So it has come to this, drawing of state lines based on ethnic divides. Ironic isn’t it, the very idea that has thrown our fledgling democracy into chaos is in effect (in most cases) possible only in a democratic society. Perhaps, I am being a little cheeky since any demand by the citizens is- without having to face the barrel of the gun and tanks as we see in Syria- possible only in a democratic society.
To understand Nepal’s chaotic politics we might have to turn to Francis Fukuyama’s “thymos”. The Greek word “Thumos” roughly translated as “spiritedness” or that need for human recognition was used by Socrates to explain human actions. Francis Fukuyama furthered this thesis and determined “Thymos” to be the psychological undercurrent responsible for shaping human history. Recognition, according to Fukuyama, is raison d’être for most Homo sapiens sapiens.
Nepal isn’t a homogenous nation like Korea, where one language and ethnicity dominates the landscape. It is a nation cobbled together by Kings bent on chivalry. Nepal’s diversity is due to conquests of one ethnicity over others, in the not so distant past. The Royals and ruling elites need for recognition morphed into megalothymia- the need to be recognized as a superior to others. Satiety for which could be pursued through conquests. After successful conquests, the kings of Nepal and the ruling elite shared a master slave sadomasochistic relationship with their “subjects”, fueled by a need for recognition.
But with the end of the age of chivalry, and the slaves having finally gone through, ostensibly, the phases of slave mentality, the slaves of yesterday see today as an opportune moment to regain their worth and dignity to be equal to others, this is known as isothymia. They believe a federal nation with ethnicity based states will be a projection of their new found dignity and worth manifested in space and time. On the flipside, it has dawned on the conservative forces, which have retained their semi master status throughout history, that dusk is approaching rather quickly as their hegemony over for the socio-economic and political landscape is coming to an end. The conservative forces are therefore fighting for their survival in a way they’ve never had to, in fact they feel they will lose their recognition.
I must add here that masochism and serf mentality seems to survive, or perhaps is going through a renaissance in today’s “modern” “liberal” youth. The desire for shiny armor and chivalrous past can be found on facebook pages with paeans for the dead King Birendra and his family. It goes further, recently, I was sent a Youtube video of a Royal megaphone, former army chief whose jingoism wasn’t put a stop to by the TV presenter, who dared to call himself a journalist, where are our standards people. But if Burke who pushed for American freedom from the monarchy in England could be mesmerized by the French monarchy and its queen perhaps we should be a little forgiving of our new old generation.
John Lennon “Imagine” syndrome
Let us just hold hands and just get along appears to be the cry, oh wait I meant peaceful rhythmic persuasion played by a torn jeans wearing guitar playing youth of Nepal. This is the same youth who holds stultifying words such as “Unity” with high regard, and suspect more honorable words like “division”. Even the cells in nature have to divide in order to grow and multiply to become more complex organisms. The youth seek compromise before exploring and exhausting all avenues, in fact they suspect debate.
Anyways, so should we just draw lines across our nation and ask the ethnic groups to simply “get over it” for the cause of “unity” ask them to “make sacrifices for the greater good” as was evident in “peace rallies” themed on Unity, led of course by the youth. Dear reader always be suspicious when you hear the “greater good” phrase more often than not the sacrifice is demanded from those who are judged to be worth discarding. It is demanded from pulpits by hysterical despots and demagogues.
When, the British empire exhausted itself, and its colonies it signed half baked treaties with factions and “representatives “and drew almost straight lines across maps in various parts of the world. The capriciousness, callousness and ineptness with which this was done created fertile, and in some cases virgin ground for future conflicts in Africa, the middle east and Asia (Nepal’s border disputes with India is an example) in these conflicts demand for the right to self determination and or enfranchisement are central. I hold that taking the British approach would be calamitous to say the least. The feeling of marginalization could mean another civil war, “history doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme” that’s not music to any ears right now.
However, it would be wrong to suggest that ethnic groups are disenfranchised today. They have become an important element in our political discourse. In fact they have garnered enough muscle to shut the entire country down at will, so the argument they are not represented or are disenfranchised doesn’t really hold water. So the solution isn’t necessarily bowing down to parochialism either, I ask for your forgiveness but the dreaded word “compromise” must take center stage since ostensibly at least it seems all avenues have been explored.
But, aren’t we missing the point, we seem bent on undermining democracy as we squirm along in pursuit of it. One of the fundamental principles of a secular democracy is the protection of theindividual by the state irrespective of caste, color, race, ethnicity, religion, gender… The right of the individual must be protected at all cost, this means a Tharu, a Sherpa, a Bahun, a Chetri all have equal rights in the eyes of the law, and these rights are the basis for a democratic society. The tragedy is that the democratic demand by ethnic communities in our democracy arises not from pursuing the ideals of it, but rather the fear that democracy will fail them. They seek assurances for their survival out of fear. Fear the pillar of slave morality and mentality. Alas! The slave mentality still persists. Question is, are we alert, are we guarding our democracy from individuals driven by megalothymia to capitalize on our serf mentality.
Lastly, ask yourself what determines ones ethnicity- being born, or simply put, chance. Just the very act which you and I had no control over has determined this label, this burden, which we now have to carry all our lives. I hope for a day when ones ethnicity will mean as much as having a birth mark in an awkward place and its value is found only in humoring others over drinks of its location. I personally am a cocktail when it comes to ethnicities. And the only value I attach to that statement is the muffled laughter’s it can sometimes elicit.