Sunday, January 08, 2017

Qualified Hope For Moral Incumbency

From the sheer timeline, it would appear that the judiciary was waiting for the executive to prove before the legislature its commitment to pull the country back from the precipice of impending calamity.
A three-person bench of the Supreme Court removed Lok Man Singh Karki as head of Nepal’s anti-corruption watchdog, allowing the legislature to bypass a motion to impeach the man.
Hours after the government tabled the Constitution amendment bill in Parliament, the top court ruled that Karki was not only unqualified for the position but also lacked the moral authority to assume it.
What was curious was the ease with which the government tabled the amendment bill in a legislature obstructed by an opposition alliance freshly enthused by its show of force on the streets.
It’s nice to see the system working in such tandem. But were the two events entirely fortuitous?
Lest we hear cries of conspiracy, let’s be clear. In nullifying Karki’s appointment, the judges ruled that he lacked requisite experience and moral character to head a constitutional body like the CIAA. In other words, the Court limited itself to the moment of Karki’s appointment. The impeachment process, on the other hand, comprised his tumultuous tenure.
The Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Maoists and MJF (D) unanimously backed Karki as the CIAA chief in 2013. Chairman of the Council of Ministers Khil Raj Regmi, also still chief justice, strongly backed his appointment, which President Ram Baran Yadav announced. All this happened despite protests within these very political parties and from civil society. The Supreme Court rejected a challenge.
After the latest verdict, Om Aryal who had filed the original challenge and returned with the current petition, exuded a sense of vindication. “The rule of law has been re-established,” he told a reporter. “[Karki’s] appointment was against good governance, and its cancellation is a big step towards good governance.”
Now Aryal wants all those who aided and abetted Karki’s appointment to apologize. Fat chance, if you ask Maila Baje. The political establishment thought he was qualified then, and that’s that. That the CIAA turned against the establishment, with Karki as a one-man wrecking ball, is a different matter. (And we’re not even talking about the ‘foreign hand’ that supposedly eased Karki’s path.)
If the system failed us, then, there’s always a remedy. When the Supreme Court in the world’s most powerful democracy can rewrite a controversial health care law and then rule it as constitutional, who’s to decry judicial activism, right?
Karki is probably mulling his options. He could contest the next election and redeem himself through the popular vote in the manner disgraced politicians do. He could come out with the ‘goods’ he says he has on key members of the establishment. (More likely, we might start seeing leaks in the press on supposed trade-offs, blandishments and considerations that underpinned key political decisions and events of recent years.)
But you have to ask whether the Supreme Court would have revisited the case if the tide hadn’t turned against Karki so dramatically. (Surely, impeachment, merely by incorporating new facts relating to Karki’s tenure, would have made more sense.)
Now we can retroactively revisit an appointee’s qualifications and moral standing for a job he has held for years. Sure, Karki may have been a scumbag. But how would our new judicial standard impinge on an establishment comprising the likes of mass murderers, executioners and spouses of hijackers, once the public mood were to shift?
Specifically, how much influence did that pesky doctor wield in all this by threatening to starve himself to death unless Karki was shown the door? And especially when the facts on the ground had not changed, at least for the purposes of the Supreme Court?
If institutions of state are seen to be reacting to those kinds of pressures, how much reassurance do we really have on more weighty matters looming on the horizon?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Outrage Of Ineptitude

“In what capacity do the Chinese keep meeting with former king Gyanendra Shah?”
That pointed question by Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi at a cabinet meeting last week encapsulated the collective mind-set of today’s rule class. Stress, anger, trauma, anxiety, fear and much more psychosomatic were strung therein.
From the text and timing, there was little doubt that Mr. Shah’s blistering statement the previous day was going to unleash a firestorm. By singling out the Chinese, Nidhi was probably conceding the deep cultural and religious ties the ex-king shares down south. More likely, our deputy premier and home minister was anxious not to get on the wrong side of New Delhi.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s cabinet did discuss Mr. Shah’s statement, wherein the ex-monarch had stated that social harmony among Nepalis was waning and efforts were being made to break the bonds of unity between the plains, the Hills and the mountains.
The people, the “supreme and permanent source of power,” were being undermined by political parties under the “unfair influence of outside forces,” the former king went on. “Words like revolutionary, pro-change and progressive” were being misused to defame nationalism and national pride. Ouch.
Our revolutionary-in-chief, Prime Minister Dahal, and his ideologically multi-hued colleagues struggled for a response. Eventually, they settled on Nidhi’s informal threat to reinvestigate the royal palace massacre of June 1, 2001. (So much for a supposedly forward-looking bunch!)
Truth be told, the cabinet was eight years late. Mr. Shah had exited the royal palace in 2008 daring the political class to prove his complicity in that tragedy. They chose to shut up. Particularly those “radicals” and “revolutionaries” who had profited politically by hurling those unfounded and scurrilous accusations during the so-called “people’s war”.)
Still, the ruling class was not going to let a crisis go to waste. If the Dahal government intended to use Mr. Shah’s statement to draw the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) away from the streets and into a broader “anti-regression” platform, it definitely missed the mark. Former prime minister and CPN-UML chairman K.P. Oli is doubling down on his demand that there be no more than five federal provinces, two fewer than already agreed upon.
In an extensive online interview, CPN-UML leader Subash Nemwang made repeated efforts to avoid criticizing the contents of the ex-king’s statement. Maoist leader Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, for his part, appeared to break from the collective outrage gripping Dahal’s party.
Deep down, the political class understands the corner it has painted itself into. The lionized protagonists of change remain stuck in the spring of 2006. In the years since, they have demonstrated an utter inability to either govern or oppose. Whether this is so out of sheer incompetence or blatant conceit is beside the point, especially when the implications for the wider country, neighborhood and world are so dreary.
So Deputy Prime Minister Nidhi, the Chinese (and yes, the Indians) are capable of speaking for themselves. But it is pretty clear why they choose to meet with Mr. Shah and in what capacity. He is the former head of state (and government, briefly) whose successors – adroit in whining and moaning – have proved utterly incapable of cogent and credible conversation on anything of substance, here or there.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Perpetuation Of The Eternally New

