THE HINDU EDITORIAL : NOVEMBER 22, 2017
a) Himalayan upgrade
Elections on November 26 and December 7 in Nepal mark a historic moment in its tumultuous transition from a 240-year-old monarchy to a multi-party democracy. The first general election to be held under the 2015 Constitution, it is also the first time that federal Nepal will elect seven provincial assemblies. Parliament and the provincial assemblies will in turn elect a new president and vice president. Coming after the elections to the 753 local bodies (municipalities, sub-municipalities and village development committees) held earlier this year after a 20-year gap, these will complete the political process and go a long way in consolidating hard-won democratic gains.
Beginnings of political change
Political transition towards multiparty democracy began with the Constitution of 1990, an outcome of the first Janandolan, which introduced constitutional limits on the powers of the monarchy. After a brief period of three years, the monarchy successfully reasserted itself largely due to the squabbling among political leaders and manipulations by the Palace, leading to frequent changes of government. The current Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, who took charge in June, is the 25th Prime Minister in the last 27 years. A Maoist insurgency erupted in the mid-1990s which lasted a decade and claimed nearly 15,000 casualties. Eventually, in 2005, the political parties and the Maoist leaders signed an accord which laid the foundations for a more formal agreement under which the Maoists came over ground and joined mainstream politics. It was a difficult process, given the mistrust between the political parties and the Maoist leadership, with both sides resorting to frequent brinkmanship. Following elections in May 2008, a 601-member Constituent Assembly (CA) came into being with a two-year mandate to draft a new Constitution for a ‘federal republic’. The 240-year-old institution of the monarchy was abolished. Two new political forces emerged the Maoists with 229 seats in the CA and the Madhesi parties with 80 seats. Differences within the CA led to a stalemate. After 2010, the CA extended its life four times till, finally, the Supreme Court intervened and the CA lapsed in May 2012 without having completed its mandate. A major problem was that the Maoists had come to power too soon without having fully disarmed or demobilised. The first Maoist government, led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, quickly set about infiltrating other state institutions, particularly the Army. Eventually Mr. Prachanda’s coalition cracked and he resigned in May 2009. Political leaders were busy playing musical chairs instead of addressing Constitution drafting issues. In the process, the new political forces underwent a process of fragmentation. The Maoists split twice and the Madhesi parties also fragmented. Importantly, the process of rehabilitation of the demobilised Maoist militants was concluded, removing the threat of intimidation that had cast a shadow over the 2008 elections. Elections for a new CA were finally held in November 2013, with significantly different results. The Maoists were down to 81 seats and the Madhesis to 40; the older parties, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), emerged stronger with 201 and 175 seats, respectively. These two formed a coalition under NC leader Sushil Koirala on the understanding that the prime ministership would pass to UML leader K.P.S. Oli once a new Constitution was concluded. The devastating earthquake in 2015 which caused nearly 10,000 casualties and inflicted economic losses of over $7 billion on an economy still recovering from a decade-long Maoist insurgency compelled the political parties to rush through the long-delayed Constitution. One reason was that the international community which had collectively pledged $4.4 billion of reconstruction assistance made it clear that disbursements could only happen if local systems were in place so that the relief and rehabilitation funds were not be siphoned off. The hastily concluded Constitution enjoyed the support of the NC, UML and the Maoists but left the Madhesis and the Janjatis deeply unhappy. Mr. Oli was quick to claim the prime ministership in October 2015 but did little to pacify the protesters in the Terai. Nearly 50 lives were lost in the violence. Sympathetic to the Madhesi cause, India declared that unless peace was restored in the Terai, normal movement of goods across the border was not possible, leading to shortages of critical items such as petrol, diesel, liquefied petroleum gas and medical supplies. Instead of starting a dialogue with the Madhesis, Mr. Oli accused India of imposing an “economic blockade” and reverted to the age-old tactic of flirting with China to expand supply systems across the Tibetan plateau. Eventually, his coalition collapsed and Mr. Prachanda pulled back his support in order to join with the NC in July last year. After a tenure lasting 10 months during which he conducted the first phase of the local body elections, he handed over power to NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, who became the tenth Prime Minister in Nepal’s nine years as a republic.
Keeping on track
The new Constitution provides for a National Assembly of 160 directly elected members (first-past-the-post system) and an additional 110 through proportional representation (PR), making for a more manageable House compared to the earlier 601. Further, in order to gain a PR seat, a political party must have 3% of the national vote, which has forced smaller parties to consolidate. Once certain that the elections were on track, Mr. Prachanda announced a tie-up with the UML, creating a left alliance and extracting 63 out of 160 seats. If the Maoists — Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) —manage to win in 35, it will enable Mr. Prachanda to emerge as kingmaker, and he could well return to the NC, depending on the deal. The UML is hoping to ride the wave that propelled it to the top position in the local body elections earlier this year. The NC has managed alliances with the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) — a Madhesi grouping — as well as the two conservative factions of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), led by Kamal Thapa and Pashupati Rana. This is presented as the democratic front and if the NC manages 60 seats, it will have better prospects of cobbling together a coalition than the UML. Much will depend on how the Madhesi candidates fare in the Terai.
