Nepal Politics: Maoist Vigilantism

>> Sunday, October 15, 2006

Note: I wrote this email message today to a dear and respected friend of mine who lives in North Vancouver, in response to his email. I have removed the name to respect privacy, but everything else is presented unedited.

Maoist Vigilantism

Dear ...... ...,

Thanks for sharing The Economist article and other communications from the ND discussion group. Interesting discussion. I just wanted to share my thoughts with you about why Maoists are doing what they are doing and largely getting away with it, that is, dispensing "justice" through what they call "people's court". It has nothing to do with justice, it is about opportunism. But, you can't blame them for that. And I am not being an apologist.

The Maoist "people's court" is a manifestation of a weak state. The state becomes weak when the government is incapable of delivering good governance. Another manifestation of a weak state is formation of "militias" and "vigilante groups" -- who take law in their own hands and dispense it in any which way they feel appropriate and are capable of. They think they are delivering "frontier justice", because the established authority has largely become incapable of and inefficient in delivering justice.

This happens when people lose confidence and trust in government due to government's inability to deliver good governance. When people think government or "system" is not delivering good governance, the alternative seems more attractive to them. That is the public's way of rejecting status quo. When people seek change, the state must respond and the government must mend its ways. If not, the "vigilantes", "militias", "people's courts" take over -- and that is a disaster for the rule of law. Maoists' militiaism, vigilantism, and "people's court" do not stand on the strength of their vision, but on the weakness of the state.

This sort of vigilantism must be prevented, but not simply to preserve the status quo. As a matter of fact, this can be prevented by discarding the status quo. That is like denying the Maoists a trump card.

If SPA is to gain an upper hand over Maoists, status quo must not be SPA's political objective. This is where political question of monarchy comes in. To a large extent, monarchy (in any form or shape) represents status quo or gives an impression there of.

If Nepali people simply dabble in changes at the margin, the status quo will remain. The Maoists will still hold on to their trump card. The change must be big and the change must be at the core. This change does not mean capitulating to or appeasing the insurgents. In fact, that would be denying the Moists their trump card. If we continue to allow Maoists to hold on to their trump card ( i.e., call for a radical change in status quo), then we will jeopardize liberal democracy that we want and Nepal needs.

Radical, not marginal, change in status quo will deny the Maoists their trump card in doing whatever they can to establish a unitarian state. That is only one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is the potential resurgence of an ambitious monarch with the backing of an army that is still implicitly subservient to the palace. In Nepal, the monarch is an actor. Army is an actor. Historically, they have safeguarded each other. Unless you remove one actor, that historical relationship is hard to sever. Therefore, change at the core of status quo will deal with both extreme leftists (Maoists) and extreme rightists (the palace).

The monarchy in itself (emphasis on the words "in itself") is the reason for the inefficiency in the functioning of the state. For thirty odd years from 1961 all bureucrats and technocrats in Nepal had to willingly or unwillingly go along with the singular tendency and culture of the governments to appease the king. Then came the brief period of laissez faire from 1991 until King Gyanendra's political coup. (Even during this period of laissez fair, army was not under the full command of the government.) But the perception of a weak government continued without any abatement. The perception of a weak state was the same, only the actors changed.

The state became weak not because the insurgents took up arms. The insurgents took up arms because the state became weak. The state became weak because it has been mired in inefficiency, corruption and subservience to the powers that be at the higher rung (which is a culture of unaccountability). The state became weak because it could not deliver the service people needed. Try getting something done in Charkhal Adda and you'll know what I mean.

I strongly feel that in Nepal monarchy has been a big factor in keeping the state functionaries inefficient and subservient. Monarchy has stifled creativity and efficiency and encouraged fatalism and subserviency. That is why Maoists love to use the word "feudal" when they talk about monarchy.

If monarchy has played any useful role in Nepal, I haven't seen convincing evidence. May be as a buffer against ambitious army generals? Buffer against Maoist's unitarian state? May be buffer against expansionist India or China? What is it? If monarch is gone, are people incapable of defending democracy and sovereignty? I have yet to see cogent discussion on that.

I know I have rambled on a bit too long than I intended to. But, this is the product of my musings on this lazy Sunday morning.

Best regards,



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