Sunday, March 31, 2013

Remembering B P Koirala!

Bisweshwor Prasad Koirala, or BPK, was an internationalist and statesman with whom Nepal’s quest for liberal democracy began during the atrocious Rana rule. He was a maverick and never followed any existing half-baked political trend in Nepal. He embraced broader world views and kept striving to make Nepal a liberal democracy.

The monarchy was not a just ruling system for him, he maintained his struggle to replace it with democracy and succeeded to an extent in making a reasonable transition. Though things didn’t take shape ideally, once the Panchayati pattern was abolished. The other old ranks of those earlier democratic movements lost the much required vigour to carry forward desirable democratic pursuits.

BPK grew up in colonised India and shared great concern for its pathetic political status. He was a voracious reader of progressive texts and a writer of high literary sensibility. He had strong leaning towards socialistic ideas during his university days in Banaras Hindu University (BHU). He read Marx/Lenin and had taken up with the fine spirit of communist ideology.

But the personal appeal of Gandhi and the Indian Congress’ people-centric policies during the independence movement drew him closer. BHU was then a major centre of socialists in the Congress. There, he came in close contact with Acharya Narendra Dev, Ram Manohar Lohiya and Jaya Prakash Narayan.

He was sent to Indian jails on many occasions for actively speaking in favour of India’s independence from British rule. He had sensed the vitality of circumstance that could make the Ranas weaker. For this, he fought against the British. His approach broadly favoured the betterment of the entire South Asian region.

Later, as a young law practitioner, he worked for labourers in north Bihar and again spent time in jail. In those days, Indian jails were filled with high moralists. So, he was on good terms with the leading figures of Indian politics—Nehru and Rajendra Prasad, among them.

Back home during the last years of Ranas rule, he succeeded in establishing a very weak democratic system, which was working as the monarchy’s puppet. His first ministerial stint as Home Minister brought him embarrassment from various quarters, following the shooting of a few protestors by security officers in Kathmandu.

The struggle became more difficult once king Mahendra succeeded the throne in 1955. Mahendra was firm in his resolve to destroy democratic changes but BPK was not easily defeatable. By 1959, the king was forced to call a general election—this was unprecedented. The Nepali Congress won the election and BPK became Prime Minister.

But the king was wary of BP’s growing popularity at home and abroad. By the end of 1960, a coup took place (planned by the king) and BPK was sent to jail under the pressure of landed aristocrats. He was destined to struggle, but surprisingly, his brother Matrika Prasad Koirala sided with the monarchy and served as ambassador to the US. During that testing time, BPK’s personal fate was at stake but he was well connected in India and in other parts of the world.

King Mahendra knew the limit of his acts but the hardship stayed as the ‘rule of game’ against BPK and other dissenting figures. In his latter days in exile and spearheading the flame of real democracy in Nepal, BPK appeared as independent as he was always, irrespective of all pressure.

He was a tough administrator, an able diplomat and a leader who could handle adversity with courage and clear conviction. His unflinching determination for democracy did not waver with his ailing health, and hostility from king Mahendra.

Despite that, he maintained his persona and the decency of the democratic movement. His diplomatic instinct was unquestionable. He proved on many occasions that a stable leadership can rescue a nation from internal loopholes at crucial international junctures.

His refusal to VK Menon’s non-courteous demand to receive Nehru in the US, which would’ve implied that Nepal was India’s client state, could be counted as one of those astute moments. It was also not without some sound reason that he termed Nehru’s interference in Nepal’s internal affairs (beyond a point), besides the monarchy and the country’s landed aristocracy, as major hindrances for the upliftment of the country.

BPK was a respected name in India at that time, and is, even today. It was a major misfortune for Nepal that BPK couldn’t cope with his failing health and died prematurely in 1982, eight years before the country attained the remarkable landmark of a constitutional monarchy.

His younger brother, Girija Prasad Koirala, who emerged as a strong centrist and served the country many times, lacked BPK’s integrity altogether. During his time, the hope for real democracy was strengthened, albeit it proved short-lived in the course of time.

Now, with the Maoists working like monarchs, trying with all possible efforts to disfigure Nepal’s conventional outlook, it’s high time the country followed the broad path of BPK instead of getting terrorised by the current stock of dubious radicals.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kathmandu Post,on March31,2013)

Give democracy a chance

With Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi reacting positively to suggestions by Nepal’s political class to head an election Government, Nepal’s transition to democracy has suffered yet another setback.

The shrewd proposal to form a Government headed by the Chief Justice was floated by the ruling Maoist party recently, after political parties failed to reach consensus on who would head the election Government.