Retrieving lost ground
One of the important challenges for the new government will be to revive the constitutional amendment to address Madhesi grievances; Mr. Deuba had pushed it through in August but failed to muster the necessary two-thirds majority. Having realised that its overt support to the Madhesi cause in 2015 had hurt India-Nepal relations and was being exploited by the UML, India softened its position. For the last year, it has been urging the Madhesi leadership to work through the political process rather than through agitation or boycott of elections. The anti-India sentiment generated in 2015 was exploited by Mr. Oli in wooing China, which is interested in expanding its presence as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. The first ever visit by a Chinese Defence Minister, General Chang Wanquan, to Nepal took place earlier this year, followed by a joint military exercise. Two major hydel projects, West Seti and Budhi Gandaki, were awarded to Chinese companies though the latter was cancelled subsequently. China is exploring a rail link to Nepal as well as opening a new road link at Rasuwagadhi while expanding the existing Araniko highway. Once the new government takes charge in Kathmandu, it is likely that the new Prime Minister will visit India, perhaps in early 2018. A reciprocal visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, focussing on connectivity and project delivery, later in 2018 would help in reviving the positive sentiments generated by his first visit in 2014, and in keeping with the spirit of the ‘neighbourhood first’ policy.
b) Helter Skelter — On the legacy of Charles Manson
Charles Manson, convicted for the brutal 1969 murders of nine individuals in California, died a natural death last Sunday, at the age of 83. His passing however will not diminish the profound influence that he and the “Manson Family,” a quasi-commune comprising mostly of abused and broken young women, had on the popular culture of the 1960s, a troubled decade that witnessed an intensifying battle for civil rights, the peak of the anti-war movement, and the “counterculture” associated with hippies, drug abuse, and free love. Manson and his followers were regarded by some as symbols of the dark side of this counterculture movement. Their notoriety came in August 1969, when, acting upon Manson’s instructions four of his followers, three women and a man, entered a posh Hollywood Hills home and slaughtered a heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate – also the wife of film director Roman Polanski – and four of her friends. One of Manson’s followers, Susan Atkins, scrawled the word “pig” on the front door with the Ms. Tate’s blood, hinting at Manson’s paranoid delusions about fomenting a race war by framing African-Americans for this gruesome killing spree. Again, directed by Manson, his “family” went on to murder a wealthy couple in Los Angeles, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, the following day, and they separately killed a Hollywood stuntman and another acquaintance of the group. Although Manson was convicted of first-degree murder in 1971, he escaped capital punishment after California outlawed the death penalty a year later. Despite the depravity of Manson’s actions, his legacy has unfortunately been a contested notion. The fact that he achieved pop culture infamy through a variety of antics during his trial, and that this spawned an entire genre of “true crime” books and television movies, has muddied the recognition of the true horror of his outlook. Manson had a well-documented hatred of Jewish people, African-Americans and women. Rather than the liberal counterculture movement of the 1960s, his bigoted philosophy bears a disturbing resemblance in some respects with the far-right or alt-right brand of neo-fascism that has mushroomed in certain pockets of U.S. politics recently. Take Dylann Roof, for example, the white supremacist who also murdered, coincidentally, nine African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. He too spoke of “race war” and lapped up alt-right materials online, indulging in the very same apocalyptic race-ramblings that Manson did. Manson was also known for drawing inspiration from the Beatles song “Helter Skelter,” which he interpreted as a description of an impending a race war that his band of white heroes had to survive. This narrative of race hate is currently undergoing a renaissance of sorts in the U.S., and this has coincided with the vitriolic campaign and administrative tenor of President Donald Trump. Neo-Nazis such as Richard Spencer appear emboldened by Mr. Trump’s wink-and-nod approach. The legacy of Manson should serve, if anything, as a poignant reminder to liberal America that the pillars on which their pluralist democracy was built must never be taken for granted.
Meaning: Making an uproar or loud, confused noise.
Example: Tumultuous applause.
Synonyms: Loud, Thunderous
Meaning: Break out suddenly and dramatically.
Example: Fierce fighting erupted between the army and guerrillas.
Synonyms: Ensue, Arise
Meaning: A person killed or injured in a war or accident.
Example: The shelling caused thousands of civilian casualties.
Synonyms: Victim, Fatality
Meaning: The art or practice of pursuing a dangerous policy to the limits of safety before stopping, especially in politics.
Example: In any game of brinkmanship, it is possible that one side will collapse suddenly.
Meaning: Formally put an end to (a system, practice, or institution).
Example: The tax was abolished in 1977.
Synonyms: Eradicate, Stop
Antonyms: Retain, Create
Meaning: A situation in which further action or progress by opposing or competing parties seems impossible.
Example: The war had again reached stalemate.
Synonyms: Deadlock, Impasse
Meaning: A temporary alliance for combined action, especially of political parties forming a government.
Example: A coalition between Liberals and Conservatives.
Synonyms: Alliance, Union
Meaning: Experience or be subjected to (something, typically something unpleasant or arduous).