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s use of the anniversary of King Mahendra’s Paus 1 takeover to warn us of the dark clouds of inauspiciousness hovering over today’s polity may have been purely coincidental.
It is hard, after all, to conceive that anyone could have choreographed with such precision the ongoing controversy over the latest proposal to amend our new constitution. Yet the coincidence has been enough to rankle our top Maoist.
Two of Dahal’s main comrades in arms during the decade-long ‘people’s war’ have denigrated the current experiment in rather scathing terms. Mohan Baidya, who broke away in 2012 to form a more hardline group, has called for an abrogation of the current constitution. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, who left the party three years later to form the Naya Shakti, lately has described the New Delhi compromise of November 2005 as a mistake.
Now, neither man has suggested reversing course. Baidya wants a more ‘people-oriented’ constitution. Bhattarai’s problem is only that the 12 Point Agreement should not have been signed on Indian soil.
Still, from Dahal’s perch, those may be moot points. The nation is in no position to go forward in any radical way. At least not yet, especially when the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist seems to have become more conservative than the Nepali Congress.
Always a nebulous concept, ‘New Nepal’ has lost much of its luster since the April 2006 uprising. Bhattarai’s party – the quintessence of newness, at least in form – hasn’t done much by way of drawing a viable roadmap.
The alternatives, therefore, are between preserving the status quo and shifting gears in reverse. Republicanism, federalism and secularism being the three pillars of the existing order, Dahal – as the principal protagonist – is justified in mounting a spirited defense.
What is also true is that people like George W. Bush, Hu Jintao and Manmohan Singh and the dynamics they represented – and responded to – in the process of becoming external catalysts of change have become ancient history. Our national protagonists may still believe they control the content, but the context has changed.
The Maoists can mock the CPN-UML all they want for masquerading as nationalists when they were the ones responsible for the Mahakali ‘sellout’ in 1996. But that criticism only serves to underscore the contextual change Nepali politics has undergone.
Evidently, Dahal as prime minister is in the best position to grasp that reality, but he can’t be seen anywhere in public as preferring one of the aforementioned pillars over the others to forge a national compromise. While Dahal knows he may not afford to dither for too long, he won’t capitulate without drawing everyone else into the muck. SPAM stood for the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists.
To preserve the status quo, therefore, the leadership must become more creative in creating and controlling chaos. Crying wolf over a supposed threat to democracy doesn’t quite cut the ice. Mounting a rebellion as prime minister to preserve republicanism, secularism and federalism? Now, that’s a new one, even for Dahal.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Keep Amending It To Keep It Alive

