Nepali Times

National interest, not nationalism

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

tikaram rai_1From the Nepali Press

Tikaram Rai in Himal Khabarpatrika, 22-28 Jan

There has been a marked surge in nationalism in Nepal of late, which is largely due to New Delhi’s tendency to poke its nose into the country’s internal affairs.

India has always interfered in Nepal’s domestic politics ever since the two countries signed a friendship treaty in 1950. As long as India continues to meddle in Nepal, there will be nationalism which could lead to ultra-nationalism, and eventually even militancy.

New Delhi is pressuring Kathmandu to amend Nepal’s constitution, and is always keen to decide who becomes Nepal’s next Prime Minister or security chief. This has led to a rise in anti-India sentiments, and Nepali nationalism is becoming synonymous with anti-Indianism. As a result, Indian projects are not getting public support in Nepal.

Nationalism creates a binary of us and them, and cultivates a culture of fragmentation. In Nepal, the rise of nationalism and anti-Indian sentiments threaten to create a divide between the peoples of the two countries.

The rise in anti-India sentiment is also pushing Nepal closer to China. Indians call it Nepal ‘playing the China Card’, just as King Mahendra once did in the early 1960s when his relations with New Delhi soured. Every time Kathmandu-New Delhi hits a low or China announces more investment in the Himalayan nation, India accuses Kathmandu of using the ‘China Card’.

Nepal is now institutionalising federalism, which is important to address the political and economic aspirations of a diverse country. However, some political forces still do not like the idea of federalism, and they could use the rising anti-India sentiment as a weapon to foil this attempt to institutionalise decentralisation. Take for example the anti-federalism statements by UML Chair KP Oli and senior leader Bam Dev Gautam amidst protests over Province 5.

Last year’s Indian blockade not only fueled anti-Indian sentiments, but also emboldened Nepal to sign trade and transit treaty with China. India always claims to have a ‘special relationship’ with Nepal, but the blockade taught Nepalis otherwise. At the same time, Nepalis’ affinity with China grew so much that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal lost his public support when Chinese President Xi Jinping cancelled plans to visit Nepal.

Instead of waving the nationalist flag, Nepal’s leaders need to understand our national interest – especially when it comes to balancing the geopolitics of relations with India and China. Nationalism is a love-hate option, in which both love and hate are counterproductive. We need to have pragmatic and balanced relations with both countries to safeguard our national interest.




Tikapur finding

Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

From the Nepali Press

Kantipur daily, 22 January


A policeman holds out the charred vest of Ram Bihari Chaudhary who was burnt alive by protesters in Tikapur, Kailali on 25 August 2015. File photo: Bachu BK

A parliamentary probe panel has found four politicians guilty of inciting activists to violence in the Tikapur lynching in 2015, which was followed by widespread violence across the Tarai.

On 25 August 2015, protesters demanding an autonomous Tharuhat state lynched eight policemen including a senior officer, and shot a child dead.

However, the reporter has been kept under wraps because of the fear of a violent backlash in the Madhes.

Addressing a mass rally organised by the Tharuhat Struggle Committee (TSC), Nepali Congress MP Amresh Kumar Singh, Federal Social Forum Nepal (FSFN) Chair Upendra Yadav, Sadbhavna Party Chair Rajendra Mahato and Maoist leader Deb Gurung had delivered inflammatory speeches inciting local Tharus to drive out hill settlers from their land.

The probe panel formed by the State Affairs Committee of Parliament has concluded that the Tikapur lynching was a result of inflammatory speeches by these four leaders.

The panel, headed by Congress MP Sanjaya Kumar Gautam, has written in its report that the Tikapur speeches were ‘irresponsible’ and ‘condemnable’. The panel has recommended legal actions against them.

The panel has found out that Tharuhat protesters were paid Rs 1,000 each to join the rally, and threatened to fine each household Rs 500 if they did not show up. A week earlier, Madhesi parties had declared that they, once in power, would pay Rs 5 million to the family of each protester killed during anti-government demonstrations, and free education and employment for their children and family members. The report says the announcement also contributed to the Tikapur violence.

Based on the report, the parliamentary committee could direct the government to take action against the accused in the Tikarpur lynching. But the report has not been submitted, and sources say the probe panel is rewriting the report to tone down its content.

Gyewali goes to court

Monday, January 16th, 2017

The former CEO chief of National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) Sushil Gyewali has filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court on Monday demanding his reinstatement, stating that he was appointed for a period of five years, but was removed illegally. He was sacked by the Cabinet on 11 January for delaying post-earthquake reconstruction work.

Gyewali told Nepali Times: “I was removed due to political reasons, the government had praised me for my performance in the past, but all of sudden it took me out. This proves that the NRA is influenced politically.”

Gyewali himself was brought in by UML Prime Minister K P Oli after sacking Govinda Raj Pokharel who was appointed by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala of the Nepali Congress.C1ZBIQ2UAAAoB93-300x200

Gyewali has been defending himself against the government’s allegation and further claims that he did not receive enough support from the government during his tenure. Last week he directly blamed Prime Minister Dahal for obstructing his work.

