– Deep Lamichhane –
As citizens of Nepal, we once took great pride in our native land and considered her to be the ultimate Shangri-La, a name coined by James Hilton in his famous 1939 novel, Lost Horizon. This sense of our self-esteem had been further reinforced by the throngs of Western tourists who began to visit Nepal when we first opened our doors to the outside world during the late fifties. They found the diverse geography of our tiny kingdom both captivating and fascinating. Likewise, they also found us to be a well-knit group of peoples who, while struggling through life inside one of the poorest nations on earth, managed to nevertheless smile through all adversities and, in turn, shared our abundance of peace and harmony with all who came in contact with us.
If anyone thinks the same about our beloved homeland right now, he or she will definitely need medical help, most likely from a psychiatrist. The image of Nepal began to erode during the thirty years of the Panchayat regime. The sycophants who kowtowed to every whim of the royal palace and praised the royals to the high heavens also managed to fatten their own pockets by looting the nation in the guise of “democratically” elected politicians. They devoured the wealth of our motherland, not just economically but morally and socially as well. Amassing huge amounts of fortune at the expense of the oppressed and the demoralized majority became the norm for the elite few.
The successful movement for democracy in 1990 was naturally long overdue. And when the egalitarian system was eventually restored, we, the people, sensed that our aspirations for a better way of life were finally being realized. Sadly, however, it did not take long for us to recognize that our optimism turned out to be yet another pipe-dream. The newly elected leaders, whether Congress, Communist, or of any other ilk for that matter, entrusted with the responsibility to steer us out of troubled waters, only managed to direct our battered nation even closer to the eye of the storm. At the same time, they also miraculously managed, within months, to suddenly become affluent members of the society. We saw them and their coterie driving around the city in their Toyota Land-Cruisers and Mitsubishi Pajeros while also constructing marbled mansions on prime properties around Kathmandu. Within such a scenario, can we blame the misled and the exploited mass for being swayed by the incitements from Comrade Prachanda (Leader of the Maoist movement Pushpa Kamal Dahal)? The seed of the “People’s War” were sown by the royal toadies during the Panchayat era. It was then fertilized and watered by our own post-1990 democratic leaders. Mr. Dahal, to his credit, merely had the acuity to take advantage of the opportunity to nurture these kernels of dissidence into the escalation of a decade-long, full-scale, and bloody civil war.
Although the Maoists have now finally agreed to renounce violence as a means to justify their demands for a democratic society, the tug-of-war between the eight-party alliance for key (lucrative?) positions in the coalition government indicates that old habits does indeed die hard when it comes to our leaders’ lust for power and prestige. I am especially saddened by the infightings within the Congress Party. As an ardent admirer of the late B.P. Koirala, it pains me to see the Koirala kinfolk trying to covert such an esteemed party into a hereditary estate by appointing their own kith and kin to positions which rightfully belong to others who have sacrificed far more on behalf of both the party as well as the nation. Ironically, these shenanigans are taking place just when just about the entire nation has decided that they have had enough of dynastic supremacy in any form or shape that would govern their emancipated lives.
Under such a state of affairs, I wonder what, if anything at all, can be done to steer our nation back once again towards genuine peace and prosperity. At this moment, the reality on the ground is so dismal that I, for one, can only afford to dream about how much brighter our days ahead could be.
And in this dream I see a nation which can not only sustain itself but even flourish and prosper without a decadent monarchy, even a ceremonial one. We can certainly do very well without a megalomaniac who likes to flaunt his inflated ego by having military generals act like his personal batmen and even tie his shoe-laces in public. For over half a century now following the ousting of the Rana oligarchs, barring King Birendra to a certain degree, the Shah rulers have quite clearly indicated that they are really not at all that concerned about the well-being of their subjects. Instead, they have relied on the exclusive support of the army in order to remain adhered to the throne. We could have done well with a sovereign like King Bhumibol of Thailand who, even after more than six decades on the throne, remains just as admired and venerated today as he always has been.
In this very dream, I also see the Nepal Army finally making an all out effort to emulate the Indian Army which, unlike their opposite number in Pakistan, has steadfastly remained honorably apolitical through good times and bad for over fifty years now. Likewise, in this dream I envision all politicians and bureaucrats in Nepal following on the foot-steps of titans like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and even our own home-grown B.P Koirala. These self-less leaders never allowed power to corrupt them or make them deviate from their true callings. In this very same dream, I also anticipate that our Fourth Estate will be totally dedicated towards keeping us well informed and educated about events that truly affect and enhance our daily lives, without bowing to vested interests and feeding us with a daily dose of biases, character assassinations, and politically slanted opinions and rhetoric.
And, lastly, I dream of a motherland where all inhabitants are honestly striving to not only make their own lives better but also contributing towards augmenting the lives of all others around them. Japan was, after all, in ruins immediately after the end of World War Two. In less than five decades, this nation rose back from the ashes like the Phoenix and became a global powerhouse once again. Wouldn’t you agree that this is simply a reflection of the determination, perseverance, and unity among the Japanese people? So what is there to prevent us in Nepal from being just as resolute, focused, and persistent in order to achieve a truly egalitarian society in Nepal?
Many among you may very likely conclude that my reverie is nothing but a utopian dream that has absolutely no similitude to the tangible realities on the ground. You may even presume that I am merely fantasizing about a Shangri-La that could never again define our destitute and doomed nation. Some may even interpret my views as merely a ranting of a disillusioned man. You may be right because, at the moment, I am indeed a tad cynical and disenchanted. But I can assure you that I am not as disillusioned as I may seem. You see, I still believe that if all of us were to aspire for the same dream, that of making Nepal a better place for all, perhaps it could actually be realized? Therefore, I persist to remain optimistic about brighter days ahead. My glass continues to remain half full, not half empty. Cheers!!
Note: This article was written in 2007.