow parties also lived same lives came to practically legitimize the trend.

This trend drew huge attention in the media and thus among the public few months back when one of the journalists was assaulted and grievously injured by goons for writing/reporting against such illicit activities of one of the muscleman close to one prominent political party. There was a huge uproar and the media fraternity protested for months asking the government to bring the main accused to book. But it was plain from the beginning that the alleged mastermind of the attack had so solid relationship with one of the prominent politicians that few if any expected to really bring the accused to book.

This part of news coverage by International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) on 15 August aptly represents the bleak reality surrounding the incident: 

Mahesh Basnet, chairman of Youth Association Nepal (YAN), a sister organization of the ruling party CPN-UML, publicly threatened to close down "Nagarik News", a sister publication of the "Republica" daily, and imprison the "Nagarik News" editor-in-chief, Narayan Wagle. 

At a gathering organized by YAN in Biratnagar on August 13, 2011, to mount pressure on the administration and police to drop the charges against Parshuram Basnet, the mastermind of the June 5 attack on journalist Khilanath Dhakal, YAN Chairman Mahesh said, "The day a new constitution is drafted in our favour, we will close down 'Nagarik News' and send its editor, Wagle, to jail." 

The Maoists in Nepal have been known for long for using violence or threat of violence to achieve their objectives and their decision to organize young men in ill-famed Young Communist League (YCL) after coming to peace process is taken as the proof of that fact. To the utter disgust of people, however, the other political party, CPN-UML, mentioned in the news above also chose to retaliate by constituting a similar body called 'Youth Force', notwithstanding the existing youth wing called Youth Association Nepal mentioned above. 
These bodies have been in the fore front of the process in which the rule of law is gradually giving away to rule of force or mob. So far, the other major political party, Nepali Congress (NC) has resisted the temptation to prop up its own parallel body of that nature despite visible attempts of some of its leaders. That is, however, not to infer that this oldest functioning political party in Nepal is averse to use of the tactics its rivals have been using so brazenly.

Yet till now, the centre-right party was known and referred by most as the party most committed to the rule of law in the country. This is why many analysts had refused to believe that the NC was really going to enforce the nationwide blockade on Monday, Dec 19 even though it declared to that effect two days back.

As the story goes, both the CPN-UML and NC have a strong presence in the mid-Nepal district of Chitwan which happens to be one of the most booming parts of the country attracting all sorts of muscle power. On August 27, around a dozen men had shot dead YAN leader Sanjaya Lama. Following the incident, police had arrested a number of people including Shiva Poudel, president of Chitwan District Committee of Nepal Tarun Dal, the youth wing of NC. 

The NC and Tarun Dal had been defending Poudel from the charges while he was kept in the district prison after the Chitwan District Court ordered him to be behind the bars for custodial remand.

Giving the unfortunate turn to the story, Poudel  was violently attacked by inmates in the district prison in the wee hours of December 6, and died while undergoing treatment in Kathmandu on Dec. 17 letting the NC cadres run amok throughout the country as blockade was implemented immediately without any previous notice and one more day of blockade was declared for monday.

The government, already at the receiving end for failing to provide security even inside prison, attempted to douse the fire by forming a commission to look into the whole incident and providing Rs 1000,000 to the family of the deceased. But the NC appeared not to agree unless the deceased was declared a 'martyr'; a funny proposition in itself. 

Yet many refused to believe till late Sunday that the NC was going to really enforce the blockade contrary to its usual stance and saw the declaration as the mere tool to appease the sister wing and prevent it from its own and more severe retaliatory action. They argued threat of blockade was enough to gain the objective and NC would not be foolish enough to risk its image by really opting for as unpopular means as nationwide blockade. 

As it turned out however, NC on Sunday decided to go forward with the strike raising some uncomfortable questions.

Going by the political trend in Nepal, there can be two explanations for the decision of the political party thought by many as the most pacifist party in the country. First, rampant use of mobs and muscle force as political instruments has made it impossible for any party in the country to defy the whims of their youth bodies and NC failed to emerge as an exception. Indeed the individual leaders rely so heavily on the musclemen that any threat by the latter to abandon the former is enough to force the leaders to take most unsavory decisions. This can be described by the metaphor "tail waging the body".

Second and more bizarre explanation goes that, the NC, ravaged by factionalism and institutional lethargy for so long, might have chosen to utilize the occasion to ‘energize’ its cadres and organizations as the showoff of force in the streets is possible only during such blockades known as Bandh’s in Nepali.

Regardless of what the NC intended or achieved, the episode has got some unavoidable implications. First, this reinforces the widespread belief among the people that vandals, hooligans and criminals have become the inseparable shadows of political parties and leaders. From the very beginning, the lingering feud between youth wings of different political parties has nothing to do with ideology or principle and it is purely the matter of commercial interest as it mainly emanates from the competition to raise more 'protection money' and to collude with the contractors to steal the money from government offices. 

If political parties and politicians are in a race to promote this trend and take petty benefit from this, then who is to fight against the trend? If the young people and students are to be trimmed to make more powerful group of vandals by training them to vandalize property and assault innocent people for defying strikes, what will be the future of the country?

This questions is being raised  for long in Nepal but the particular trouble with the latest incident is that it shows the extent of institutionalization of the attitude. Viewed other way, this also shows how impotent the politicians have become in taming their shadows which have inherent tendency to go berserk given their very nature.

And absurd attempts of the leaders to justify the strike by portraying it as a revolutionary response to vigorous injustice is only drawing more ridicule from the people because, however divided in other issues, all who have to work for livelihood and lack the short-cuts like the politicians hate the strikes and blockades uniformly.  From gossips at public places to all over the social media, the message is clear, as one facebook user has kept it precisely: Criminals are burning tyres in streets because one criminal killed another criminal.
If the leadership fails to read the sentiment of the people in time, the writing is in the wall: keep nurturing and fostering criminals and you will be penalized for the criminal activity. 


1. Youth Association Nepal chairman threatens to shut newspaper and jail its editor  IFEX site,


2. Injured tarun dal leader dies: Public at receiving end as NC protests nationwide, ekantipur.com, http://www.ekantipur.com/2011/12/18/top-story/injured-tarun-dal-leader-dies-public-at-receiving-end-as-nc-protests-nationwide/345725.html

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