Butwal has the reputation of being one of the few well-managed municipalities in the country. This settlement of Bhitri Madhesh deserves its status. Even with ambient temperature hovering around 42 degrees, sewers do not stink. Roadside plants appear tended and watered. The East-West Highway—the main axis of the transportation town—is being widened and upgraded. Yet, the traffic moves relatively smoothly. Footpaths are surprisingly clean. The bus stand is crowded and dusty, but almost free of litter.
With a reported population of slightly over 100,000, the town is said to have 80,000 motorcycles. At rush hour, girls astride two-wheelers are common sight. The township has already engulfed Manigram Bazaar and ribbon development along the road may soon extend beyond Bhairahawa towards the Indian border. The state of public transport in the country being what they are—fully privatized and completely controlled by cartels—two-wheelers have become dependable mode of conveyance. At an interaction with journalists of the region, there are as many motorcycles in the parking lot as participants in the meeting hall.
The gender balance among participants is not too bad, though even that is well below fifty-fifty. However, a lone Dalit, only a few Janjatis and the token Madheshi in the assembly show that the issue of inclusion in the media is as relevant in other towns of the country as in the capital city. The implication of community composition among journalists is impossible to miss: The media in Butwal appears completely in the grips of the UML. The party dominates what is claimed to be the first community television station of the country and most local FM stations. So seems to be the realm of politics. Once a Nepali Congress stronghold, the town has become a UML bastion. That may change with the loyalty of Janjati leaders, but shopkeepers and newspaper venders alike aver that UML continues to be unassailable at the moment.
Apart from being a transportation hub, Butwal is also an important educational centre where students from neighboring districts in the hills congregate to pursue post-school studies. Commercialization of education has depoliticized student community to an unbelievable extent. Natural inclination of those who pay through their nose for private education tends to veer towards the status quo. Instead of fiery slogans, posters bear Lok Dohori competition announcements and the town is agog with the news of a TV shoot for a program modeled after Indian Idol. A local science teacher of several private institutions joked at a roadside teashop: Why upset the applecart when you wish to benefit from its service? That begs another question: Who exactly benefits from the applecart named bourgeoisie?
Prior to 1990s, the royalist regime had co-opted the dominant section of society. They were absorbed in the system of patronage of what was back then the nomenklatura of proto-Maoism called Panchayat. Democracy was desirable for its own sake for some independent academics, mid-career professionals and esoteric entrepreneurs. They professed to be democrats and were sympathetic towards Nepali Congress. Then there were ambitious individuals from rural background, the urban literati and the petty bourgeois who claimed to be progressives and dreamt of establishing dictatorship of the proletariat someday. Despite their radical sounding agenda, democrats and progressives stood firmly at the centre even as the extreme right and the ‘revolutionary’ left—analogous to the contemporary politics of Kamal Thapa and Mohan Baidya—often worked in tandem to undermine the middle-ground.
Democrats of yore have since aged and lost their faith in the sanctity of the electoral process. Prosperity rather than participation is their new agenda. Progressives of yesteryears too have matured after sipping the elixir of political power. They no longer talk about emancipation of the downtrodden. Their fervor for the empowerment of the dispossessed has dampened if not died altogether. The centre—of the left and the right alike—vacated the middle-ground after 1990s and politics since then has continued to swing between extremes like a pendulum. No wonder, the relief of the middleclass was audible when the Constituent Assembly embraced death in order to comply with directives of the court.
Concerns of the literati in Butwal are no different from interests of the comfortable classes in Kathmandu or the intelligentsia anywhere else for that matter. Fed up with the shenanigans of politicos in the capital city, the comfortable class is looking towards post-CA scenario with a mixture of apprehension, anxiety, and anticipation. There is a visible unease with the Maoist-Madheshbadi coalition in government. The middleclass is worried that a government accountable to no one and opposition parties with no agenda whatsoever other than negotiating to get some share in the spoils of office may conspire together to extend the period of political fluidity for as long as possible without holding any elections. However, the dominant mood is that of anticipation tinged with a perceptible sense of excitement. Faith in institutions of the Permanent Establishment has strengthened and their hopes now lie with the judiciary.
In Marxist formulation, bourgeois refers to the class of capitalists who own most of society’s wealth and means of production. This property-owning class uses the state and its instruments to maximize profits through a combination of persuasion, manipulation and exploitation. Revolution is the only way of emancipation for the working classes in Marxist, Leninist and Maoist imagination. In the face of communist threats, the bourgeois often clamor for militarization of the state. After the ‘mainstreaming’ of Maoists through electoral politics, nobody other than rabid rightists foresees resumption of armed conflicts anytime soon.
Conformity to the standards and conventions of society defines the bourgeois in political terms. They wish for change and attempt to resist it at the same time. Unsure of what they want, the conservatives in traditional societies yearn for a savior who would not only tell them what to do but also lead them towards a more stable and predictable way of life. Peaceful protests—demonstrations, opposition rallies, sit-ins and candlelight marches—are their preferred means of seeking change. However, few appear to have any appetite for prolonged demonstrations, let alone another Janandolan, at this juncture.
The distinctive spelling of the bourgeoisie refers to its origins to pre-revolutionary France when lawyers and accountants working for the aristocracy, clergy and monarchy considered themselves to be a class apart in appearance, mannerism and taste. Epitome of refinement, the professionals—the cohort now includes doctors, engineers, journalists and a section of the intelligentsia that styles itself as ‘social entrepreneurs’—consider plebeians, priests, politicos and princes equally contemptible. They fear uprisings, loathe sermons, distrust politics in any form and are wary of coups because these are all messy ways of bringing about socio-political changes. Even a revolution has to be delivered to them in neat packaging. The God of the bourgeoisie wields a gavel and it passes judgments that change the course of history according to the ‘will of the informed public’ rather than the rabble-rousers and agitated people out in the streets.
Politics through judicial processes has been refined to an art form in Pakistan. Way back in the fifties, its courts set standards for political use of the Doctrine of Necessity. No judge has ever shown the courage to delegitimize a military dictator. However, on June 19, 2012, Pakistan’s courts not only disqualified Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani from his membership of Parliament and barred him from contesting elections for five years but also issued an arrest warrant against his most likely successor.
Utterly fed up with the politicos at the center, the comfortable class looks at post-CA scenario with a mixture of apprehension, anxiety and anticipation.
“The judicialization of politics—the reliance on courts and judicial means for addressing core moral predicaments, public policy questions, and political controversies—is arguably one of the most significant phenomena of late twentieth and early twenty-first century government,” writes Ran Hirschl of University of Toronto. Coup by the judiciary set the stage for regressive politics in Egypt recently.
Speculations are rife in knowledgeable circles: What would the courts do if President Rambaran Yadav were to use, on the recommendation of the council of ministers, his authority of removing difficulties arising out of inadequacy of constitutional provisions? The bourgeoisie seems to be under an impression that the Supreme Court can declare any unpalatable political decision as unconstitutional. After all, nowhere in the interim constitution it was written that the learned judges had the legal and moral authority to direct the government to go for plebiscite or fresh elections. The bourgeoisie awaits its next directive.