Like many recent political events in Nepal, this is also surprising, and it challenges the sincerity of the so-called democratic activism that is being pursued by Nepal's political parties.

The move is worrisome as it will violate the core values of the Constitution. The provision of Article 106(1) of the Interim Constitution allows, at best, the Chief Justice or a Justice to be on deputation for judicial inquiry — it clearly prohibits a former Justice, let alone a sitting Chief Justice, to serve as the topmost executive of the Government.

On a larger scale the principle of ‘separation’ of powers as well as judicial independence would come under heavy strain. Then, what compels Nepali politicians to abandon their avowed role and instead come up with a highly objectionable set of plans?

Understandably, these political shenanigans have not found favour with the people. The ongoing protests in Kathmandu lend credence to the growing disenchantment of the masses with the incumbent regime which is labouring under the delusion that the ordinary Nepali has a dismal sense of political realities in their country.

The obvious lack of political will and consensus to hold elections and install a properly elected Government, has further eroded the credibility of the Nepali political class.

Unfortunately, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Nepali Congress have failed to acknowledge the gravity of the situation. Rather, they are working overtime to block the prospects of a ‘multi-party transitory Government’, which could have addressed the issues related to the fresh election in the country, besides putting in place a new Constitution, which is the dire need of this nation going through a difficult transition.

This is crucial to keep alive the democratic sentiments, although much more than mere tokenism is required today to pull Nepal out from its political chaos.

Ever since monarchy was abolished in this tiny Himalayan kingdom in 2008, the political parties, belying all expectations, have failed to provide a credible leadership to the country. Today, five years on, the situation has gone from bad to worse.

Probably, at this stage Nepal misses its ‘centrist stalwarts’ like its five-time Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Ganesh Man Singh, or an idealist of Man Mohan Adhikari’s calibre. They are worth remembering, not with nostalgia but to emphasise the fact that the first generation political leadership could understand and empathise with Nepal’s democratic aspirations in a much better way.

These leaders were not faultless, but their performance was never at variance with the promises made to the nation and its people. They led from the front and did not shy from taking on the role of troubleshooter when issues of crucial national interest cropped up.

In the present scenario, it is impossible to find anyone from Nepal’s political circle who is not championing ‘political overplay’! Most of the current clutches of leaders are more intent on targeting easy goals and short-term interests, blithely unmindful of the disaster that such recklessness entails.

The Maoists have contributed largely to this atmosphere of gloom and despondency that Nepal finds itself in currently. It is evident now that the Maoists have clear plans of running a totalitarian regime while destroying India’s conventional position vis-à-vis Nepal.

So a sort of ‘Maoist monarchy’ is in the offing, and the rest of the contenders like the leaders of the democratic Opposition, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and Nepali Congress, have been unable to stand up for the people even as the situation has worsened over the years.

Over the years, the delay in holding elections, and in setting up of the Constituent Assembly and the involvement of non-Nepali elements in governance and federalism-related debates have made a mockery of Nepal’s polity.

It is depressing to see that an aspiring democracy like Nepal, which streamlined the basic tenets of democracy in a short span of time and successfully handled the ‘ultra radical’ political outfits following the abolition of monarchy, is struggling to save those ideals.

The coming days will decide whether Nepal dissolves into anarchy or stands up for its democratic ideals. The people, the civil society must act now to keep the system running by not allowing the Chief Justice to become the Prime Minister and by preventing the incompetent Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai from brokering power.

Nepal needs a simple democratic political course that can be easily attained without seeking the ‘blood or tears’ of the citizens. The political parties should not worry about China’s reaction; they should just move on.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer on March05,2013)

The politics of better economics

It seldom happens when economic wisdom wins political argument. This is a reality of our democracy, which has consistently been ignored the basic temptations of its economy for achieving ‘unknown benefits’.

It is surprising to see Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar pitching for seeking special status for Bihar as his gameplan for upcoming elections and ahead. Undoubtedly this would be epoch-making for Bihar and the nation.

His renewed politics appears fair in crucial dimensions as he is determined to go ahead with ‘development’ and without accepting BJP’s unholy leadership. This move will strengthen the acceptance of his efforts for getting Bihar on the map of investment destinations.

As expected, Bihar’s CM saw huge gathering at his rally in Ramlila Maidan. As Congress is seriously considering on Bihar’s demand for special status, chances are of a smooth coalition in future. Bihar has come long way between 2005-3013.

