Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Storms & Unstable Politics

The rains seem to have come a little early this year, as the last few weeks have seen rather consistent thunder storms moving into the valley and quite a few torrential down pours. This time last year the weather was exceedingly dry and hot, and the city was shut down due to a Maoist enforced  bandha (or strike) which shut down the city for nearly a week. The indefinite strike was supposed to put pressure on the political parties to bend toward the Maoists in the coming deadline for the constitution to be written by the end of the month. The strike failed miserably, and the popular uprising that came up against the enforced strike was a major setback to the Maoists.

By the end of that month there was no constitution and the constituent assembly (CA), extended their term for another year to finish the constitution. Another year has now passed, and the constitution is no closer to being completed. What happens when the CAs term comes up again on the 28th of the month?  Most likely they will extend their term again, despite some calls for the dissolution of the body in favor of fresh elections to put people in place who might actually do their job. Although the chances of even that happening in a system where power is so tightly held by political parties and not so much by people who feel they are there to actually represent their constituents interests are slim. This is a problem it seems in parliamentary and democratic systems around the world at the moment, including my country.

Still aside from some saber rattling by a portion of the more revolutionary elements of the Maoist party declaring that they would return to war if the CA expired with no progress, recent statements from the Maoists top man Dahal about working toward a conclusion of the peace process seems to indicate that the Maoists are also ready to settle in for the status quo where nothing gets done and nothing happens in Nepal. While paper's today celebrated the Maoist adoption of peace and the political process as the official line of the party, the average Nepali really has little reason to rejoice. As long as there is no political progress the countries problems continue to deepen as basic things are just not getting any attention. Petrol continues to be scarce and Nepal Oil Company (NOC) still has not paid its bills, a complete lack of sufficient electricity is devastating to any development of the country’s industrial and economic base, and basic infrastructure continues to crumble while nothing gets done in the high halls of political office.

Even though I have doubts as to India ever becoming a true super power, there is no doubt that the country has seen an infusion of vitality and economic growth in the last decade, despite its proximity and ties to the Indian Economy, Nepal remains in the doldrums with progress  not really being measurable and no discernible momentum. To compound problems many of its brightest sons and even large portions of its labor base have left, with the former group finding employment through the first world and the latter finding exploitation and occasionally good money in the Gulf states, Malaysia, India, and North Africa. In fact this migration of brain power and labor has spawned what seem to be some of the only fast growing industries in Nepal which is man power firms that negotiate overseas employment and numerous education and scholastic placement companies that assist in getting students into universities outside the country. While this is bound to happen anywhere to some extent, one only has to look at the passport lines by the west palace wall to see how much of a problem the mentality of wanting to escape Nepal has become.

Witnessing the counter protest that took place last year in response to the Maoists authoritarian strikes, one has to wonder where that energy has gone, and why there isn’t more outrage to change the system. That same energy that declared in one loud voice that the people of Nepal wanted to be left alone to live their lives in peace needs to be brought to bear against a political situation that is increasingly becoming untenable. Nepal is suffering like a house that has been long neglected by its owners who can’t bother do basic upkeep, with things failing to work due to a continuation of no simple maintenance. How long can a political class rob its own country before the people demand that the status quo isn’t good enough? Or like an abused animal, has Nepal been beaten so often by its rulers that it is content so long as it just doesn’t evoke the ire of its masters? Have promises been broken so often and so many times that people have lost any expectations of something better? At what point is enough, enough?

The rains came a little early this year. The clouds build and grow dark in the south rising up on the slopes of the Himalaya. Sometimes they build and in spectacular fashion they break open with lightning slitting the sky and rain falling in torrents upon everything in the valley. Other times they dissipate under a bright sun which holds them back, and we get only a light rain shower, just enough to cool the air, and reduce the dust. One wonders what Nepal’s growing sense of political futility will develop into, will the people’s discontent eventually break open like a Spring storm , or will it just dissipate under a hot sun giving way to further unbearable conditions?

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