The media now needs to create a climate for compromise and put the onus back on the political parties
If ever Nepal needed a diligent, responsible, on-the-ground and vibrant media in the past eight years, it is now. For those of us outside of towns labelled ‘tense’ and not much else, there is a huge gap in the information that is filtering in.
We hear about rounds of bullets and deaths, but no attempt is being made to provide a larger picture which would explain the sequence of events, the emotions of those involved, the public mood and response in the areas. For the most part, the general public has been left in the dark as to what is exactly happening in the country.
It’s impossible to believe what little the Kathmandu press is actually saying – particularly given that each has its own version of events. Take the Tikapur incident of 24 August for example: while few actually made it on the ground, the majority of news was being churned out from desks in Kathmandu based on either no sources or exceptionally shoddy ones.
There were multiple incidences of exaggerated death tolls, factual errors, opinion being relayed as news and certain groups being openly pitted against one another. Television gets its kicks from pitting opposing views with one another with no intention of promoting a dialogue, but rather a showdown. This, at such an incredibly volatile time and from the supposed pillars of the entire democratic exercise.
One can earnestly hope that it is a lack of resources, of skill and depth of understanding that is the reason for the coverage of the Madhes. However, it seems the media is largely just echoing the mood of the majority of the big shots in Kathmandu: Constitution by the end of the year, by any means necessary.
This is not a pan-Bahun-Chettri agenda that many ethnic activists would have you believe, either. It is a deliberate and dangerous design harboured by a tiny political, economic and social elite in Kathmandu which sees no value in dialogue with dissenters or in an inclusive constitution. To them, Nepal belongs to those in Kathmandu – Singha Durbar in particular -- and Tikapur may as well be Timbuktu, or a bank for votes at best
. It’s blindingly obvious that the collective political leadership is dragging Nepal into its next cycle of violence. Yet, the media seems unfettered, still willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at the expense of, well, everything.
The slaughter of policemen and the baby in Tikapur on 24 August
was so poorly reported in much of the media that the entire public narrative morphed into a binary blame game. Most media outlets chose the popular narrative of violence against the state, without even questioning the role of the Home Ministry and government in the entire ordeal. On the flip side, the politicised minorities attempted to justify violence as a result of centuries of oppression. The media has simply been playing along, and the ‘nuance’ as an editor once told me long ago, has been sorely lacking.
The straight up position of all national media should indeed be the condemnation of violence and clarification that no amount of lament over past injustice can justify murder, and that the state must take responsibility for the violence which manifests within its territory. Responsibility would entail identifying the murderers of 24 August and bringing them under the law. Responsibility would entail identifying and rectifying the weaknesses of the Home Ministry for inadequately gauging the security situation in the country. Responsibility would entail at least making an attempt to address the root causes of the violence, which preceded -- and continues two weeks after -- the incident.
Taking responsibility would entail refraining from deploying the Army until all other means to curtail the situation have been explored. Finally, responsibility in the case of the Tikapur incident would also be an apology, at the very least, on the part of the Home Minister for being unable to perform his duty adequately, followed by a formal apology on the part of the Prime Minister for attempting to push through a constitution without due consultation and broad agreement among political actors.
While there is much to be said about the contradictions and the lack of clarity and feasibility in the demands of the movement in the Tarai, the very idea that the politicos and their henchmen across the sectors in Kathmandu can now offset the determination of so many competing interests is foolhardy. A prominent Tharu activist recently said that “it’s too late” to suggest alternatives to the identity-based model of federalism and that Tharus and Madhesis will not stop until the state has “kneeled” to their demands. “With Tharus and Madhesis united” he said, “the Nepali state will have no choice.”
And the movement in the Tarai is only the precursor for what is to come. The Dalits, Janajatis, Hindu right wing, women and the Undivided Far-west movements are yet to come out in full force. Soon enough, groups with demands unheard of will surface. This is what you get when there is a crisis in ownership of the constitution.
The media now needs to create a climate for compromise and put the onus back on this government and the political parties. The state, in turn, must come back to the negotiating table. It has no choice. Otherwise, the cost will no longer be numbered only in rupees and dead bodies.
Open and shut case, Editorial
The federalization folly, Bihari K Shrestha
Whose constitution is it anyway?, Anurag Acharya
Votebank constitution, Kunda Dixit
Beware of fake news, Bhrikuti Rai