Although the state can’t claim for ‘satisfactory’ overturn of all odds in its way, perhaps such realisation would do well. At this point, Bihar would be able to materialise its quest for industrialisation and farming sector with improved energy supply and additional developmental funds from center that would come through a special status.

For decades, Congress sailed on Bihar’s inert politics, which was dangerously thrived on the plagued socio-economic scenario. Congress has lost even its footprint in the state. It has lost its credibility long back in Bihar’s politics.
The CPI’s base almost diminished from its traditional basin-North and South Bihar.

It’s not surprising that Nitish Kumar has many takers. The BJP is out of touch and its Bihar unit has suddenly found the coalition with JD (U), nothing beyond the misunderstood Machiavellian notion of auxiliary services for a greater ally.

This is a misnomer, which no one is willing to understand. With many power centres but few recognisable leaders, BJP is trying to forget the good part, where its role was formidable in bringing Bihar back on track. Allured with non-issues and wrong choice of placing the baton of 2014 elections on Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi will make NDA, a larger platform for chauvinistic politics.

With no appearance of third front, Congress would benefit in the emerging political scenario. However, it will be difficult for UPA-III to maintain the ‘complacency’. I am sanguine with the upcoming elections would make the position of country’s top executive post competitive and in action. For close to a decade, India has missed a leader in the PMO. Things would get uglier if this trend turns into a ‘norm’.

In a situation when Congress and BJP stand on low moral grounds and have no clear macro policies to revive our sinking economy, a leader like Nitish Kumar could bring much needed balance. It’s shocking to see left parties are not making mind for such alternative coalition, this is wrong on their part to believe that such democratic alliance would take place more effectively after the poll.

When the desperation from current regime is on an all-time high and the BJP is chasing its target, the time is conducive for bringing back progressive element to the economic and political governance. India’s corporate structure is bleeding with corruption and inherent incompetency.

The grammar of Indian politics has to be corrected to keep the country as an ‘emerging nation’.
Beyond the poster-hijacking, undeserving PM candidates would prove fatal. India can’t walk the Gujarat way, though Gujarat has to follow India’s footprint.

‘Profit’ can drive trade but not the democratic politics, and this Nitish Kumar knows well. He speaks for pluralism, he also understands the ‘economics’ better than most of the ‘over-rated economists’ ruining the country. Bihar is one example where good politics and economics coexist.

Nitish Kumar’s populism could do well to the masses. As a leader of Bihar, he is doing fairly well and would not fail in Delhi either.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Governance now on March22,2013)

In Kashmir, power holding craps are not holy

The violence knocks Kashmir, and commentaries enter like free bee-such obsession for ‘breaking news’ stops the chances to come in terms with the situation on ground. After Afzal Guru’s secret hanging, now the attack on paramilitary forces that killed five and left many injured have started another cycle of ruthless attack and counter-attacks in verbal debate.

The remaining part of the tragedy is being fulfilled by the insensitive leadership of Abdullah’s. It seems, Omar is enjoying the time of curfew, like many other elites born out through the endemic conflict in the state. As someone following the political affairs of Kashmir, I know how the daily wage earners face severe existential challenges during choked days, slapped by the ugly situation.

Unfortunately, at prime time trash debates on television, no expert feel essential to know the nature of Kashmir’s conflict from the angle of a commoner, who really have no luxury of knowing the intents of separatists or insincere mainstream leadership. These days, nothing could exert greater harm to the Kashmir’s plight than from these self asserted and well networked experts.

Only yesterday, I heard a moderator saying ‘Pakistan is our enemy’, so India must severe its diplomatic ties with its neighbouring country. It could shock to all thinking minds, who would not want to see the configuration of external/internal policies being set out from high evening television shows. Internally, Pakistan is intensely troubled, and it has ‘desperate policies’ to deal with the external world.

Naturally, it is earning the dividend on the wrong policies; it had accumulated over the decades. But that doesn’t mean, Indian intelligentsia, who have access to speak from vital platforms will see their wisdom in making Pakistan, a non-negotiable stakeholders in the South Asian region. Today, Pakistan’s literary creativity is on all time high and interestingly, this comes through in quest to forward the alternative picture of this problem-ridden land.

These literatures, written in the recent times on Pakistan draws attention towards the existing law-less situation, and surprisingly on the ‘surviving innocence’ among victims. Alienation from the truths have been creating and maximizing the flaws in the fundamental political approaches, and such tendencies seem not on wane with increasing sensationalism from media on Kashmir, and subsequently on India-Pakistan relations.