Example: He underwent a life-saving brain operation.
Synonyms: Experience, Undertake
Meaning: The action of intimidating someone, or the state of being intimidated.
Example: The intimidation of witnesses and jurors.
Synonyms: Frightening, Alarming
Meaning: Impose something unwelcome on.
Example: She is wrong to inflict her beliefs on everyone else.
Synonyms: Impose, Force
Meaning: The payment of money from a fund.
Example: They established a committee to supervise the disbursement of aid.
Synonyms: Payment, Disposal
Meaning: Reply or respond to someone.
Example: We texted both Farah and Shirish, but neither of them reverted.
Meaning: Dissension within an organization.
Example: A council increasingly split by faction.
Synonyms: Infighting, Dissent
Meaning: Assemble (troops), especially for inspection or in preparation for battle.
Example: 17,000 men had been mustered on Haldon Hill.
Synonyms: Assemble, Marshal
Meaning: A state of anxiety or nervous excitement.
Example: She was wringing her hands in agitation.
Synonyms: Anxiety, Disquiet
Antonyms: Calmness, Relaxation
Meaning: A punitive ban on relations with other bodies, cooperation with a policy, or the handling of goods.
Example: A boycott of the negotiations.
Synonyms: Ban, Embargo
Meaning: Seek the favour, support, or custom of.
Example: Pop stars are being wooed by film companies eager to sign them up.
Synonyms: Chase, Pursue
Meaning: Declare (someone) to be guilty of a criminal offence by the verdict of a jury or the decision of a judge in a court of law.
Example: Her former boyfriend was convicted of assaulting her.
Antonyms: Acquit, Clear
Meaning: Make or become less.
Example: The new law is expected to diminish the government’s chances.
Synonyms: Decrease, Decline
Meaning: (Of a state, quality, or emotion) very great or intense.
Example: Profound feelings of disquiet.
Synonyms: Intense, Keen
Meaning: Speak to (someone) in an insulting and offensive way.
Example: The referee was abused by players from both teams.
Synonyms: Insult, Curse
Antonyms: Compliment, Flatter
Meaning: A way of life and set of attitudes opposed to or at variance with the prevailing social norm.
Example: The idealists of the 60s counterculture.
Meaning: (Especially in the 1960s) a person of unconventional appearance, typically having long hair and wearing beads, associated with a subculture involving a rejection of conventional values and the taking of hallucinogenic drugs.
Synonyms: Nonconformist, Dropout
Meaning: Kill (people or animals) in a cruel or violent way, typically in large numbers.
Example: Innocent civilians are being slaughtered.
Synonyms: Massacre, Murder
Meaning: Write (something) in a hurried, careless way.
Example: Charlie scrawled his signature.
Synonyms: Scribble, Scratch
Meaning: Unreasonably or obsessively anxious, suspicious, or mistrustful.
Example: You think I’m paranoid but I tell you there is something going on.
Synonyms: Suspicious, Mistrustful
Meaning: An idiosyncratic belief or impression maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument, typically as a symptom of mental disorder.
Example: The delusion of being watched.
Synonyms: Misconstruction, Mistake
Meaning: Instigate or stir up (an undesirable or violent sentiment or course of action).
Example: They accused him of fomenting political unrest.
Synonyms: Instigate, Incite
Meaning: Causing repulsion or horror; grisly.
Example: The most gruesome murder.
Synonyms: Grisly, Ghastly
Meaning: A spell or sustained period of unrestrained activity of a particular kind.
Example: He went on a six-month crime spree.
Synonyms: Binge, Splurge
Meaning: Knowledge or experience of something.
Example: The pupils had little acquaintance with the language.
Synonyms: Familiarity, Contact
Meaning: Moral corruption; wickedness.
Example: A tale of depravity hard to credit.
Synonyms: Corruption, Deviance
Meaning: The state of being well known for some bad quality or deed.
Example: A day that will live in infamy.
Synonyms: Notoriety, Disrepute
Antonyms: Honour, Anonymity
Meaning: Produce or generate a large number of.
Example: The decade spawned a bewildering variety of books on the forces.
Synonyms: Occasion, Generate
Meaning: Make (something) hard or harder to understand.
Example: The first year’s results muddy rather than clarify the situation.
Synonyms: Obscure, Confuse
Meaning: Obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion, or faction, and intolerant towards other people’s beliefs and practices.
Example: A bigoted group of reactionaries.
Synonyms: Prejudiced, Biased
Antonyms: Tolerant, Liberal
Meaning: Momentous or catastrophic.
Example: The struggle between the two countries is assuming apocalyptic proportions.
Meaning: Filled with bitter criticism or malice.
Example: Vitriolic attacks on the politicians.
Synonyms: Acrimonious, Bitter
Antonyms: Pleasant, Kind
Meaning: Filled with bitter criticism or malice.
Example: Vitriolic attacks on the politicians.
Synonyms: Acrimonious, Rancorous
Antonyms: Pleasant, Kind
Meaning: Evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret.
Example: A poignant reminder of the passing of time.
Synonyms: Pitiful, Sorrowful
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