Armed Conflict and Conflict of Interest

Rabi Lamichhane’s rant was Trumpian populism, an anti-media ‘drain the swamp’ whataboutery

Photo: RSP

This week marks 27 years since the Maoists launched their armed struggle. Three decades later, and 17 years after the war ended, the leader of the revolution is prime minister of Nepal for the third time.

The Maoists waged war to end the monarchy, and turn Nepal into a federal, secular republic. But Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (aka Prachanda) shares power in a coalition with openly anti-secular, royalist and anti-federal parties.

Former enemies are now the state. And while this may be a model for post-conflict reconciliation, it also means that neither the security forces and their civilian leaders, nor the Maoist leadership and their guerrilla commanders, have had to answer for heinous crimes committed during the insurgency.

The former antagonists have made sure that the two commissions mandated to deliver transitional justice remain toothless. Social science and history text books make no mention of the violent conflict that left 17,000 Nepalis dead. A whole generation of Nepalis has grown up with no knowledge of what happened between 1996 and 2006.

Many of the survivors and families of victims have lost faith in ever getting justice, and have moved on because of the pressures of day-to-day survival. Time is erasing memories, and that suits the perpetrators of war crimes fine, since they want us to forget what happened.

As they watch at the way the country has been run, however, the hundreds of thousands of Nepali civilians and fighters who suffered, were tortured, wounded, displaced or bereaved, are thinking: what was it all for?

On 4 February 1996 at Singha Darbar, Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai presented to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba (yes, his first of five tenures in office) 40 demands. His party did not even wait for the government’s response, and on 13 Feburary 1996 launched simultaneous attacks on police stations across the country.

The conflict was never about a ‘revolution’. The war was just politics by other (violent) means. The behaviour of their leaders in government today probably gives little comfort to former guerrillas and comrades. In fact, like in any other party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal has purged all potential rivals from the Maoist Centre.

Just like K P Oli of the UML, and to a certain extent the NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba, Dahal’s conduct is based on the principle of ‘I am the party, the party is me.’

The tragedy is that the leader of the brand new alternative party professing integrity and good governance which came out of nowhere to be the fourth largest entity in Parliament after the November election, showed himself this week to be of the same ilk.

Having the coalition appoint himself Home Minister, in charge of the very Police that was investigating his citizenship, showed poor judgement and elastic ethics. Lamichhane was behaving like the very politicians he was rebelling against.

His RSP won 20 seats in the House because of protest votes – a rejection by many young Nepalis of same old politics by same old politicians. But Rabi Lamichhane’s stream of consciousness rant the other day after he was refused to be reinstated as Home Minister was reminiscent of Trumpian populism – the same ‘drain the swamp’ and anti-media whataboutery.

Lamichhane served as tv anchor in the established media after returning from the United States and later renouncing his citizenship, but understood the true power of social media after tens of thousands of followers showed up at a support rally in Chitwan when he was arrested after being accused to abetting the suicide of someone investigated by his tv program.

His press conference on 5 February, therefore, was a demonstration of the clash between new and old media, between new and old politics.

Of course, Nepal’s media is not spotless. It would be surprising if it was an island of uprightness when there is rot all around. Most tycoons who also own media are in cahoots with politicians and contractors. If we are honest with ourselves, some of Lamichhane’s supporters have a valid reason for calling journalists पत्रुकार, loosely translated as ‘presstitutes’.

But it is easy to see why Lamichhane came out with all guns blazing against the media, and not the prime minister who had just refused to hand him back the home ministership. It was to divert attention from the investigation into his dual citizenship that is like a sword hanging over his head.

But let who is without sin cast the first stone. Most leaders in the established parties either have dirt, or blood in their hands for which they have never faced justice. Lamichhane’s citizenship transgression was procedural – not murder or corruption which is what many in power have gotten away with.

Read Also: RSP quits Nepal coalition, Nepali Times