Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Royalist Rues SPA Recriminations

Some time around 2000, when Nepalese politicians were being derided and deprecated as inefficient, corrupt and power-hungry, a newspaper interviewer gave Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) leader Pradeep Nepal an opportunity to respond.
Our articulate comrade was almost defiant in his defense of his tribe. Politicians were the only accountable people alive in Nepal, he said. “If we crave the gates of Singha Darbar, we do so knowing that the doors to Nakkhu are very close by.” Or something of that order.
Maila Baje was struck by the power of this Pradeepism. When King Gyanendra dismissed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s elected government on October 4, 2002 and began hiring and firing prime ministers, the political class was blamed for the resurgence of royal assertiveness. Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala, the man widely reviled as the symbol of Nepal’s democratic decay, was instantly at the helm of the anti-palace front. There could have been no better illustration of the fact that allegations of corruption cannot diminish one’s allegiance to core principles.
As a staunch supporter of an active monarchy from the Panchayat days, Maila Baje disagreed with Koirala’s equation of royal activism with right-wing autocracy. If monarchy were to remain relevant in Nepal, the palace and the parties would have to devise some formula for sharing political powers. King Gyanendra, in Maila Baje’s humble opinion, would be able to contribute more to the country as an ordinary citizen than as a titular monarch. Still he was marveled at the way the octogenarian Koirala traversed the country to advance his cause.
When King Gyanendra took over full executive powers on February 1, 2005, placing much of the political class in detention, Maila Baje recalled Pradeep Nepal’s words. Despite their tattered public image and enticements from the palace, the political class stuck to its vision for a democratic Nepal.
Now that the people have voted with their feet against King Gyanendra’s direct rule, royalists are on the run. Maila Baje supported the royal takeover because of a set of shared beliefs. In essence, they related to issues concerning Nepal’s sovereign existence between its two giant and increasingly assertive neighbors and its place in the larger comity of nations. That is something Nepal will continue to confront under a republican set-up. Let’s leave that for another day.
For now, achieving equilibrium among the triumphant political forces has become the overriding priority. It’s here that Maila Baje feels Pradeep Nepal is being unfairly hounded. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s government has yet to strengthen itself sufficiently for the mammoth task ahead. Drawing the Maoists into an interim government is vital to holding the constituent assembly elections with any degree of credibility. For one thing, the rebels must directly participate in an endeavor they have pressed at such great human and physical cost. Moreover, such participation is essential to ensuring their enduring commitment to the outcome.
Before that, however, the SPA constituents must be able to reconcile themselves to a proper and equitable sharing of responsibility. If the UML is seeking some of the vital portfolios like home, defense, communication, then that cannot be construed as greed for power. The SPA was an alliance constructed for a specific undertaking. Once the House of Representatives was restored and the SPA felt satisfied enough to take over governance, serious internal deliberations were bound to follow.
If the UML is uncomfortable with its role in the common endeavor the SPA is embarking on with the Maoists, then the effort may be doomed from the start. If the Nepali Congress believes the UML is unnecessarily throwing up roadblocks but cannot persuade its ally to see things its way, then the weakness of the alliance must be acknowledged for remedial action.
Multiparty democracy will continue to throw up a multiplicity of issues and ideas that need to be reconciled. If homogeneity could be a successful policy premise, then every Nepali would probably have been a happy pancha today.
Civil society, non-government organizations and all the other folks admonishing the politicians should bear one thing in mind. Their participation to the anti-palace movement may have been critical. Without the Nepali Congress, UML and other parties at the helm, the movement would not have received the legitimacy it has. The democratic process is capable of resolving its contradictions and must be allowed to do so. Governing requires much more strength than does hollering slogans on the streets.
In castigating Koirala, Nepal and all the other people for conducting deliberations that are central to the quality of the overhaul Nepal desperately needs, care must be taken not to undermine the endeavor. And, remember, this is a word of caution from a diehard royalist.