The Abdullah’s been and still are cunning with the words. The long spell of their dualism in conviction, have benefitted them politically. This will be utter folly to understand their rise and persistence in the politics of Jammu &Kashmir only through the circumstantial gains. Unlike the popular perceptions, even
they can exploit the ‘situation of normalcy’-for thriving in authority; Abdullah’s know no definite bond and checks.

They can look anytime beyond the genealogy-so took place their transfer from the camp of Congress to NDA in Vajpayee government. They can betray the causes for Kashmir for remaining pertinent in the state politics-but their birth in Union politics rather comes much easily, as compensation from Congress. The compensation is for the historical blunders, which remained unrelenting from 1947 to now.

Nehru promised Kashmiris but couldn’t secure a good future for the, the leaders of subsequent times followed no different fate. Consequently, in official circle, the clear thinking could not be mainstreamed and hence opened the gateway for multi-level fractures in state polity. Although they have maintained smoothness over the years, and their source of success found many takers in the state politics-so with Omar as Chief Minister, the assembly house of Jammu and Kashmir looks a safe abode for escapists.

Another round of curfew may spoil the normal pattern of life for downtrodden, but the politicians of Kashmir will not face the similar ire, while tweeting from home, rather travelling few miles ways for pursuing their open pastime. In Delhi or Srinagar, the Kashmir will be in news, but sadly never for the good reasons.

The television reporters would be known to the world for running along the fire-lines, the people and history of Kashmir will respectively walk opposite path-the path that is not actual and would lead to more and more troubles. Once, the people of Kashmir had no reason to not mourn on the death of innocents, now things are different.

The people are dying there, and they are being given grief or indifferences with the overt identities they have, not by the non-buzz word-‘humanity’. In Kashmir, human rights stand terribly below the fundamental level. The people have been voicing in its favour and the authority, who rule the course have been offering cold shoulder on those demands. Things were set in painful equilibrium, so tragedies turning like norms in the Valley.

Hence need to realise, power holding craps are real craps in Kashmir, they are not holy!
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Walla on March16 and syndicated in Rising Kashmir on March19,2013)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Blind Man's Garden: loss of odd times!

Book Review: Fiction/ The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam, Vintage Books/Random House, 415pp; Rs550 (Hardback)
Like his preceding work, The Wasted Vigil, Nadeem Aslam’s fourth novel-The Blind Man’s Garden, follows difficult overtures with the recent history. However, this new book has much bigger geo-strategic and humane canvas, as it draws the ground realities of war torn Afghanistan-Pakistan regions through immaculate sensibility and with unprecedented authenticity. The better strength of the book comes through Nadeem’s relying on his natural impulses rather submerging with the unmanageable amount of views on new world order, which runs on the notorious design of neo-imperialism.

This extraordinary war novel has merit to be listed with the best of literary fiction, the beautiful prose and momentous details of tragic lives completely justify the rating. Nadeem portrays the grimness of social conditions in Pakistan that is an end result of collusion between its army and terrorism. Such circumstances make lives too vulnerable and fragile to be lost. Radicals clearly want war-they push youth for Jihad and subsequently slaughtering by Talibanis or Americans.

Otherwise a brutal scenario, the prevailing starkness of Pakistan makes it super-normal. The insiders’ views are of participants or sufferer and outsiders’ views come with shocking uniformity. They temper with the sentimental inner core and leave the chances of noticing the innocence, which is another sort of violence in high order. This novel walks forth with aiming to deconstruct the stereotypical narratives on these difficult terrains, came into fashion and later developed as trend in the world of post 9/11.

The Blind Man’s Garden searches the obscure lives; those were forced to be part of the communal war, started with the US’s sudden realisation in 2001 that the world is no longer safe as it used to be for its own sake. The disastrous presumption lead a war not against the ’terror’ but to dismantle the figure and soul of unfortunate terrains in Afghnaistan and Pakistan. It affected all but as the war supported by the state managed financial capital, it stops treating live in equally precious terms, so mostly we know the fabricated sensational stories about the war. Seldom we know, what could be an ordinary point of view in hyper time like this?

The novel sets in a small town of Pakistan named, Heer. Jeo and Mikal are foster brothers, the former received success with academics and love and later failed, hence tracked the opposite path. Joe died in Afghanistan while helping civilians and Mikal offered him a helping hand in warzone and later in family matters. Joe’s widow gets hope of new life and Mikal the reason for life through channelizing the things properly in difficult circumstances. The last few pages of the book, which ends in positive configuration depicts the unusual normalcy of uneasy time.

