Saturday, December 16, 2006

Making Head Or Tail Of The New State

The king is no longer head of state. The interim constitution is silent on who is. As political solutions go, Nepalis have strictly conformed to tradition.
In the 1951 “revolution” Mohan Shamsher Rana succeeded Mohan Shamsher Rana as premier and our fathers and grandfathers rejoiced at the brilliant dawn of democracy.
In the aftermath of the 1990 “People’s Movement,” the triumphant supreme commander, Ganesh Man Singh, proposed that King Birendra become head of government as well in the run-up to the installation of full-fledged multiparty democracy. It fell upon the monarch to point out the absurdity of his heading a government whose main objective was to clip the palace’s political power.
This time, the Maoists seem to be wearing the widest grin. The king has been “suspended” until the constituent assembly elections. (Didn’t the Historic Proclamation of the reinstated House of Representatives already do that a couple of months ago?) They can prove to their cadres that their republican campaign was not entirely in vain.
Of course, Prachanda’s soulmates across the southern border aren’t buying that rubbish. They want the Maoists to prove their bona fides as people’s warriors by pulling out of the peace process at this late stage.
Poor Prachanda has come too far out into the democracy sunshine from his underground anonymity to do any such thing. It was his firm commitment to capitalism, expressed at the global leadership summit in New Delhi, which untied the arms management knot. Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara and one-time chief Maoist military strategist Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal are already locked in a dispute over who has the final say in the disbursement of government money to their foot soldiers. (Many of whom, by the way, have taken ill in the new camps and need all the help they can get quick.)
Our buddies in the CPN-UML are still hurting. Madhav Kumar Nepal is hollering himself hoarse reminding everyone that his party played the principal part in striking the Seven Party Alliance (SPA)-Maoist 12-point accord last year.
With the Maoists having monopolized all there is to the communist agenda, the UML is in a real mess. Overtures to both the Maoists and the Nepali Congress are ongoing. But, then, the party has been in an identity crisis ever since Madan Bhandari came out with that multi-point conditional support for the 1990 constitution. It has thrived on contradictions and may yet pull through this existential crisis.
With Sher Bahadur Deuba having virtually thrown in his neck in a single noose with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the leaders of the two Nepali Congress factions have united. Sensing some kind of conspiracy, several Deuba’s lieutenants are about to defect to the mother party. The only conspiracy seems to be the readiness of Koirala and Deuba to provide ample time to the Narahari Acharyas and Bimalendra Nidhis to cobble together a pro-republic Congress faction or party. No wonder Rabindra Nath Sharma mustered the courage not only to take over the leadership of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party faction in the royal government but also to organize conferences and processions in support of the king.
The external stakeholders are equally baffled. Having failed to prevent the Maoists’ political ascendancy, American Ambassador James F. Moriarty has taken his mission to the Terai. In rather impressive Nepali the other day, he said he felt for the grievances of the madhesis. Maybe Hridyesh Tripathi and the other Sadbhavana Party people can, after all, expect to file election nomination papers from Sankhuwasabha and Solukhumbu in their lifetime.
Even after having disarmed the Maoists on paper – a feat unthinkable before Prachanda’s Delhi sojourn – New Delhi remains wary of the Maoist rebels. Ostensibly, India wants to track down all the arms that may have found their way to the criminal underworld and the Naxal underground before contemplating engagement with any Maoist minister.
Yet the real worry of New Delhi, Washington and the rest of the west seems to be a four-word qualification in Chinese official media. The People’s Daily consistently refers to the Maoists as the Communist Party of Nepal (formerly known as guerrilla). The full import of that suffix is still being analyzed in India in the afterglow of President Hu Jintao’s recent visit.
As for the monarchy, the official international position seems to be: let the people decide. Here, too, things have changed. Of the two Nepali media houses most critical of King Gyanendra’s takeover, one has put out a poll portraying 68 percent of Nepalis as being in favor of keeping the monarch as head of state. The other has been urging Indians not to lionize Prachanda. Where they intersect is in echoing the contents of a recent Times of India editorial advocating a continuation of the monarchy for stability in Nepal.
As for the king, well, he has started paying taxes. That brings to mind the no-taxation-without-representation rule governing politics. Reverse that, and it becomes clear that the citizen king can demand the vote, patronize political candidates and even parties and officially run his business interests.
You can no longer blame the palace for any acts of commission or omission of the government because it no longer acts in the king’s name. If the Nepal Army really mounts that coup, you can’t link the palace to that setback to democracy.
Returning to the interim constitution, it will come into effect once the United Nations completes its arms management mandate, paving the way for the Maoists’ inclusion in power. The fogginess surrounding both the mandate and timetable allows us ample time for us to make head or tail of the emerging Nepali state.