Kathmandu's mainstream pundits and twitterati seem to mistake the people's lack of interest in pointless gossip as silent endorsement. Bored by the lack of action on the political front for the last two weeks, op-eds and the blogosphere have been abuzz with speculation over a seven-year-old letter written by Nepal's current leaders to India's then leaders to allow them to stay on in New Delhi, while they waged war back home.
If the Indians really believed that the Maoists would go on to dig trenches and tunnels in preparation of an Indian invasion, they wouldn't have sheltered their enemies. The Indians knew Gyanendra's regime was collapsing and by engaging with the Maoists, they were just trying to ensure that they kept their leverage with all major political forces in Nepal. The Maoists, for their part, used the same leverage to enter Kathmandu politics by signing the 12-point agreement in New Delhi in November 2005 with the seven parties.
Just because after all these years a professor who carried the letter from his friend, Nepal's current Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, to Raisina Hill spills the beans it doesn't mean that Kathmandu's intellectuals have to go into paroxysms, and froth at the mouth. Let the professor enjoy his day in the limelight, let's move on.
This week, two other reports made headlines: the unpublished DFID-World Bank paper on inclusion and the UN's Development Assistance Framework report, whose content were deliberately leaked to the media because powerful people in the government reportedly wanted to censor them. The editor and columnist who revealed their contents accused powerful Brahmins inside and outside the government for pressuring both agencies to make substantial changes in it.
We have it on good authority that it is indeed true that the National Planning Commission (NPC) as well as line ministries led by the Foreign Ministry have been breathing down the necks of the UN, DFID, World Bank and others to remove paragraphs, sentences and phrases that mention caste, gender, ethnic, regional and linguistic discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion in Nepali society. Nothing new there. What is new is this new-found assertiveness on the part of the NPC and the Foreign Ministry. And the Foreign Ministry's aggressive stance comes from the top boss himself, a non-Brahmin minister.
Deepak Thapa, who was part of the team that worked on the DFID report told me he doesn't know whether there was pressure from high up to stop its publication. "But I do know that there are very influential people who strongly hold a self-serving view that the debate on federalism and identity in Nepal was started by the donors," he said, "which is not only a gross misreading of the history of such movements, but also a form of intellectual dishonesty since these people certainly know otherwise."
On a visit to eastern Nepal earlier this month, political science lecturer Yadunath Pokhrel and journalist Bhawani Baral recounted how Kathmandu-based media had wrongly portrayed local movements for identity as sectarian and divisive. They told me how the Limbus have exercised self-rule in the region for centuries through 'kipot' system, which is often wrongly assumed only as a land management system.
The identity movement in Nepal started much before the donors arrived here. The Nepal Bhasa Andolan throughout the first half of the 20th century, the establishment of the first Janajati organisations, the Tharu Kalyankari Sabha in the 1940s, the women's movement that began even earlier, and the many attempts to enter Pashupati by Dalits in the 1950s were all early assertions of identity. Even federalism and autonomy which many claim to be a Maoist concoction in Nepal was first raised by the Tarai Congress in the 1950s and then by Gajendra Narayan Singh
of Sadbhavana Party in the 1980-90s.
There is nothing in the DFID report that we didn't know, or hasn't been acknowledged by past governments in this country. The Ninth and Tenth Plans are replete with references to systemic marginalisation and the need to correct them through gender, caste, ethnic and regional empowerment. So, why this new ultra-sensitivity? Who in the Maoist-Madhesi dispensation is directing the Foreign Ministry and the NPC to censor anything in donor documents that mention discrimination or are the top bureaucrats acting on their own? To blame outsiders for creating an ethnic bogey and orchestrating movements here is at best a failure of imagination, and at worst intellectual bankruptcy.
The biggest obstacle to this nation's progress is the resistance from the powerful to incorporate the voice of the subalterns by constructing a discourse to suit their understanding of history. But we have seen throughout history that whenever the powerful have used their privilege to oppress, the weak have always risen up.
"A dangerous racism"