Bhanu Bhattarai

Now that last month’s needless confrontation between the Nepal Government and the European Union has subsided and passions have cooled somewhat, it may be time for us to learn some hard lessons from the whole sordid affair.

Even during the federal and provincial elections in November, the EU’s Election Monitoring Mission was accused of exceeding its mandate by interrogating court officials in western Nepal. Its head  Željana Zovko had been summoned by the Election Commission to clarify.

When Zovko issued the Mission’s final report on 20 March and, among other things, recommended that electoral reservation for upper castes be scrapped, it triggered outrage – mainly from political leaders from that community.

We happen to broadly agree with the EU’s suggestion: affirmative action is supposed to level the playing field, not uphold the status quo on skewed privileges. No one can question the dominance of men from the top caste groups and ethnicities in all three branches of the state. The letter of the constitution mentions proportional representation, but its spirit is about taking that extra step to expedite inclusion.

It could be argued that the EU over-stepped its ToR, that it had no right to tell a sovereign nation with a democratically-crafted constitution what to do, or even that it is hypocritical for the EU whose member states are electing fascist leaders to lecture others on democracy.

The social media backlash prompted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to issue a firm but well-mannered statement. We should have left it at that. Nepal’s narrow-minded and bigoted leaders had to grandstand in Parliament, and fan the flames by waving the flag. Even Prime Minister K P Oli could not resist the temptation to call the EU statement an “insult to Nepal’s sovereignty”.

Really? Is Nepal’s sovereignty and independence so fickle that it can be undermined by a report made by an election monitoring team? Is our nationalism so fragile that we have to keep on working ourselves up into a frenzy about every perceived slight? It probably is.

Over and over and over again, we have seen that Nepal’s nationalism only exposes our insecurity when expressed as xenophobia, exaggerated fears of outside interference, conversion, or foreigners coveting our natural resources. If we were true ‘nationalists’, we would be looking inwards to correct the ways we undermine our own national interest every day.

Nepal’s political independence is undermined by our increasing economic dependence on the outside. The trade imbalance, falling exports, remittances from overseas workers, current account deficit, banking crisis, and the investment slump – these are all our own doing. We created and tolerated a rent-seeking state, we re-elected crooks, we have come to accept corruption and extortion as a given.

We need to cover up our shame by misguidedly trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records and hold large rallies proclaiming that the Buddha was born in Nepal. That is not how we will be respected by the outside world. The ultra-nationalism of Nepalis is expressed by bashing India at every go. As Shekhar Kharel argues in his Guest Editorial the New Delhi visit gives Prime Minister Oli a chance to rise above his own nationalistic rhetoric and use India’s need for a course-correction on its Nepal policy to our economic advantage.

Read also: 

National interest, not nationalism

Macho nationalism, Mallika Aryal

Selfish nationalism 

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