Man Mohan Adhikari, Nepal’s "democratic communist" died on 26 April 1999, after collapsing during his campaign as the prime ministerial candidate for the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist). Adhikari, like the late B.P. Koirala, prime minister of Nepal, 1959-60, had fought for Indian independence from the British and had been jailed for his efforts. Later, he stood up against his country's autocratic Panchayat monarchy with quiet self-assurance, and helped bring the communists into mainstream politics after the transition to democracy in 1990, becoming in the process the world's first elected communist prime minister. This was in the post-Soviet Union days when the communists were already being regarded as political dinosaurs. The world may not have noticed, but Nepal and South Asia have lost a democrat and a communist.
The decline and fading out of this generation highlight the predicament of the Left in many countries of South Asia, in particular Nepal, India and Sri Lanka, and to an extent in Bangladesh. The Left, especially from the Marxist spectrum, has always enjoyed a high intellectual and moral stature in these countries. It influenced the ideological formation of large, often dominant, sections of the liberal intelligentsia. It attracted the best and the brightest among students and the youth until the 1970s. And its general standing in society and politics has been far in excess of its share of the vote, of the order of 7 to 12 percent of the overall.
It is this, and its leaders’ dedication, their high personal integrity, and reputation for incorruptibility, that ensured that the South Asian Left would not get marginalised following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of the statist model of socialism, as happened in many other parts of the world. In these countries, the Left has stagnated or declined, although relatively slowly over the past decade or so. However, there are indications that this present phase may not last long and parts of the Left could be entering a critical downward phase.
In Nepal, the phenomenon has taken the form of splits in the communist parties and the emergence of a remarkably violent Maoist faction. In Sri Lanka, the once-very- powerful Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) first split, and then saw its base steadily erode, and its cadres leave—to the point where it was left with only four members of parliament (MPs), and reduced to a small group within the ruling People’s Alliance (PA). In April, its most charismatic leader, Vasudevan Nanayakkara, quit the PA to join the opposition in protest against the PA’s conservative policies and its failure to honour its own promises. More important, the LSSP’s trade union base has shrunk significantly. The Communist Party too has been reduced to a small, single-MP, rump. In Bangladesh, the Left suffered repression under right-wing regimes, and democra-tisation has not led to its rapid growth.
In India, the recent political crisis, which precipitated the fall of the BJP-led right-wing government and led to the announcement of fresh elections, saw the Left lose some of its shine. Cracks developed in the unity of the Left Front for the first time in over a decade. The Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Communist Part of India got deeply involved in moves to garner votes against the Vajpayee government from unreliable, amorphous quasi-centrist parties and leaders. They favoured the replacement of the Vajpayee government by a Congress-only minority government, but the smaller parties in the Front, the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Forward Bloc, rejected the move, advocating ‘equidistance’ from the BJP and the Congress. The central issue here was how to strike a balance between short-term tactical considerations of keeping Hindu-communal forces at bay, and the larger, longer-term, agenda of the Left. Overemphasis on the first would alienate the Left’s own cadres and eventually lead to its eclipse. Expedient tactical alliances with unreliable centrist forces have already cost the CPI dearly. Its membership decreased by a fourth or more in a decade, especially in the North. Its trade union wing has long stagnated. And its parliamentary representation, once as high as 30-plus, has fallen to single-digit levels.
The communist parties in South Asia have been called upon to respond in recent years to new phenomena such as the growing self-assertion of the ‘low’ castes, the steady rise of ethno-chauvinist and communal influences among the elite, and a neo-liberal economic policy offensive by aggressive industrial and finance capital. Unless the Left thinks up creative responses to these challenges, projects coherent alternative radical policies, and regains its influence in the intelligentsia, it will find it hard to resist its decline and marginalisation. It still has not lost its Sintellectual and moral capital, but it is only dipping into it, no longer renewing it.
And yet, South Asia will be the poorer without a healthy Left which has often set impressive records of good governance, and which reminds policy-makers of the unaddressed agendas of justice and equity in these super-hierarchical, extremely unequal and poor societies.
Man Mohan Adhikari may not be a household name in South Asia beyond Nepal, but what he represented was something worthy, and hopefully a new crop of visionary left leaders will arise, in Nepal and elsewhere, to carry on his work. Bhutan.net
Better late than never. Bhutan has finally lifted its ban on television and the Internet. On 2 June, the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) begins its television network, while Druknet goes online. The date marks the 25th anniversary of King Jigme Singye Wangchuk’s coronation.
But the ban on satellite dishes—more flouted than followed—will remain, says the state-run Kuensel weekly. In an editorial, the paper said the arrival of a national television channel would mean that the satellite dishes dotting the Thimphu skyscape would be a thing of the past: "Once Bhutan is able to telecast national programmes and selected international programmes the cumbersome and expensive dish antennae become unnecessary. Hopefully, they will even disappear."
These antennae, many of them "old" ones being dumped on Thimphu from India’s Gangtok and Darjeeling, "are a grating contrast to the important national policy of maintaining the traditional look of our houses and towns", wrote Kuensel.
The television service, initially only available for Thimphu, will be featuring programmes both in Dzongkha (the Bhutanese national language) and English. There is no reference in the announcement to Nepali, spoken by a significant portion of Bhutanese. "Ours will be a public service television channel that will complement the radio, the print media and the Internet by providing information, education and entertainment and by being a catalyst in the task of nation-building," said a BBS spokesman.
The Internet service, meanwhile, is being touted as the "most advanced and most reliable" of its kind in South Asia, although it is not clear how the claim is being made given that service has yet to start. Druknet, a unit of the Division of Telecommunications, will be the Internet service provider (ISP), and will be satellite-linked.
Already, concerns are being raised about obscenity on the Net. The government has adopted some Internet codes of conduct, while it will also be promoting ‘netiquette’. Since total regulation of contents is impossible, Kuensel says the Ministry of Communication will go about it with a "light-touch approach".
Welcome to the web, Bhutan, and may free access to the world of information help in your task of "nation-building".
The archive: 25 years of Southasia
Image: Penguin India
Penguin India withdraws The Hindus
On 11 February 2014, Penguin India decided to recall and destroy all remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History. The decision was part of an agreement between them and Shiksha Bachao Andolan, a Hindu campaign group that filed a case against the publishers in 2010, arguing that the book was insulting to Hindus and contained “heresies”.
From our archive:
Diwas Kc reviews The Hindus: An Alternative History. (March 2010)