Although infused with a very subjective point of view, Prashant Jha’s Battles of the New Republic, manages to back up its arguments with well-researched facts and reasoning
What Prashant Jha offers us with his recently released Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal is a very lucid, living and logical document that expertly intertwines the personal and the political in chronicling Nepal’s trajectory over the last 20 years. The book traces the journey of a budding scholar of politics, laying bare his analysis of one of the country’s biggest transformations: that from a monarchy to a republic. Although certainly infused with a very subjective point of view, Battles of the New Republic presents meticulously researched facts and reasoning, straddling with ease the line between opinion and reportage.
Jha’s book encompasses the stories behind the People’s Movement, the People’s War and the Madhes Movement, which had helped usher in democracy, republicanism and federalism in the country, bringing us to a point in time where we find ourselves part of a democracy that is not just formal but inclusive; a republic that is secular; and in the process of aligning with not just any form of federalism but federalism with identity. The book has been divided into four parts: Politics of gradual revolution, politics of partial sovereignty, politics of inclusive nationalism and politics of shanti-sambidhan. It might seem like a tall order, attempting to encapsulate such vast and complex themes in the span of a single book, but Jha proves more than up to the task.
The first chapter begins by describing how pressure from the Maoists and other political forces and civil society organisations, among others, had forced Gyanendra to announce his own abdication.
Here, the author describes the dynamics of war and peace that brought an end to the monarchy in Nepal, turning the palace into the museum that we see today.
The next chapter delves into the impact of India’s influence—at both macro and micro levels—in developments within Nepali politics. The sacking of General Rukmangad Katawal, the chief of the Nepal Army, by the Maoist government and the subsequent backing he received from India to break off the dismissal is one such example, and makes for a very interesting read. Jha analyses the dilemma faced by our neighbour when it comes to how far it should intervene in Nepal’s affairs, such as in the case of the Maoists—unsure whether to engage or isolate them. There are also visible contradictions in its dealings with Nepal; it might, for instance, support the open border between the two countries, but it’s also extremely concerned about the security issues generated by the same. It’s as SD Muni, an Indian scholar on South Asia, once said to me: The relationship between India and Nepal is simply “too close to be comfortable”.
In the third portion of the book, Jha lays bare the rise of and challenges within the Madhes movement, and the love-hate connection between Maoist and Madhesi forces. The movement had succeeded in introducing federalism to Nepal, but there is still much to iron out in the days to come, namely determining how many provinces are to be carved out and their nomenclature.
The last section of Battles of the New Republic—Politics of Shanti-Sambidhan—examines the difficulties of the army integration, the plight of the People’s Liberation Army, their lives and struggles, their loss of identity, the growing gap between the PLA and the Maoist leadership, and the strained dynamics between the Nepal Army and the PLA that the integration period induced. It is also in this section that the author examines how the first Constituent Assembly was dissolved and how the second one rose in its wake.
Jha, who’d studied at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, demonstrates a keen analytical eye throughout the text, particularly when focusing on the rise and eventual decline of the Maoists and Madhesis. His book is essentially a careful, thoughtfully constructed look into the contradictions and communions that define the political realm, at the many give-and-takes that are part of negotiations between the players, and at the various agents of change playing a role in shaping Nepal’s present and future.
Although there is certainly a great deal of historical fact, journalistic research and information gleaned from interviews with many key figures here, it is at heart a deeply personal account, of a young journalist who has struggled with his own identity as a Madhesi, whether it be in the gallis of Kathmandu where he was deemed an Indian, or in Delhi where he was questioned about his Nepali background. Through his eyes, we’re given a very moving glimpse into the Madhes Movement, the quest for dignity that set it off and the social and political changes it brought about.
Although Jha does dwell extensively on the limitations of present-day polity, namely divisions between parties, selfishness amid leaders, corruption, and the rise of conservatives; he is quick to point out the dream has still not died. He pins his hopes on the efficacy of the second CA to do what the first couldn’t, and deliver positive change. He warns that few countries get a second chance, and that it’s an opportunity we shouldn’t squander, rightly pointing out that managing political change is always more difficult than the act of bringing it about, but that it must be done. No one knows this better than the Maoists, who are grappling to come to terms with a peace that oftentimes seems more complex than war.
Jha has stressed in interviews that Battles of the New Republic shouldn’t be considered a definitive record of the era in Nepali politics that it unveils, and that he is only looking to “expand the conversation” about Nepal and demystify high politics—which he certainly succeeds in doing here. The book would make for an engaging read for leaders, journalists, students of politics and indeed anyone interested in comprehensive and insightful observations about a country in transition.
Yami is a Central Committee member of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). She may be contacted at [email protected]