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The fault in Rabindra Mishra

Originally Published on recordnepal | Rabindra Mishra is an affable man. He is articulate and empathetic, but most of all, he is optimistic. In fact, when I spoke to him in November 2019, he claimed his party — initially Sajha Party, now Bibeksheel Sajha Party — would become the largest party in the country in the next federal elections. For a party that had yet to win a single seat at the federal level, that was — and is — a tall claim.

We spoke about many things but particularly about the possibility of ‘alternative politics’ in Nepal, as in an alternative to the mainstream Congress, UML, and Maoist parties. Mishra has consistently cast himself and his party as the alternative the country needs. I had asked him then about Baburam Bhattarai, former prime minister and former Maoist, who had also opened up a new party called Naya Shakti, quite literally ‘New Force’, on ambitions similar to Mishra’s. He had this to say about Bhattarai:

“Baburam ji is old wine in a new bottle. There is nothing new or alternative about him. We are the only real alternative for the people.”

So it is ironic that Mishra’s statements over the past week have been emblematic of the same criticism he leveled at Bhattarai — old wine in a new bottle. Mishra has come out swinging against federalism, advocating instead for a restructuring of the state, and in favor of a referendum to be held about Nepal’s secularism. He’s put up a document on his website, titled ‘Abolition of Federalism by Restructuring and Strengthening Local Bodies / Referendum on Secularism’. The document is subtitled ‘presented for discussion and debate’ as Mishra has taken pains to state that his new political stance is his own and does not reflect the standing of the Bibeksheel Sajha party.

In the opening section of the document, Mishra writes:

Immediately upon reading the title of this document, I am sure one section of the society will hit me back hard with numerous epithets: regressive, reactionary, feudal, rightist, anti-people and so on. They will also throw accusations that I do not understand progress, do not embrace change, I am politically naïve, do not understand Nepali society and its structural problems, and I wish to fish in troubled waters etc. There will also be others who will claim that a hypocrite has been unmasked. They will also share “I told you so” phrases etc.

Before throwing these words and phrases, I appeal to you to at least read this document once, which has been prepared by exercising the rights gifted by democracy and the Constitution of Nepal 2015, and where I have presented my opinion peacefully and with the commitment to abide by the same constitution. I will, of course, respect the fair criticisms that will follow thereafter.

So in the spirit of freedom of speech and respecting Mishra’s entreaty to not call him names before reading the document, I would like to offer some criticism without calling him a regressive, reactionary, feudal, rightist, anti-people, or a hypocrite.

Many of the issues that Mishra points out are fair criticisms of federalism. His primary points of contention are four — corruption at the local level; additional financial burdens on the state; threats to territorial integrity; and the erosion of state institutions.

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