The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

US evangelists in Nepal

By Sandhya Jain

Former American President Jimmy Carter, a committed evangelist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, 2002, recently returned to Nepal to mediate between the Interim Government led by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the recalcitrant Maoists, who quit office two months ago to further their agenda through political blackmail. Shri Carter was ostensibly seeking a way out of the Himalayan kingdom’s political impasse, but at the end of a four-day trip presented proposals weighted against the regime and in favour of Comrade Prachanda.

Shri Carter’s visit comes in the wake of the UN Security Council’s decision to extend the tenure of the UN Political Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) by another six months, though the mission has been a singular failure so far. Early in November, the Indian Government was compelled to protest over four UN officials holding clandestine meetings with armed Maoist cliques on Indian soil after procuring visas on false pretexts.

It is learnt that in the month of September, officials from at least two UN agencies, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, visited Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district and held secret talks with the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha led by Terai leader Jay Krishna Goit, and the faction led by Jwala Singh.

When India learn of the meetings and objected, UNMIN tried to play them down. UNMIN chief Ian Martin, who is UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s special representative in Nepal, claimed the UN humanitarian officials’ visit was only to ensure that emergency food relief and other aid could be delivered in the wake of flooding. He said the talks were confined to humanitarian and not political issues. Yet it can hardly be denied that the intentional misrepresentation in the visa forms casts doubts about the integrity of the UN mission. Many in Nepal feel UNMIN has singularly failed to deliver on its mandate to manage the government, army and Maoist guerrillas, and observe elections. UNMIN wants to further enlarge its jurisdiction, but Nepalese sentiment is against it.

The UN fiasco was followed by news of the kidnapping-cum-murder of journalist Birendra Saha of Avenues Television Network by the Maoists. His death was confirmed a month after his murder by the Maoist leadership, which claimed it was done by their local unit without central endorsement. The remorseless killing of a journalist during the so-called peace process raises questions about Maoist credibility and sincerity.

It is in the backdrop of these events that Shri Carter arrived in Kathmandu and met Nepalese MPs and suggested that while the ultimate fate of the 238-year-old monarchy should be left to the deferred Constituent Assembly elections, the Interim Parliament should be allowed to declare Nepal a Republic. In other words, the former US President lent the unofficial weight of Washington to the Maoist demand to impose a Republic in advance of elections to the Constituent Assembly.

This suspicion is reinforced by the fact that when asked what would happen if elections showed that the majority of Nepalis favoured continuation of the monarchy, he said the ultimate right to draft the constitution deciding if Nepal would be a kingdom or a republic should vest with the Constituent Assembly! Of course, he could not explain his hurry to help the Maoists declare a Republic, and why they could not be advised to win the elections and then execute their agenda. It may, however, be pertinent that Shri Carter is a committed evangelist and about 30 per cent of the top Maoist leadership is known to be Christian. Indeed, the Vatican was quick to appoint a Bishop in Nepal following the growing turmoil in the once Hindu kingdom.

Perhaps realisation of evangelical pressure among poor and marginalised groups is changing the mood of the people in the country at large. During Vijayadashami (Dashain) celebrations in Kathmandu earlier in October, hundreds of students and families stood hungry in serpentine queues at Narayanhity royal palace for public darshan and traditional blessings from King Gyanendra and Queen Komal. The spontaneous show of public reverence for the endangered monarch came as a shock to Nepal’s ruling parties and Maoists.

The crowd included former ministers, members of the aristocracy, affluent businessmen, foreigners, tourists, orphans and sadhus. And though Prime Minister G.P. Koirala is now official head of state, he failed to attract the same response. The previous week, the King and Queen visited various temples of Kathmandu as virtual commoners, but were treated as royalty by deferential priests and loyal crowds. There is widespread belief that the absence of the King from temple festivities would be a bad omen.

The Carter Centre was invited by the Nepal government to observe that its election process was free and fair, and it is not known why Nepal needs such certification. The former US President is clearly playing politics in that country—and far from helping bring out the repeatedly deferred elections—is misusing his stature to press a certain agenda. Shri Carter’s insistence that all political parties overwhelmingly support a Republic is mischievous and negates his role as a neutral election observer.

Shri Carter has admitted that instead of returning lands seized during the conflict, the Maoists were seizing new lands. Yet he insisted on reform of the Nepal Army before the lands were returned, and pressed for integration and rehabilitation of Maoist fighters in the regular army. In other words, he sought to level the playing field for his co-religionists.

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