Almost two years after the 2015 earthquake, only 452, 887 families have received the first tranche – Rs 50,000 – of the Rs 300,000 housing grant. The government has identified 6, 26,036 households in 14 earthquake affected districts as beneficiaries.

Pokharel was lauded for his performance as the first CEO of the NRA for producing a Needs Assessment Report in a short time and conducting a donor’s conference in July 2015 that pledged $4.2 billion for earthquake relief. Pokharel will have a friendly government when the NC takes over in April from the Maoist-Centre and is also regarded as a do-er.

Seven sisters in Nepal

Sunday, January 15th, 2017
Pics: Smriti Basnet

Banteilang Hynniewta’s Creation Myth displayed at the Siddhartha Art Gallery. Pics: Smriti Basnet


What comes to mind when one thinks of India are the clamorous streets of Old Delhi, the high sky rises of Mumbai or the majestic Taj Mahal but never the verdant hills and rustic towns of the seven states of northeastern India.


Banteilang Hynniewta’s Toil and Sweat

The exhibition ‘North East India: Mosaic of Art and Culture’ in Kathmandu this week pushes us to explore this hidden land. Organised by the Indian Cultural Center, the current artwork at the Siddhartha Art Gallery offers a window to the area of India that is off the main tourist circuit.

Paintings depicting the nature, folk tales and exquisite portraits of the life and people of these states take you on a journey to the least travelled states of the country.

Curated by Khasi artist Raphael Warjri, the exhibition was put together with contributions from various artists like him from all across India.“What I have tried to do is combine folk tales with contemporary concepts,” explains Warjri, showing his painting titled ‘Vanity’ that depicts a  gigantic peacock with the huge yellow sun towering above its head and a stretch of mustard fields below.

Artist Raphael Warjri's Vanity

Raphael Warjri’s Vanity

The folktales of the Khasi narrates that the peacock supposedly left the sun, believed to be its partner, for the bright mustard fields only to realise later they had no value. “We humans have also become the same, never satisfied,” stated the artist who has embedded this very concept of greed in humans in his other displayed artworks as well.

Most of the paintings in the exhibition explore the relationship between humans and nature. These recurring motifs in his and paintings of other artists are also a reminder of the increasing disillusionment caused by modernity and materialism. Artist Banteilang Hynniewta’s Creation Myth and Toil and Sweat are also distinctive for how they show a harmonious relationship with Mother Nature.

While the ground floor of the hall is filled with bright and vivid imageries, the top floor is dominated by portraits of people from different states in the region, which have traditionally been home to migrant families from Nepal.

IMG_20170115_143248 (1)

Milan Rai’s Khasi Lady

Striking and detailed, the one that stands out is artist Milan Rai’s Khasi Lady.  The oil on canvas painting of a woman furrowing her brows with its details and colours comes to life and compels the audience to stay with it a bit longer. This with the other portraitures gives the whole exhibition its unique identity: as if one is actually meeting these people.

One after another, the theme for the need to preserve the culture and the living heritage persists but without boring the audience. Instead, with every other artwork, the audience is driven to explore the next, to discover yet another aspect of the North East that will take us by surprise.

Smriti Basnet

Until 18 January, Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal Revisited, 11 am to 5 pm, 9818996169

Gyewali out, Pokharel in again

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Govinda Pokharel

The government had accused National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) chief Sushil Gyewali of delaying earthquake relief and threatened to sack him. But his removal was itself delayed for months.

Finally on Wednesday the Cabinet fired Gyewali, and decided to bring back Govinda Pokharel.

Two weeks ago, the government had instructed Gyewali to clarify why he failed to expedite post-earthquake reconstruction work. Not satisfied with the combatant Gyewali who accused the prime minister of not cooperating with him, the government last week asked him again to defend his case.

In his both clarification letters, Gyewali claimed that he did not receive support from the government to expedite post-earthquake recovery. Gyewali was hand-picked by K P Oli and the Maoists-NC government had never seen eye-to-eye with him.


Sushil Gyewali

Govinda Pokharel was the first CEO of the NRA, and was himself unceremoniously removed when Oli became Prime Minister in October. Earthquake relief is a political hot potato and rival parties wanting to take credit for effective relief have cancelled each other out.

After the 25 April 2015 earthquake, Pokharel, as the National Planning Commission (NPC) Vice Chair led a team that prepared the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report – the blueprint of the post-earthquake recovery.

Since Pokharel, the German-trained engineer, was involved in the formation of the NRA, he is expected to hit the ground running, and is perceived by many as a much more efficient senior bureaucrat.

He will enjoy political support for at least two years, as his Nepali Congress mentors are poised to lead the next government. But Gyewali’s dismissal has further irked the UML, and the main opposition will be looking for an opportunity to strike back.

