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The Silent Cry

Bipin Adhikari
The Kathmandu Post, 8 May, 2008
Source: The Kathmandu Post

"When the country is passing through difficult times, the rulers should be sincere"

Can Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who spearheaded the republican movement, dethroned the king and established himself as prime minister keep the new republic intact? If yes, why has he threatened to pull out of government? If not, what was the logic behind the bloody people's war?

There are many people who ask if the prime minister can step down without accomplishing his mission. Has the prime minister threatened to quit because he is not sure what to do next after taking the reins of government? The people are profoundly worried about the state of the state. The country is feeling dejected even though many loktantrik achievements have been made and revolutionary parties have joined the government.

The current situation reminds one of what a leading historian Ludwig Stiller described as the pain, agonies and frustration of the people of Nepal in his 1976 book The Silent Cry: The People of Nepal 1816-1839. Of course, the cry that he has described was related to the Treaty of Sugauli signed in 1816 and its impact. The treaty had a traumatic effect on the common people. Nepal had lost a war with the British East India Company, and consequently all its territories west of the Mahakali River and between the Mechi and the Tista in the east.

Nepal is in a similar situation now. The people expect the prime minister to understand "the silent cry" of the common masses. When the country is passing through difficult times and searching for new goals, the rulers should be sincere.

As Stiller has pointed out in his book, "It was the situation and state of affairs in village Nepal that in themselves constituted the cry, the hundreds and hundreds of little problems that came up with persistent regularity and for which there was no redress inside the system. All was not well with village Nepal, and it was this situation demanding correction and redress that constituted the silent cry." The cry of village Nepal is still echoing around us. The modalities have changed and the content has changed, but the cry is still there. Will it be heard any more clearly today than it was during the silent years?

This is the choice left to the rulers. In the immediate aftermath of the Treaty of Sugauli, Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa was supposed to play a very crucial role to defend the interests of the common people. His inability to respond to the situation and his death in 1839 led to frequent alarms, unrest, changes in ministries and increasing tension in the court of Nepal. In the process, nobody could avoid what came to be known as the Kot Massacre on Sept. 14, 1846 and the rise of Jung Bahadur Kunwar. The rest is history.

The prime minister cannot evade responsibility by saying that the Nepali Congress has not been cooperative. He cannot penalize the country for his inability to give a popular government that the people deserve. It only means that the changes that he pushed through on the strength of arms were either not well thought out or were far from popular wishes. In that case, doesn't it mean that the country should go back to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's time in early 2002 when he wanted to hold elections to the House of Representatives to hand over power to a new government, and the Maoists threatened it with dire consequences if the polls were not cancelled?

This is the reason why the rule of law and democratic order remain irreparably damaged. How can the prime minister escape from his responsibility? He has to make good on his promises to the people of this country. There is no other avenue left for him. It was his choice to demand a Constituent Assembly (CA), which was not at all necessary to sort out the country's problems. Since the CA is an irreversible fact now, he cannot leave it in limbo and relax in peace.

It is not necessary to keep the Congress on board for everything the prime minister wants to do. He can make decisions which he should do regardless of whatever the Congress thinks at this stage. This is the first time in the post-2007 political history of Nepal that the government can make a decision and render Congress insignificant to this extent.

Thanks to the revolutionary Girija Prasad Koirala, the new regime can draft a constitution of its choice and get it passed by the required two-thirds majority even if the Nepali Congress abstains during the voting, walks out in protest or commits suicide. It is an opportunity for any ambitious government. Why should the prime minister then want to have the insignificant Nepali Congress by his side?

The history of ideas is replete with great liberating slogans slowly turning into suffocating straitjackets. The Congress is having a bitter taste of it. It should be allowed to feel how irrelevant it has become. But even if the Congress has become scrap, it still has a role that only it can perform. To the extent that the prime minister's decisions demand scrutiny, there should be enough space for people who disagree, and somebody must pick up the banner for the other side.

If the prime minister can understand amid the silent cry, he too should appreciate the need for a strong opposition to shoulder his responsibility from outside. It is better for this country for the Congress to be out if the Maoists are in and vice versa. After all, the effort to strike a consensus government was an effort to silence Nepal and its political institutions. Nobody should allow this to happen. The CA has become all the more important for everybody.

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