In search of a new identity

Euphoria over the announcement of republic spent, I woke up with a vague sense of unease the next morning. My mind raced back to June 1, 2001, the fateful day the royal family was gunned down. Nearly everybody I talked to that day was in a daze, failing to make any sense

of the turn of events.

During the funeral possession that evening, people were crying their hearts out, marigolds clasped in their hands. Youngsters shaved their heads. An impressionable teen, I had mine clipped as well.

Haunting dirges filled the airwaves. Grief pervaded the atmosphere... and intense hatred for the new King. Much of my reverence for monarchy went up in smokes, forever. The royal coup was the final nail in the coffin. But my subconscious, it seems, refused to rid of the patriotic, and at times ambiguous feelings evoked every time I sang the national songs — the royal family front and centre of most — in school.

Part of my unease may be explained by the power vacuum created when the sun set on monarchy on May 28, 2008. But a part undoubtedly was the result of my conscious (subconscious?) attempt to decouple national identity from monarchy.

Prachanda is all set to take over the top executive post. His charisma and promise of change were rewarded with votes during the Constituent Assembly polls. But considering his lack of democratic credentials, will he be up to the task of running a democratic country? We just don’t know. Not yet. Yes, Prachanda deserves a shot at it but what does his inability to rein in violent activities of the young Turks affiliated with CPN-Maoist and his recent threats of a people’s republic say about his leadership abilities in a democratic setup?

The huge popularity of the likes of Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin shows that as long as the country prospers and people’s basic needs are being met, the masses do not mind forgoing some political freedom. But Venezuela has oil and Russia natural gas. Nepal has neither. In this context, even 10% GDP growth is a tall order, leave alone 25% the Maoists have in mind. People in democracy are impatient. They want instant results. If the Maoists fail to deliver on people’s aspirations in the next two years, they might not get the mandate to implement their long-term economic plans.

For the Maoists to succeed in next general election, Prachanda has to carve for himself an image of a national leader, a leader of Hill, Tarai and Mountain people. Master war tacticians like Mao Zedong have turned out disastrous administrators. It will be a tall order for the best of leaders, and not the least Prachanda, to curb disintegrating tendencies if the country fails to define national character and people feel more Pahadis and Madhesis than Nepalis. Until national personalities and common symbols that hold any country together emerge in the next few years, centrifugal forces are bound to gain in strength.

Monarchy, like it or not, helped define our national identity. Pre-2001, the mostly illiterate masses, and even some literates, revered King as an avatar of Vishnu, and saw monarchy as a symbol of national identity. After the Royal Massacre, and especially post royal coup

in 2005, national identity came to be defined in unified opposition to monarchy. Now that the reviled institution is no more, what is the common thread that unites all Nepalis?