The people like Dr KC need a forward-looking political party to fight the system from within
By shutting down hospitals and thus putting the lives of thousands of people in danger, fellow medics of Dr. Govinda KC delegitimized his fast-unto-death shortly before it was broken with a symbolic victory. Any form of forced shutdown is an abhorrent method of protest. Closing down hospitals under any pretext is condemnable and criminal.
Dr. KC is a straightforward person with simple beliefs. He knows that he can’t change the stranglehold of vested interests single-handedly but is too independent minded to be associated with any organization that would impinge upon his personal freedom. His position that hospitals be freed of petty politicking is idealistic rather than practical. After years of ceaseless and almost lonely struggles, he probably realizes the limits of peaceful activism in a country where coercion has always mattered much more than convictions and conversations. Perhaps all that he wants to achieve at this stage of his life is to establish the legitimacy of moral authority by awakening the conscience of citizenry.
The decision of Nepal Medical Association to close down hospitals pulled precisely that ethical plank from below the feet of the conscientious doctor. Now no matter in which way the table turns at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH)—appointment of Prakash Sayami is merely a welcome beginning and nothing more—adoption of strong-arm tactic has already reduced the significance of Dr. KC’s peaceful protests.
Sad as it may seem, the maverick moralist has lost yet another round to entrenched interests of his profession who intervened this time in the guise of his friends and well-wishers. His hunger strike, however, has shown that moral authority has slowly begun to acquire visibility, even if not potency, in a society known to respect only naked force.
FAITH AND FUNCTION
Fasting has always been a powerful form of expression in almost every religion. Hindu sages fasted to cleanse themselves. Lord Buddha adopted fasting as a way of getting closer to the ultimate truth. Jesus Christ fasted to atone for the sins of his followers. In Islam, fasting during Ramdan is an observance of piety. Mahatma Gandhi transformed what has been a form of personal penance into a political statement.
In Nepal, BP Koirala’s hunger strike in 1940s was perhaps the first test of Gandhian method of political protest in Nepali context. Howsoever sinful they may have been in their personal lives, Ranas believed in maintaining an image of piety in public. Mohan Shamsher didn’t want to have the blood of a Brahmin on his hands and BP was freed from the Rana prison. Modernity—riding on waves of neither moral nor immoral currents—has robbed protests inspired by faith of its traditional force. Hunger strikes don’t matter much in a polity and society where winners are worshipped irrespective of ways adopted by them to emerge victorious.
In practical terms, militarism was the first non-traditional—hence modern—practice to make an entry into Nepal. The wily warrior of Gorkha bought guns from Benares to subjugate his sword-wielding fellow chieftains. Bhimsen Thapa systemized the guerilla force of Gorkhalis into an organized army with its uniforms, bugles and drills. Jang Bahadur further strengthened his loyal units to serve and gain the trust of his British overlords. Over all these years, every other organ of state and society remained traditional.
Chandra Shamsher did make half-hearted attempts to introduce changes, but he too depended mainly upon uses and rewards of running an efficient mercenary service to do much else. With about only one percent literacy in the country, Nepal was still caught in a time wrap in 1950s when Shah Restoration promised to bring other forms of modernity—education, health, sciences, technology, democracy and development—to the country by establishing sovereignty of the people exercised through supremacy of the parliament.
King Tribhuvan reneged on his promise, his son began to conspire against the system from the day of his anointment, and the agenda of modernization of political economy was soon discarded altogether. The Royal-Military Coup of 1960, however, was not a step of returning Nepal to the dark ages. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was only half-correct in his characterization of the coup in Nepal as ‘putting the clock back’: Panchayat was in fact an experiment in rightwing revolution in a regressive costume. Mahendra turned the passive Hindu kingship into aggressive military monarchy.
The modernization templates of Mahendrism were based on works of Development Advisory Service (DAS) of Harvard and the Ford Foundation. The model had successfully worked in propping up tin-pot dictators to advance the Cold War agenda of Western powers in developing countries. Its South Asian edition was first tried out in Pakistan with an authoritarian ruler at the helms of a military machine. Mahendra’s machinations were run efficiently with dollops of US money, advice and technology. In this model of modernization, morality had no place whatsoever.
The other contender for sphere of influence during Cold War decades were the Soviets; and Marxists-Leninists have even less respect for bourgeois creeds of ethics and morality. It is said that whenever someone pronounced the morality word in the presence of patron saint of communism, the bearded prophet laughed aloud. “The Law, morality, religion are to [the proletarian] so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests,” declares The Communist Manifesto. Even the appointment fiasco at the TUTH has shown that morality is of little concern to the apparatchik of UML that controls the Tribhuvan University. Premier Baburam Bhattarai unnecessarily got all the flak while politicking at TUTH was mostly the handiwork of party bosses at Balkhu Palace and their foot soldiers in the academia.
POLITICS AND DR KC´S PROTEST
INTENTION AND INSTITUTIONS
Morality (ethical consciousness originating in religion, tradition, and trust, and based on love for all fellow beings) and Marxism (dialectic materialism and class consciousness born out of contempt for class enemies) are contradiction in terms. Its derivatives in Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism are all ‘scientific’ and even less moral.
Free-market fundamentalism—the credo of post-1990 Nepali Congress—is equally dismissive of morality in politics. Markets operate upon amoral principles, which are again neither moral nor immoral but believe in maximizing profits irrespective of other costs incurred by society. Markets reward those who can get around legal hurdles with adroitness, audacity and chutzpah. Healthcare is biggest business in Nepal—probably bigger than privatised education—and it is natural for the market forces to use all resources at its command to thwart every attempt of reformation.
With militarism, Marxism and market forces all aligned against his moral crusade, Dr. KC is fighting a losing battle on an inimical turf. Experiences in India perhaps hold some lessons for moral crusaders of Nepal.
Gandhi acquired Indian National Congress as a vehicle for his ideas. The ‘Second Independence Movement’ of Jayprakash Narayan in 1977 produced the short-lived Janata Party. Anna Hazare has realized the futility of creating ripples in the Twitter world and decided to bless the formation of a new political party.
None-political solutions of political problems are divertissements. For a sustained and long-term campaign to cleanse the system, it would not do to deride political appointments alone. The disease is deeper and the treatment it needs is not merely faith and artistry but also organization and teamwork. People like Dr. KC need a platform—a forward-looking political party to fight the system from within. Politics too can be a vocation as noble or as despicable as any other ‘profession’ including medicine.