Sunday, June 08, 2008

Botched, Bothered And Bewildered

The three major political parties, it seems, had really expected His Ex-Majesty Gyanendra Shah to resist the republic resolution with his full force and fury.
Or else wouldn’t they have worked out in advance whether the presidency should be ceremonial or executive? The precise mechanism for electing the head of state, too, would have been laid out. The official residence would have been fixed. By golly, even the designation would not have become so controversial.
Everyone seems to have made the presidency in his or her own image. Our women legislators want a gender-neutral appellation. The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) wants either the premiership or the presidency for someone from the Terai. From the MJF’s definition of the region, that would rule out most combinations of the current contenders.
The Maoists want a non-political personality as a hedge against the creation of a parallel power center. Predictably, the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML) don’t want to bestow on the ex-rebels a victory disproportionate to their popular mandate.
The Indians favor Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, if only to perpetuate instability. The Chinese want the UML’s Subash Chandra Nemwang to deepen Nepal’s Redness. And the Americans? Sher Bahadur Deuba might look too obvious. Grasping the knottiness behind the bickering, the Maoists have laced their willingness to compromise with a caveat. If the wrangling drags on, Maoist chairman Prachanda warns, he would assume both offices and proclaim a people’s republic.
October is still months away. The threat of that much-feared revolution can easily be neutralized through another midnight compromise our peace process has been so capable of springing up. A more perfidious anomaly lies beneath the effort to draft a new constitution. If there was any residual notion that elected representatives would do the job, their CVs have put that to rest.
Koirala wants former Supreme Court chief justice Bishwanath Upadhyaya to head the drafting panel. Confident of retaining his position of head of state, the interim premier also intends to rope in Madhav Kumar Nepal, Daman Nath Dhungana and Nilamber Acharya to ensure – in the words of one daily – a “skillful” draft.
Koirala may have thrown up Upadhyaya’s name as a shrewd move to prevent the Maoists from proposing him as a putative head of state. Yet the oddity of the option is egregious. If the constitution of 1990 – hailed as the world’s best – ended up a dud, how could the man who headed the panel that wrote it be considered qualified to draft a durable successor?
Moreover, we can’t forget how mockingly Upadhyaya had dismissed the demands of ethnic and linguistic groups – by his own admission, 90 percent of the suggestions the panel had received – as irrelevant in 1990.
Furthermore, hadn’t Upadhyaya sided with former premier Krishna Prasad Bhattarai in a last-minute effort to save the monarchy before a news leak scuttled that enterprise? What makes him relevant to the inclusivity of the new Nepal? An act of absolution? The ultimate fusion of truth and reconciliation?
Moreover, why are Nepal, Dhungana – members of the 1990 panel – and Acharya (who contributed to the document as law minister) being brought back? Nepal couldn’t even carry his party, forcing general secretary Madan Bhandari to propose a list of amendments before supporting the statute.
Dhungana, the minutes of the panel’s deliberations show, had pushed Article 127 as a palace-held shield the Nepali Congress could use against communist highhandedness. (Apart, of course, from being a tit-for-tat for the commies’ insertion of the preceding article precluding the Nepali Congress from reverting to its proclivity for short-changing the national interest in its democratic exuberance.)
Admittedly, Acharya used his cabinet stint to transition from a pro-Moscow Red to an independent Leftie via an ambassadorship to Sri Lanka. Still, there is something called guilt by association long in vogue among us. Or is that a standard only to be applied against the now royal-less right?