The Spillover Effect: from Bihar to Nepal [and the Maoists]

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal

We are waiting for the spillover effect to take hold. China is growing phenomenally. India is following China so very closely. We are tightly sandwiched between them. We are folding our hands and sitting back, hoping that one day the economic progress will spillover from both sides and submerge us. We are hoping to swim. While hoping so we continue to berate both of our neighbors. We call the Chinese the “ex-Maoists who have no idea about democracy and freedom.” We call the Indians “expansionists who have nothing except the Bihari-style democracy.”

spillover effect
Kathmandu Post 28.11.10

The Bihari-style democracy! Turns out the Bihari-style democracy is much better than what we have been told we have—”great achievement of the great People’s War”. In the past four years since the ‘great People’s War with small help from People’s Movement-II’ gave us republicanism we have gotten nothing but instability and inflation. Life has become harder for the man on the street while leaders are engaged in an endless power struggle. Frustration has surpassed the height of Sagarmatha.

Until recently, Bihar used to represent the worst of India: crime, corruption, insecurity, lack of development and immoral politics. Everything negative. That image of Bihar has changed dramatically in the past five years. And in the meantime, all these negative Bihari traits have crossed over to Nepal. That’s the actual spillover effect taking place. Neither Bihar nor India is to be blamed for that. We are solely responsible for stagnation and the deteriorating situation in our society. What have we done in the past five years when Bihar went through the historic transformation? Okay, we too witnessed historic political changes. We ended a decade long bloody war. We transformed from an autocratic monarchy to a democratic republic. Certainly things to be proud of. But, the question is, is that enough? The answer is a resounding NO.

What’s our problem? What do we lack in? Can we blame it on the fractured mandate of the Constituent Assembly election? Bihar’s mandate in 2005 was fractured too. No single party received the majority in the Legislative Assembly. Two political parties formed an alliance that ran an effective government while the multiparty opposition stayed quiet. In the latest election the same ruling alliance got two thumbs up from the voters. But, significantly, no single party has taken hold of the majority. The point is, people are not to be blamed for giving fractured verdicts. It is up to the political leadership to show some flexibility and accommodate each other’s differences so that an effective administration can run. That didn’t happen in Nepal.

Instead of delivering the fruits of political changes in the form of developmental activities, our largest political party—the Maoists, whom the people had trusted the most to rule—started chest thumping. Instead of inaugurating road and electricity projects, the party focused on consolidating power and strengthening its hold in the state machinery. That was the biggest mistake since Girija Prasad Koirala’s decision to dissolve the three-year-old House in 1995 which triggered further instability in Nepali politics.

Our misfortune is that we haven’t been able to produce a leader who is acceptable to all of us. Contrary to that we have been frequently embarrassed by our leaders. The latest embarrassment comes from the swallow-chest thumping of chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal in the hills of Gorkha. He thinks Nepal should declare a war against India, as if we have already colonised the Moon and are ready for the next adventure. One can ask, why waste the precious time and energy of Nepali people by engaging in such nonsense rather than working on something concrete to uplift their living standards? The Prachanda statement may have come as a result of a tough intraparty power struggle in the Palungtaar plenum. But that has greatly embarrassed us Nepalis. Such an irresponsible and childish statement not only shows the lowliness of our political discourse but also reduces our credibility in the international forum to zero. Indians laugh at us. They pity us. “So you guys will fight with us?” an Indian friend politely asked me as we discussed the Prachanda statement that made big headlines last week. “Not we,” I said. “Prachanda. Just as George W. Bush had named his cat India—peace be upon her—our Prachanda calls his challengers in the party—Baburam Bhattarai and Mohan Baidya—India. When he talked about waging a war against India he was meaning to eradicate Bhattarai and Baidya from within the party.” We both laughed. But my laughter was that of embarrassment, of a lame effort to save face.

What’s in store for us in the future? I have no idea. I don’t know where this daydreaming of our biggest political party will take us. If this irresponsible attitude continues, what I know for sure is that it will not just embarrass us like it is now, but will put our sovereignty and national interest at great risk. It will make us poorer, backward and inferior. On the other hand I see more progress and better days ahead in Bihar. The same leadership that put Bihar on the track of progress in the past five years took the oath of office on Friday for another five. This alliance led by Nitish Kumar has not talked about controlling the Bihari society by hook or crook. What Kumar has stressed on is the need to work harder to deliver the fruits of developments to the Bihari people.

This article first appeared in the Kathmandu Post yesterday.