Rohan, their blind father, who is the owner of a garden in backyard and unrelenting misfortunes without bound appears haunted by the premature death of his progressive wife, and on his mistakes made on the name of narrow religious convictions. Ironically, the blind man’s late wife personifies the life in their garden, which he can feel but not see any longer. In oblivion, he remembers her for secular and humane approaches. Rohan recalls his great-grandfather was in the service of British Empire during the mutiny of 1857 and now the changed equation after 9/11 makes him feeling betrayed.

The narration of loss is poignant and gets deeply expressed in symbolism. The loss of Rohan’s sight or losing loved ones comes outside the primary construct in same way. The turmoil of war goes long way and says lot in his helplessness to keep things on normal. Until the novel ends with magic realism effects, it shows the struggle for basic from commoners in Pakistan. Nadeem shows well the pathetic state of big democratic ideas in Pakistan, which is plagued through wrong leadership and choices of internationalism. Before 1980’s, this country was going better than India in economic terms, socio-culturally too, situation was not bad.

The final years of cold war politics ruined Afghanistan first, and to Pakistan subsequently. The Blind Man’s Garden unveils on many occasions, the ghost of Pakistan’s shadow democracy, which neither respect citizenship nor the dignity of human life. Beyond politics, these all ideas seem on wane. But still these are functional and making perceptions blurred for any changes. A new generation of Pakistani writers is doing amazingly well, for them ‘the cruel distance of geography’ hardly matters.

Nadeem Aslam’s The Blind Man’s Garden is a remarkable reading of the existing situation in Af-Pak region. It has quality of pure literary fiction, and strikingly without cornering the wider strategic odds. With inclusion of harsh living scenes, this novel gives uncomfort but never allows to drive for disorientation-as not only Pakistan, but the whole South Asia region is problem ridden in one or other ways, so a compiler like Nadeem will have engaged time in future too!
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Walla on March 11,2013)

Phonic wildfires!

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Cell Phone Nation by Robin Jeffrey and Assa Doron, Hachette, 293 pp; Rs499 (Hardback)
Jeffrey is an eminent chronicler of social and business changes in India. For close to five decades, he has been keenly observing Indian affairs.

Decades back, based on his extensive research, he documented the rise of Dravidian politics in Tamil Nadu and the decline of Nair dominance in Kerala. His previous book, India’s Newspaper Revolution, meticulously chronicled the Indian language press and genuinely needs to be known as a seminal study on the social response towards diversified Indian media.

Cell Phone Nation again contextualizes India to understand the impact of the cheap mushrooming of communication devices. The claim that "the cheap mobile phone is the most disruptive device to hit humanity since shoes" hardly appears contentious, while reading the base point presented in this book.

In the history of mankind, never have any devices left so strong an impact upon socioeconomic spheres. In India, the phone is not only making and breaking customs, but effectively, it also maintains the new dynamics which have emerged as its own end result.

The most nuanced observation one can make by taking together the effects of cell phones in terms of empowerment - the way they're changing the pattern of relationships and trade - is anything but superficial. Its reach is greater than the internet, because of its affordability and easy handling, which compels users of every sort to come in terms with it. The book goes into detail how, over the years, India’s mammoth market has hosted the flood of easy communication.

By citing numerous cases of peoples from different geographies and profiles, the authors forward the easily agreeable argument that the progress the Indian economy has made since 1991 is giving the new ideas and tools, an unprecedented status.

In patches, the book deals directly with those changes; however, on many occasions, the faltering take on unrealistic businesses makes the mandate of the book a little blurred. Especially, such references could be made in mobile phone driven entrepreneurial ventures - they received more than the deserved share of kind gestures from Robin Jeffery and Assa Doron.

However, Cell Phone Nation is a realistic work and diminishes the chance of the simplification of truths. On policy issues, it takes proper notice why the telecom industry is still running far from the ideal mode of functioning.

The book furthers the debate on the cronyism that drives this industry in India. Looking on the fall of the state-run BSNL/MTNL and the exponential rise of only selected private players of this trade, the authors give ample feed on how shabbily India’s policy regime is responding within and outside its ambit.

The security concern which the large numbers of phones present has been given attention in the book. It checks the euphoria for a while; nevertheless, the spirit resumes its place once the authors see the interesting time ahead with more and more flawless communication.

Cell Phone Nation is partly an opinionated, and heavily a well-researched book, so the real picture of India’s growth in the sector comes without any fabrication. This book is worth reading by all those who have watched India’s stride in a non-simpler, globalized time.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in India America Today,March9,2013)