As political parties continue to bicker over who should lead the NRA, nearly 500,000 families are still forced to live under tarps almost two years after the earthquake. So far, only 452,887 families have received just the first Rs 50,000 instalment of the Rs 300,000 reconstruction grants.



“Respect Prithvi Narayan Shah”

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

dffkis1From the Nepali Press

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi interviewed by Vijay Kumar Pandey, YouTube 8 December

Vijay Kumar Pandey: What is your take on the debate over whether Prithvi Narayan Shah’s birth anniversary should be celebrated as National Unity Day?

Bimalendra Nidhi: Prithvi Narayan Shah should not be dragged into controversy. The Nepal we live in today was his construct. That is a fact and we should never ignore it. I leave it up to scholars to conclude whether he expanded his Gorkha kingdom or annexed other principalities into it. But he unified Nepal at least geographically. Whether his birth anniversary should be marked as National Unity Day is a political issue. One school of thought argues that multiple nations may exist within one country, on the other hand whether Nepal’s unification was an act of nation building at all can be a matter of debate. Even today, ideologists are divided over whether Shah should be remembered as a symbol of unity. But modern Nepal exists because of him, and we should not belittle his contributions. We should all respect him.

So should we respect or loathe him?

If royalists want to revive the monarchy by celebrating Shah’s birth anniversary, it will be short-sightedness. But if republicans like me belittle his contribution only because he was a king, it is also our narrow mindedness. These are both extremist views. Shah could have unified Nepal to rule it as an authoritarian leader, but what matters more is the country that he has left behind for us. His act of unification should not be judged by modern standards. And republicans should not fear being labeled as royalists for respecting a king who contributed to our nation building process.


Historical verdict

Monday, January 9th, 2017

newspaperEditorial in Kantipur, 9 January

The Supreme Court (SC)’s ruling on Sunday that Lokman Singh Karki was not qualified to be appointed as head of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) is courageous and historic. It has restored people’s faith in the judiciary. It is also a reminder that the Constitutional Council and the Office of President, which recommended and appointed Karki as the CIAA Chief respectively, should not have disregarded the spirit of the constitution.

Karki was found guilty of suppressing the 2006 Democracy movement. His career as a bureaucrat was marred by scandals, most notoriously in a case involving gold smuggling. He was previously investigated by the CIAA itself in a corruption case. Why the four major parties – the Maoists, the NC, the UML and the Madhesi Front – unanimously recommended such a tainted person as the head of the anti-corruption watchdog remains a mystery. By appointing him to the CIAA in 2013, the political parties and the caretaker government headed by Chief Justice Khila Raj Regmi and the President had not only insulted a constitutional body, but also the Constitution. Better late than never, the unpardonable blunder and unconstitutional move has been corrected by the SC verdict.

Now, the leaders of the four political forces and Regmi must apologise to the public, and express commitment that they will not repeat this mistake if they want to respect the Supreme Court verdict and regain the people’s trust.

The CIAA is only mandated to investigate corruption and the abuse of authority by public office holders. But Karki overstepped his constitutional bounds, and arm-twisted other government offices to make illegal decisions for his personal gain. So his exit from the CIAA is not enough, he needs to be investigated and punished for the abuse of power. He eroded the people’s faith in the CIAA, and to regain public trust the CIAA needs to thoroughly investigate his abuse of authority and file a case against him at the Special Court.

Karki is also facing an impeachment motion in Parliament and if found guilty can be declared unfit for public service in future. But the Legislature has lagged behind the Judiciary in this case. Nevertheless, the Legislature can still do its part by ordering an investigation into Karki’s wrong-doings.

Truth triumphs
Editorial in Nagarik, 9 January

The Supreme Court ruling that nullified Lokman Singh Karki’s appointment as the CIAA Chief has reinforced our belief that the truth eventually prevails. The SC verdict has not only questioned the Constitutional Council’s decision to appoint Karki as CIAA Chief in 2013, but also reversed its own decision to quash advocate Om Aryal’s writ which argued that Karki lacked requisite experience and moral character for this job.

After being appointed CIAA Chief, Karki ran a parallel government, and doggedly persecuted those who questioned his credentials to lead a constitutional body. Actual investigation of abuse of authority was not his priority. He went after ‘small fish’, hobnobbed with the ‘big fish’. It was an open secret that he was paid off by those involved in major corruption and investigated those suspected to be involved in petty irregularities. He constantly undermined elected institutions and representations, amassing wealth and resources potentially to emerge as a future ruler of the country. His shenanigans tarnished the image of the CIAA itself.

Karki is now gone, but the mistake that political parties made to appoint him should not be repeated. The ruling by justices Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada, Ananda Mohan Bhattarai and Anil Kumar Sinha has not directly questioned the political parties’ decision to appoint Karki. But the leadership should feel morally responsible for this fiasco, and vow to resist external pressure or temptation of money in future. If they refuse to correct their mistakes, people must vote them out in future elections.