This year's centre-stage has been taken by Nepal in Transition and one of its main Indian contributors has not even had to wait 30 months for his mea culpa in the blogosphere. While Nepal in Crisis had a theoretical Marxist class basis underlying its analysis, this one seems to be based on deconstructive, post-modern anthropology that rants against undefined 'elites' maintaining an exclusionary state even when governments these half dozen years since sidelining the monarchy in Nepal have been led by communists.
Its 14 chapters have been written by nine Nepalis, two Indians, and eight Westerners. Of the latter, five are or were associated with the UN or its peace mission in Nepal, UNMIN. The furore the book left in its unwitting wake seems to have destroyed the political legitimacy and legacy of Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his prime minister Baburam Bhattarai.
In terms of impact, the chapters can be divided into two types: the chapter by JNU academic SD Muni (Bhattarai's mentor) and the chapters by all the other authors. Because of who he is and what he reveals in the book, it is Muni versus the rest. Indeed, Muni's revelations completely undercut the foundations on which all the other chapters premise their analysis.
The Nepali writers are all well-known public figures who have served in important government positions or have been prominent opinion writers with in-depth knowledge of the shenanigans of the last decade and a half in Nepali politics. Unfortunately most of these chapters seem to have been written in 2009 and 2010, and the subsequent unravelling of the political architecture that culminated in the collapse of the CA after May 2012 means that optimism for a New Nepal that underlies their writing too has unravelled.
The chapters by Western authors, given the viceregal status many of them enjoyed in Nepal as dispensers of donor largesse especially for the bounteously endowed 'peace industry', reveal interesting insights. Teresa Whitfield describes in a moment of candour that all external actors were entrepreneurs of the blooming peace industry, ostensibly promoting themselves and their wares rather than the peace process itself. Most argue that what stymied all their efforts were India's 'neuralgia towards international involvement' as well as the dishonesty of Nepali politicians and the ubiquitous but undefined 'elites'.
Human rights activists Frederick Rawski and Mandira Sharma describe the laughable oversell of UN commissioner Navaneethem Pillay comparing Nepal's situation with Rwanda. Most interesting is Ian Martin, head of UNMIN which arrived with much hype and retreated with a whimper after turning a blind eye to Maoist duplicity and making a bad situation worse. His side of the story is that if only he had been given a bigger mandate by the Security Council he could have done his job, but he could not given India's resistance, a partisan peace ministry, a flawed Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and weak Nepali governments unable to implement agreements. In normal English, this could be called 'blaming the victim'.
While the writings of all UN types are full of excuses why they could not do their job, they are also rife with factual errors, very selective use of facts, and the filtering out of inconvenient truths as well as the unquestioned acceptance of media propaganda of the day. The first sentence in chapters by both Whitfield and Martin begin by saying that the Nepali peace process was a wholly Nepali-led affair, but then the rest of the chapter explains in shameful detail the amazing foreign involvement and their role in it.
Catinca Slavu and Martin both make the incredible claim that the attempt by the king's regime in February 2006 to hold municipal elections three years after party-led governments failed to do so as being 'organised against democracy'. They fail to mention how the 'democratic parties' had given a hit list to the Maoists to assassinate candidates who stood for elections, a claim made by top Maoist leaders subsequently on national media which to this date has not been refuted by the parties.
What really undercuts the premise of the other writers is the chapter by Muni which proves what many had long suspected in Kathmandu: India's deep involvement and 'double standards' declaring the Maoists to be terrorists, but providing their leaders shelter and patronage in Delhi and using them as leverage against both the parliamentary as well as the king's government in Nepal.Muni's footnotes between pages 317-329 show how a section of the Indian establishment led by the intelligence agencies had a covert agenda of removing the king as early as 2002 because of 'the complete failure of the monarchy to ensure India's security and development interests'. He also writes that around the same time, the Maoists had given assurances in writing to Indian leaders 'that they wanted the best of relations with India and would not do anything to harm its critical interests'.
And all this was happening even while Nepal had a functioning parliament and a government led by a democratic party fighting the Maoists. The intelligence-led part of the Indian establishment, Muni writes, was able to undercut the Karan Singh mission that convinced the king to hand over power to the Seven Party Alliance led by Girija Koirala in April 2006.
Even as Pranab Mukherjee (then defense minister, now president of India) was pleading on the phone with party leaders to accept the Karan Singh deal, the spooks-led faction was egging the parties not to accept it and to force the king to step down, which is what happened. And even as the BJP-led Indian government had declared Maoists as terrorists, its intelligence wing had taken their leadership under its protection and was strangling the Royal Nepal Army by cutting off even normal supplies already on the pipeline. These revelations completely demolish the premise that the other chapters have been built on: that April 2006 was a popular Nepali uprising for inclusiveness.
Why was such a chapter and indeed such a book written, then? Writing in times of uncertain flux is only for politicians and opinion makers who want to influence the course of events their way, not for cautious scholars who fear that the turn of events can make any analysis irrelevant. In about a year or two since most of these chapters were written, events in Nepal have taken a political turn that has seen the collapse of the basic political architecture of regime change. But the editors and authors did not, could not, anticipate such an eventuality and must have been motivated either by the wish to be the first to describe the 'historic changes' or to take credit for them.
In judging the book as a whole, one has to ask a simple question of all the authors: did you even know what the other chapter writers (especially Muni) were writing and did you get a chance to reflect on how what they said would contradict what you were writing about?
Dipak Gyawali is a former Minister of Water Resources and the cabinet of which he was a member negotiated an indigenous ceasefire with the Maoists in January 2003. A longer version of this review appeared in Biblio-India.