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WSF In Nepal

True Face of Nepal’s Communist Rulers

Lok Bhattarai

The dilemma in Nepal lies in the juxtaposition of its present government, led by former Maoist rebels who once championed the abolition of individual property and the establishment of a communist state, with their lack of interest, formal support, and participation in the World Social Forum (WSF). Despite their ideological roots, the ruling party’s absence in any form of this global event raises questions about their commitment to grassroots activism and international solidarity.

The further dilemma in Nepal arises from the Nepali Congress, the oldest democratic party in the country, which was a key partner in the coalition government when the WSF was held in Nepal and has formal commitments to socialism and social justice. Despite being a member of the Socialist International, the Nepali Congress showed no signs of support for the World Social Forum, raising questions about its alignment with global movements for social change and justice

In the broader context of neoliberalism promoted by institutions like the World Bank and multinational corporations, the world continues to grapple with profound social inequality, pervasive poverty, and widespread hunger The consequences of neoliberalism are stark, exacerbating existing inequalities and leaving millions marginalized, while a select few accrue immense wealth and power at the expense of human rights and the environment.

WSF emerged in the early 2000s as a response to the growing discontent with the neoliberal policies promoted by institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The WSF provided a platform for grassroots organisations, activists, and social movements to come together and challenge the dominance of corporate globalisation. Brazil played a crucial role in the foundational stages of the WSF, hosting its inaugural meeting in Porto Alegre in 2001. Brazilian activists and intellectuals, inspired by the country’s rich tradition of social movements and popular mobilisation, spearheaded efforts to organise the forum. Their commitment to social justice and participatory democracy laid the groundwork for the WSF’s evolution into a global phenomenon, hosting annual gatherings that continue to galvanize movements for a more just and equitable world.

The World Social Forum stands as a counterforce to the World Economic Forum and the capitalist worldview it represents. Founded in 2001, the WSF serves as a beacon of resistance, offering an alternative space for grassroots movements, activists, and civil society organizations to converge. Unlike traditional political organizations, the WSF remains a decentralized and open platform, devoid of formal authority or hierarchy. It serves as a forum for sharing experiences, ideas, and strategies, showcasing diverse resistance movements from around the globe. Despite its immense influence, the WSF refrains from transforming into a political entity or advocating for specific actions, instead prioritizing dialogue, collaboration, and solidarity in the pursuit of social justice and systemic change.

WSF Charter explicitly prohibits the involvement of political parties, reflecting its commitment to grassroots activism and inclusive dialogue. However, this stance has led to dilemmas when addressing complex issues such as territorial conflicts between environmental protection and economic development projects that promise local employment. Balancing local needs with global issues poses another challenge, as prioritising one may inadvertently neglect the other. Additionally, smaller localized resistance movements face hurdles in transforming into global movements due to limited resources, coordination difficulties, and differing priorities. Despite these dilemmas, the WSF remains dedicated to fostering solidarity and collaboration among diverse movements, navigating tensions through inclusive discussions and collective action. By amplifying the voices of marginalised communities and promoting cross-border solidarity, the WSF continues to drive forward the struggle for social justice on a global scale.

Gathering thousands of people in one city for the WSF poses significant logistical and financial challenges each year. Ensuring meaningful, impact-driven discussions amidst such large gatherings is hindered by the prevalence of traditional talk programs where presenters speak without or less engaging participants. Moreover, many sessions are structured like classroom settings, leading to limited participation and engagement. Overcoming these challenges requires innovative approaches to facilitate dynamic dialogue, foster active participation, and prioritize the diverse voices and experiences of attendees. Efforts to break away from traditional models and create inclusive, interactive spaces are essential for maximizing the WSF’s potential as a catalyst for social change.

Language diversity poses a significant challenge at the WSF, where participants come from diverse linguistic backgrounds. This creates barriers to effective communication and meaningful engagement, particularly as hierarchical dynamics often privilege those fluent in dominant languages or occupying senior roles in international organisations or academic institutions. Grassroots activists and marginalized communities, often lacking fluency in these languages or formal education, may find themselves marginalized within discussions and decision-making processes. Overcoming language barriers and challenging hierarchical structures is essential to ensure inclusive participation and amplify the voices of all attendees at the WSF.

The decision to host the WSF in Nepal at the beginning of 2024 raised questions about the rationale behind selecting a country with a lack of locally originated resistance movements. Nepal’s socio-political landscape, dominated by international aid-driven initiatives and limited grassroots activism, stood in contrast to the WSF’s ethos of grassroots mobilization and autonomous social movements. The choice highlighted the disconnect between global aspirations for social justice and the reality of Nepal’s dependency on Western-funded NGOs for social change initiatives. Hosting the WSF in Nepal underscored the need to address systemic barriers to grassroots organising and foster indigenous-led movements for meaningful social transformation.

Similarly, a lack of interest from national media outlets in Nepal resulted in minimal public participation and engagement in the WSF, undermining its potential impact. This apathy reflects a broader scepticism among Nepali citizens towards activities promoted by the NGO sector, viewing them as driven solely by funding from wealthy Western donors.

The World Social Forum presented a golden opportunity for the prime minister and Communist leader to reaffirm their commitment to their original agenda and the principles of the former rebel party. With a platform emphasising opposition to multinational corporations, participation in the WSF could have showcased their dedication to grassroots activism and global solidarity. By aligning with the values promoted at the forum, the prime minister could have demonstrated leadership in advancing social justice and challenging neoliberalism, thereby strengthening their legitimacy and support among their base. Amidst participants sharing global resistance experiences in Kathmandu, a paradox emerged as the prime minister and his government prioritised inviting celebrities like Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg to a Nepal investment summit. This contrast underscores a disconnect between grassroots activism and government priorities, highlighting divergent paths in addressing social justice issues versus courting international investment, presenting a poignant reflection on the complexities of Nepal’s socio-political landscape.

The World Social Forum in Nepal represented a lost opportunity in a country grappling with increasing inequality, international debt, and systemic corruption. Dr.LokBhattarai is academics and has been a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Education in London and involved in global activism for equality and social justice.

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Frontier
Vol 57, No. 1, Jun 30 - Jul 6, 2024