The semi-colonial feeling stems from deep-seated insecurity


Nepal’s sovereignty is regularly questioned by those on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. Intellectuals often point to various points in history where Nepali politics and society has been the “victim of external influence”. To shed light on the issue of sovereignty, colonialism and imperialism, Jhalak Subedi, Chairperson of the Nepal South Asia Centre and Editor of Mulyankan, an opinion-based weekly magazine, spoke to the Post’s Bidushi Dhungel. Subedi attributes a lot of the current fear about India’s role in Nepal to the imagination. The author of British Samrajyaka Nepali Mohara—Gorkha Bhartiko NaliBeli, Subedi also spoke about why he’s against the age-old “colonial” Gorkha recruitment.

As someone who’s written a book on the history of Gorkha recruitment, what are your thoughts on whether it should be stopped, as suggested by a committee in the dissolved parliament?

I think it should be stopped immediately. A plan to slowly phase it out over the next five years or so would also be alright. But either way, it needs to

stop. The way I see it, the idea of a citizen of one sovereign state fighting for the sovereignty of another state is contradictory and cannot continue. You may have heard about two Nepali Gorkhas dying in Afghanistan just a few days ago. Wherever there’s a war happening, it’s as though Nepalis have to be there to take the bullet for the sake of another country’s sovereignty. This has been the norm since colonial times.

Today, there are millions of Nepalis who work abroad in various countries, some even in the security sector, who lose their lives on a daily basis. How is that any different?

Gorkha recruitment is about joining a state’s security force, being loyal to that state and its identity. For example, if a Nepali citizen enrolls in the Indian Army, and he’s deployed to Pakistan or Sri Lanka to fight Tamils or to Bangladesh or to fight against China, that type of “work” is very different from someone going to the Gulf and being a security guard at a shopping mall. The latter doesn’t affect the worker’s loyalty to his country. The idea of migrant workers going and working abroad is an effect of gloablised capitalism. And though they may feel humiliated, be exploited and in many cases, may die, it’s not the same as all-out working for another state’s national security. Migrant workers abroad is a part of globalisation, which also has, to an extent, weakened the boundaries of sovereignty. It’s a matter of labour and capitalism.

How exactly is Gurkha recruitment different from the relationship between labour and capitalism?

The British India Company intervened in Nepal and there was a war. Nepal lost. The recruitment drive thus began as a means to enroll the losing

state’s citizens into the winning state’s army at extremely cheap rates. For almost free, the British began enrolling Nepalis in their army to work for the former’s benefit. It’s a condition that the winning state enforced on the losing one. That’s why it’s different and should be stopped.

Relatively speaking, Gurkhas make a lot more money than the average Nepali. Considering that the Nepali state has few employment options to offer them, don’t you think there’s an economic incentive?

Right now, only about 100 people are selected through the recruitment drive each year. Considering that thousands of 20-plus Nepali citizens are working abroad anyway, there’s no need to think the economy will take a hit because 100 people aren’t in a foreign army. However, the security felt by the individuals who enroll is very real. Those that work for the Indian or British armies do tend to feel financially secure in their personal lives. But it’s not a good culture—it’s something that has been a burden on our blood for over 200 years.

If you talk to the people, they are hardly ever satisfied by the actual work itself. They may be happy with the money and the name they get in society and it’s even easy for them to woo women and choose a wife, but rarely do they take pride in the work itself.

So you see the recruitment drive as a remnant of colonialism?

Precisely. It shows that we still haven’t completely freed ourselves from the chains of colonialism.

On the topic of colonialism, some time ago, the PM of the country called Nepal semi-colonial. Do you agree?

When colonialism ended, if various kinds of economic dependency and the unfair distribution of natural resources—such that one country benefits largely and another doesn’t—continues, then we called it neo-colonialism.  But today, the meanings and understandings of colonialism, neo-colonialism or imperialism have changed. Looking at their definitions word for word in today’s context, in attempting to see if Nepal is semi-colonial, would probably yield the wrong answer.

Perhaps it stems from the perception of external interference in internal matters.

Regardless of how much external interference there is, how many meetings politicians have in their homes with foreign officials, and how much we talk about India’s role in shaping Nepali politics and society, Nepal is far more sovereign than it was in 1950. The ability of the Nepali state to make its own decisions is increasing. When we talk about neo-colonialism, most people see it as linked to India, particularly Nepal’s communists. This is based on the idea that economically, almost 68 percent of foreign trade is with India, and that socially, politically and in terms of power exertion, India’s influence is rather high. Due to this, the communists in Nepal have the psychology that indeed Nepal is semi-colonial. But if you ask me, I don’t think we can say Nepal is semi-colonial because our national strength, as a people, to gauge and fight imperialist activities, is stronger than it has ever been.

How is Nepal stronger?

For example, Prithvi Naryan Shah built Nepal and at that time, Nepal was strong. After his demise, when Rana Bahadur Shah came to Banaras, an agreement made by Damodar Basnet and company with India to stop Shah from returning almost turned Nepal into a satellite country. But Rana Bahadur Shah came back and with the Sugauli Treaty, the same happened—we compromised our integrity. After the Sugauli treaty, Bhimsen Thapa played a two-faced game whereby to keep his soldiers going, he used the rhetoric of nationalism, while simultaneously continuing to pay the British some kind of service. And it got worse with Jung Bahadur Rana. That’s the tradition from whence we came.

Today, when Rakesh Sood or Jayant Prasad has a chat with our political leaders, or SD Muni says a few things, we should know that it’s nothing like it was before. The feeling that we are still semi-colonial stems from a deep-seated insecurity by virtue of being the smaller country. It’s a useless sense of insecurity that sees India as being the reason for all wrongs. It is also used to feed a politics that thrives on that insecurity.

What about indirect influence as a result of globalisation and political, social and cultural hegemony?

When we talk about semi-colonialism, it doesn’t encompass that which you are talking about. What you’ve mentioned is the result of globalisation and global capitalism. It encompasses the globalisation of things like Coke, jeans, digital TV and so forth. What this kind of influence has done is make us question our own identity and where our culture is headed. This has also raised fears about the very existence of our way of life. On one level it’s very real and on another, a lot of it is in our head. The fear is unfounded mostly because whoever has power and wealth, the tendency of all people to follow their value system and culture is common throughout human history. But, of course, the Westernisation of our society cannot be denied.

If capitalism is very much a part of Nepali economy and society, then what has Nepal’s left achieved so far and what is their struggle for the future?

The struggle for democracy in Nepal started with socialists like BP Koirala. By the time 1990 came, all-out communists were also very much a part of the movement for democracy. In Nepal, both communists and capitalists alike focussed all their energies on overthrowing the feudal structure to move towards capitalism straight from the beginning. So capitalism is the result of a joint struggle by communists and non-communists alike.

The communist struggle in Nepal has been the same as the capitalist?

In other countries, communists have overthrown feudalism to put in place a communist or socialist society, but in Nepal, communists have always aimed for capitalism. Nepali communists have made some “communist” contributions—for example, strengthening the trade unions. But aside from that, Nepali society has been in the process of modernisation propelled by both by communists and capitalists alike.  The only difference between the parties that are communist and non-communists is about the creation of a welfare system. I wanted to write on the differences and how the communists wanted to do something that the NC wouldn’t let them, but I realised that there was nothing different between them.

Posted on: 2012-11-05 08:41