Call it the Dahal Doctrine. Think what you will about the controversy surrounding the latest proposal to amend the Constitution, but change is progress.
We now have it on good authority of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal that amending the basic law is the beginning of its implementation.
The implementation phase, therefore, began about a year ago, when the first amendment set out to ensure higher representation in government bodies on the basis of proportional inclusion of the Madhesis as well as other marginalized communities.
A year and a half after the Constitution was promulgated, we’re on the cusp of another amendment. Before mocking Dahal’s justification as an act of abdication, keep in mind that he made it at the National Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the 68th Human Rights Day. All those legal eagles there took Dahal’s remark as a matter of course.
Indeed, a fuller quote from the prime minister may put things in better perspective: “The government has registered the constitution amendment proposal in the parliament secretariat to establish ownership of all over the constitution and ensure its wider acceptability. This alone is the reality and the objective need for the constitution amendment.”
If that doesn’t exactly make sense, Dahal is not entirely to blame. Not to beat a dead horse here, but the constituent assembly was something our leaders knew would open a can of worms.
Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala had long insisted that such an assembly – the core demand of the Maoist rebels – would open Pandora’s box. Most of the other main constituents of the erstwhile Seven Party Alliance agreed with Koirala, as long as they rode high on the Constitution of 1990.
You couldn’t blame these parties for being mad at king Gyanendra after he took direct control of state in February 2005. Suddenly, the world’s best Constitution had become irrelevant. Yet our estimable leaders shouldn’t have pushed the constituent assembly as a weapon against the palace, without fully gauging the impact of their decision on the country and people.
Ideally, a constitution written by representatives of the sovereign people would be a million times better than one gifted by the king or written by an appointed committee. In the euphoria of spring 2006, it was easy to ignore the three underlying elements involved: sovereignty, people, and aspirations.
Today we have a situation where an amendment duly registered by the legitimate government of the day is being denigrated by an equally authentic opposition as one being pushed by India and, therefore, dead on arrival. Of course, sovereignty, the people and our aspirations must be upheld. But through what mechanism?
Today it’s provinces and borders, tomorrow it might be sharing of resources and something else some other day. Our national grievance industry has barely whirred into action and no one can gauge its installed capacity.
Collectively, we entered post-truth politics long before Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and eventual triumph made shell-shocked Democrats in the United States give that phenomenon a catchy name. When truth becomes so relative, can reconciliation ever embody even a semblance of finality?
Maybe the real debate should be on how many amendments should be permissible in a calendar year? Would any such restriction be deemed an infringement on our sovereign rights?
If so, how could we ensure that foreign influences do not masquerade as indigenous aspirations? Equally important would be to ensure that legitimate popular demands are not tainted as foreign inspired.
That way, the Dahal Doctrine might become a little less befuddling.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Running On The Right Track?

Kamal Thapa (left) and Dipak Bohara
Whatever the reasons behind the precipitous unification of Nepal’s two major rightwing parties last week, one thing is pretty clear. The development is not part of the wave of rightwing populism blowing across the West and elsewhere. So let’s start by not rushing to anoint our version of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen, shall we?
Then there’s the stark reality that our former panchas can neither live united nor divided. In fact, the party was born split, largely along hardline and more moderate remnants of the partyless regime that collapsed in 1990. These men and women tend to do well when united. But political power – or even the prospect of it –immediately divides them.
To be sure, the ranks of the RPP factions these day are an assortment of diehard royalists, conservative Hindus and, yes, republicans. (Although the republicans seem to be more of realists.) This time, there seems to be an ideological glue binding Kamal Thapa’s Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal and Pashupati Shamsher Rana’s Rastriya Prajatantra Party.
The newly unified party pledges to restore Nepal’s Hindu status in the constitution. On the major issue that divides the two factions – restoration of constitutional monarchy – the leaders have decided to let the upcoming national conference take a decision.
How democratic of them! But let’s dig a little deeper. Rana, who leads the republican faction, said the party could not accept a constitution that calls Nepal ‘secular’ when the country by all means is Hindu. “If the government does not take into account the sentiment of the majority, we will be compelled to lead a movement.”
Why, then, accept republicanism just because the constitution says so? Can the mere fact that the majority of Nepalis happened to be born Hindus be extrapolated to mean that the state’s character should be designated as such? Sure, most Nepalis are Hindus. But didn’t they vote twice for parties explicit in their secular commitment? And don’t officially atheist organizations hold the largest number of elected seats?
Granted, not every Hindu is a monarchist. (Also, are we really sure that every secularist is a republican?) But when you start talking about the restoration of Hindu statehood, you have to consider the individual/institution needed to officiate such a state.
True, our first female president has been presiding over Dasain and other religious observances with admirable gusto. But she is doing so under a secular dispensation. A Hindu state would have very little room for either institutional tentativeness or the vagaries of an individual’s temperament.
A Hindu republic by definition won’t have a king, who has traditionally solemnized Hindu statehood. We also would lack a bada gurujyu and mool purohit. We do have the mool bhatta at Pashupati, but, then, we already want someone more indigenous there, don’t we?
With 37 members in the 597-member legislature, the unified RPP would still remain the fourth largest political force. At a time when the Big Three can’t agree on amending the constitution or impeaching a recalcitrant anti-corruption monitor, surely the fourth party can afford to wallow a bit longer in some amusing ambiguity.
If you think not, close your eyes and consider this image for a moment: Kamal Thapa and Dipak Bohara are the parliamentary party leader and deputy leader of the united party in an assembly hurtling toward a new Nepal. How does that make you feel? No, seriously.