Monday, November 19, 2007

Populist Resonance Of Regressive Politics

A cliché is haunting Nepal; the cliché of constitutional exceptionalism. Specifically, the inviolability of the 1990 constitution, touted until the night of October 4, 2002 as one of the world’s best.
Granted, the only people who publicly celebrated what would have been 16th anniversary of that document earlier this month belonged to an obscure group. When Sujata Koirala, the feisty daughter of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, fired the first salvo, the country sat up and took notice. The ad hocism of the last 18 months, she asserted, must be corrected by reactivating the 1990 constitution.
Sujata’s rival for the dynasty’s mantle, cousin Shekhar, snuggled into the debate from a slightly circuitous route. The Nepali Congress, he stated, cannot violate the principle of constitutionalism in order to overthrow the monarchy.
Of late, relations among Sujata, Shekhar and Prakash Koirala, the eldest son of B.P. Koirala who was a minister in King Gyanendra’s much-maligned government, have improved considerably, we hear. If these reports are true, then there is a narrative here. This camaraderie cannot be explained as the result of the deaths of co-matriarchs Sushila and Nona, mothers of Prakash and Shekhar respectively.
For the Nepali Congress, the hardening of posture vis-à-vis the communists could not have been better timed. When the Maoists and the Unified Marxist-Leninists ganged up against the senior partner of the ruling alliance to adopt non-binding resolutions directing the government to lay the groundwork for a republic and an electoral system of full proportional representation, many rushed to draft the obituary of the Nepali Congress.
Before Prime Minister Koirala ever felt his job was seriously threatened, the UML recognized the Maoists’ comradeship for what it is: an effort to split the mainstream communist party that was hoping to win the constituent assembly elections.
What the Nepali Congress understood with greater clarity was the speediness with which the Maoists virtually abandoned their demand for a constituent assembly. If our ex-rebels really deluded themselves they could get away with subverting the elections without leaving fingerprints, developments in Cambodia must have come as a rude awakening.
With Khieu Samphan joining Ieng Sary and Nuon Chea in government detention ahead of a genocide trial by a UN-backed tribunal, our Khmer Rouge soul mates may have lost any traces of triumph.
Admittedly, Nepal has moved far beyond the contours laid out by the 1990 constitution. Bishwanath Upadhyaya, the man who headed the panel that drafted that document, proudly rubbished 90 percent of the suggestions he received, saying they pertained to language, culture, ethnicity and other irrelevant issues.
His co-panelist, Laxman Prasad Aryal, who led the group that drew up the interim constitution, was expected to rectify that flaw. But Aryal has long ceased to recognize the statute as what his panel had submitted to the Seven-Party Alliance and the Maoists.
Upadhyaya, for his part, seems to have become a champion of draconian measures to safeguard the rule of law during these extraordinary times. Nepalis needed some drastic intervention that might even entail a temporary suspension our liberties, Upadhyaya was recently quoted as saying. The kicker: whoever took such a “courageous” step would stand to create a fresh chapter in Nepal’s political history.
Don’t expect King Gyanendra to invoke Article 127 anytime soon to reactivate the 1990 Constitution and dissolve the interim parliament and government. Don’t single him out as the emblem of regressive politics, either.