Sunday, May 15, 2016

Yo Nepal ho!

uncaptioned image from article

Beijing has begun to practice what can perhaps be termed the "Offer Diplomacy" even with its neighboring countries: Buy one, get one free; and buy now, pay later

Sociologist Jacques Gélinas popularized the term aidocrat to describe upper echelons of the aid industry in Third World countries. Aidocrats often draw their salaries in convertible currencies. The quantum and quality of benefits vary.

Chauffeured SUVs, bungalows with manicured lawns, domestic help, all-expense paid vacations, family health insurance, daily allowances, and generous expense account, all such perquisites depend on the ranking of the donor or lending agencies with various development banks at the top of the heap. Since social work has also become a lucrative profession rather than a calling or a vocation that it once was, do-gooders of the NGO-activism too end up doing quite well for themselves.

Though some well-connected 'native' elites do make it to the rarefied ranks, aidocrats are mostly expatriates. They aren't referred to as "guest workers" as in Europe, but simply as expats. Along with diplomats, aidocrats form the core of high society in the capital cities of most developing countries. They consume a major portion of Swiss chocolates, Boulogne cheese, caviar from the Caspian Sea, aged champagne, and mineral water ferried from the French Alps. Some of these exclusive imports go to serve connoisseurs of the local aristocracy, arrivistes of the 4B (Bankers, builders, brokers and business agents) bourgeoisie, and selective guests of the hospitality industry.

Tourists pick up words of greetings and gratitude, Namaste and Dhanyabad respectively, almost instantly. Expats also internalize a few useful phrases soon afterwards. The expression of exasperation—Ke Garne—captures the essence of helplessness inherent in the experience of living in a country where nothing is predictable in a good humored way. The next most popular phrase among expats and their local interlocutors is the definitive declaration: Yo Nepal Ho!

Nepali way

English translation of the popular exultancy is bland at best. Of course, this is Nepal—the country of Lord Buddha, Mount Everest and the one-horned rhino, which must be called Gaida even in English because Premier Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli has ordained so. The phrase sounds more interesting when expats spurt it with the distinctive inflections.

In old English, yo is an exclamatory greeting to attract attention or express excitement. The term ho expresses surprise, triumph, or derision. That leaves the name of the country in the popular pronouncement, which has elements of all these emotions and then some more. The idiom implies that the archaic, the arcane and the obverse are all everyday affairs in this la-la land. The strangeness permeates the polity, economy, society and culture of the country.

The lonely Nepali tycoon on Forbes billionaire list succeeds in capturing the essence of plutocratic political economy when he declares almost nonchalantly, "In Nepal, you do not need great ideas to become a great person. All you need to do is to hobnob with the right people." That's how most oligopolies are created and maintained. In such a political economy, oligarchy is the governance structure and oliology its ruling ideology, which conflates Khas-Arya communalism with Nepali nationalism. Oliological policies form the fourth dimension of the oligarchic order.

Definition of neologism oliological is in order here. Rational and reasonable thoughts are considered to be logical. Its converse is illogical, something that lacks common sense or is bereft of sound reasoning. Like the monarchists, Maoists, Stalinists and sundry other self-declared nationalists cohabiting in an oxymoronic coalition, an oliological position is neither logical nor illogical but merely extra-logical that lies outside the boundary of rational thoughts and action.

Expelling a guest worker on the charges of sowing discord in society through Twitter posts is something that is neither logical nor illogical but simply an oliological decision. It's seems that the only fault of the accused was that he failed to pay heed to the sage advice of chastened French philosopher Voltaire: "It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong." Repercussion of the action is likely to be negligible because the subject is a Canadian, citizen of a country not too well known for its forceful foreign policies.

Diplomatic implications

In private conversations, many diplomats and aidocrats agree that they are posted to Kathmandu to get some rest and add a bit to the nest egg before being put out to pasture. All they need to do here is show presence.

One of the first practitioners of gunboat diplomacy in the world—that's how they earned the right to sell opium to the Chinese—the British have been content to play second fiddle to the US policies after the Second World War. Despite over two centuries of diplomatic relationship, they maintain a low profile in Kathmandu. One of their recent envoys had the temerity to speak in favour of religious freedom, which created conditions for his voluntary resignation.

Since Nepal has no shores where US battleships can be anchored for rest and recreation, the sole superpower of the world practices what has been euphemistically called public diplomacy. The strategy entails cultivating future leaders of academia, arts, armed forces, bureaucracy, businesses, civic activism, media and politics through generous scholarships and exchange visit opportunities. Various funds and foundations chip into the effort to forward the foreign policy goals of their government. Nepal has no known deposit of extractable fossil fuel or any other natural resource; hence it falls outside the democratizing mission of the global hegemon.

The Scandinavians don't believe in giving fish, they try to teach fishing without realizing that harpoons have little utility in densely populated areas with extremely low per capita resource availability. They often follow what has been called the NGO-based "bottoms-up, rights-based and non-governmental" (BORING) way of developmental diplomacy that empowers the lumpenbourgeoisie and gladdens the heat of the PEON, which can then maintain its control without being challenged.

The Swiss, of all the countries in the world, advocate transparency and good governance and work with pliant professionals. The tactic is as old as history: It's called appeasement diplomacy that conforms to the existing norms while maintaining the appearance that they are being reformed in a gradual manner.

The Japanese didn't invent chequebook diplomacy, but they have been its best practitioners at least since the 1970s when their trade surpluses began to exceed all manageable limits. Quintessentially a mono-ethnic nation-state, the Japanese have very little appreciation for values of plurality such as diversity, inclusion or proportionate representation. They are happy to be of help with development aid on their terms.

Indians are the inheritors of British Empire in South Asia and they try hard to behave like colonial masters. Consequently, they cultivate the social elite, patronize the PEON, and scatter freebies such as ambulances, schools and health-posts to keep the populace happy. The tried and tested method can perhaps be called the condescension diplomacy. In this scheme, democracy is good, but only as long as its processes can be kept under control.

Up until the early-noughties, the Chinese maintained certain distance from internal squabbles of Nepali politics and dealt strictly with whosoever happened to come up trumps in incessant power struggles of the country. It paid peanuts to King Mahendra for his loyalty. The white elephant called Arniko Rajmarg is still not economically viable.

In late-1980s, King Birendra waited with bated breath for relief from up north to arrive and then resigned himself to fate. King Gyanendra too discovered, though rather late, that the Chinese were merely fair-weather friends. A shift, however, is now perceptible with the Chinese picking up favorites to do business.

After establishing itself on the world stage, Beijing has begun to practice what can perhaps be termed the "Offer Diplomacy" even with its neighboring countries: Buy one, get one free; and buy now, pay later. These offers are too attractive to refuse, or so go oliological arguments of the PEON, but a price will have to be paid. Whatever else be their priorities, Beijing is extremely unlikely to stand for democracy, tolerance, diversity and human rights.

The UNDP behaves like an INGO with its aidocrats paying unfailing obeisance to government officials and is extremely unlikely to champion fundamental freedoms. Calculations of the PEON are perhaps correct; there is nothing to fear on the diplomatic front. All compulsions of the oligarchic order are internal, which can be dealt with in the "usual manner".

The second part of the popular refrain Yo Nepal ho is dispiriting—yaha kehi hunewala chhaina—meaning nothing ever is going to happen here. Meanwhile, all Nepalis must breathe, drink, eat and sleep sovereignty.

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