TCS Daily


The Mau-Mau Maoists

By Christopher Lingle - April 24, 2006 12:00 AM

With so much attention paid to Nepal and its ongoing political struggle, it is worth considering who are the self-appointed agents of change. It is also worth noting that while King Gyanendra is somewhat incompetent and assumed extraordinary powers by dissolving the parliament, he was more of a bumbler than a despot.

His overreach probably did less direct harm to his subjects than the unrest that has unfolded over the past weeks that has victimized many thousands of Nepali citizens. It turns out that the interests of small business owners and workers that live from hand-to-mouth are being trampled on.

Many are subjected to threats and extortion by lawless Maoist revolutionaries that demand "taxes" to support their cause. And now honest people seeking to pursue a peaceful livelihood are kept from doing so by would-be political leaders that are more interested in wresting power for themselves than to serve the best interests of most Nepalis.

During a recent stint in Nepal, I observed frequent calls for a chakka jam to be imposed. This meant that vehicles venturing onto the roadways would be at risk of stoning or worse. The threat of violence is not merely implicit. It is carried out with great eagerness by people that choose to join the mobs to enforce the edict.

Normally, no single voice calls for the actions nor is there a clearly articulated goal. Perhaps political agitators are reluctant to take credit since it provides them with cover in case of truly tragic outcomes.

As it is, political figures often distance themselves by admitting that such actions are disruptive while perhaps expressing regrets for property damage or injuries. But they insist that those wishing to express their grievances should have the right to do so.

What is overlooked in this claim is that the manner in which grievances are expressed is of considerable concern. In fact, it is hard to offer a calm response to the empty logic behind these assertions. If supporting democracy is about representing the interests of the majority of the people, then mob violence must be denounced regardless of its origins since most citizens are its victims.

These chakka jams (traffic stoppages), bandhs (general strikes) or parades keep law-abiding citizens from their jobs, businesses lose custom and students cannot go to school. Assertions that these acts are in the interests of all citizens, ignore the personal losses of street vendors or taxi drivers that live from day-to-day and from hand-to-mouth. Losses also arise from property or physical damage from the violence that tends to accompany most calls to street action.

But the logic that promotes these forms of street protests leads to a fundamental violation of the Rule of Law wherein each and all citizens have equal rights. But somehow the right to demonstrate and threaten violence by a politically-vocal few are allowed to trump the rights and freedoms of the rest of the population.

Under the Rule of Law, anyone conducting himself lawfully must be allowed to go and come from home or work or school in peace. This means that no government officials should interfere with him. But this also means that no single individual or mob should have the "right" to stop anyone from conducting peaceful or lawful activities.

Another feature of the Rule of Law is that any property acquired legally should be protected from theft or damage by others. As such, no government officials should be able to take away or damage this property. This also means that no single individual or mob should have the right to attack their vehicles or business with stones and bricks.

Many of his opponents claim that the actions by the King to dissolve Parliament and to acquire emergency powers violated the Rule of Law. But the actions of the King and his royalist advisors are not worse violations of the Rule of Law than insisting that it is a good idea to turn over the streets to lawless mobs.

One thing should be clear about the thinking of politicians and political parties that seek to stir trouble on the streets. For them, street rabble is expendable fodder in their ongoing struggle to take over the reins of power. For them, the ends that allow them to become rulers over the masses justify any means for their success, even violent ones.

And once the genie of mob violence is out of the bottle, it is extremely hard to get it back in. Gaining power by teaching young men there are good reasons to participate in mob rule and street violence tends to lead to those that fathered the idea to be victims of their own prescriptions.

Nepal's political and economic future could be much brighter if there was a better understanding of the Rule of Law as the basis of a functioning democracy. By themselves, neither peace nor prosperity depends upon whether the parliamentary parties or the King or the Maoists rule over the country. Peace and prosperity can come only when each and every Nepali is treated as an equal to all other Nepalis in terms of rights and freedoms.

Christopher Lingle is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Civil Society in New Delhi.

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2 Comments

The situation since 2001
It sounds like the author has just discovered this issue this past week. The impact of the current demonstrations has been nil, in terms of the disruption of the fabric of Nepali life, in comparison with the prior chain of events.

It all started with Crown Prince Dipendra's royal massacre, while apparently high on drugs, back in 2001. Since then a national tragedy has been unfolding, and we are now approaching the denouement.

What has been horrible is the pattern of insurgency and counterinsurgency operations over the past five years. Life in the villages has become nearly untenable in many areas, with atrocities paralleling those seen in the very similar rural wars in Colombia.

Atrocities abound on both sides, with at least as many being committed against local populations by the military as have been peeformed by the Maoists. It has been a no-win situation all the way around.

All that said, it is apparent that the only way out is to dissolve a dictatorial and economically disastrous monarchy and let popular rule become the order of things. Do we not believe in democracy? We find in recent months, as the prospects for democracy come closer, that the Maoists are moderating just as the monarchy becomes more brittle. The prospects for compromise do not seem to be there. I'm thinking by this time next year the king will be history, and the Maoists just another political party.

Two things, democracy is a result not a cause and the cause is the king.
The king could have stopped all of this earlier if he would simply abdicate. But due to the Divine Right, commonly call sovereignty; the current and illegitimate ruler goes about destroying most other competing civil institutions through force and coercion. So when some idiots rise up and extract similar tribute from the countryside, you get mad and claim it is they who are the bad guys.

As for democracy, it is the transitional result of an attempt to put competition into a political system that tends to end in socialism. A better system is one where the rulers, democratic or otherwise allow the citizenry the basic rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness INCLUDING the ability to own and use property.

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