Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Time To Say Yes, But…

In the end, he couldn’t resist the call of duty. Madhav Kumar Nepal has not only entered the Constituent Assembly the people in two separate constituencies voted to keep him out of last year but is also poised to drive the drafting of the new constitution.
Don’t expect his triumphant Maoist rivals Jhakku Subedi of Kathmandu-2 and Devendra Prasad Patel of Rautahat-6 to resign in disgust. The sovereign voters may not have trusted Nepal but the votaries of a new Nepal certainly do. As for popular mandate alone, if Bam Dev Gautam’s drubbing couldn’t keep him away from the deputy premiership, why should Nepal be deprived of offering his services to the nation?
C’mon, the man has been dying for a chance to midwife the rebirth of the nation. And that, in his view, is possible only through some official position. “Why should people listen to me if I don’t hold any official position?” Nepal asked an interviewer from an English weekly last year. “You cannot play a political role without having a position.” And it got better. “If I reject [every] offer, people will [say] that I ran away from responsibility.”
Indeed, Nepal set a new trend in defeat. He resigned as general secretary of the Unified Marxist Leninists on moral grounds. He didn’t get the presidency the Maoists had promised him. (Not that he is unaccustomed to betrayal. How many times, after all, was he touted as the opposition alliance’s consensus candidate for premier during the first phase of royal rule?) Late last year, Nepal refused to head the constitutional committee or the political coordination committee. He had to say yes this time.
Nepal would be a great presence in the greatest political deliberations of our times. He is not in the league of his predecessor as UML chief, Madan Bhandari, in terms of eloquence. But Nepal has a down-to-earth style complete with curvy cadences that make you want to listen.
As leader of the opposition during much of the 1990-2002 democratic era, Nepal incessantly attacked Nepali Congress prime ministers. At times, he sounded as if he really believed he had the right to name the head of government. Yet Nepal was equally consistent in refusing to offer constructive suggestions to the government. He insisted he would show by doing once he became premier.
Nepal was a member of the panel that drafted the doomed 1990 constitution. It would be unfair to blame him for that. In fact, he may have been among the better prepared members, although he lacked a background in law. Nepal regularly convened unofficial evening breakout sessions at his residence where co-panelists Bharat Mohan Adhikary and Nirmal Lama would join Madan Bhandari and other comrades.
But since Nepal is the only member of the 1990 panel entrusted with producing the new constitution, he comes with a heavy baggage. The fact that he lost in both of his constituencies only adds to the weight – and could imperil the future.
The first session of the parliament elected in 1991 failed to ratify the constitution, which gave critics a chance to claim that it lacked popular support. What was once the preserve of the fringes became a mainstream grudge. Imagine the pretext Nepal would give to those who may be opposed – violently or otherwise – to the new constitution. (With hijackers, headhunters and homicidal hit men and women having eventually prospered in the political mainstream, it is doubtful that would-be public servants would seek sustenance in peaceful methods.)
A constitution drafted and endorsed by the people’s representatives would finally fulfill a 60-year-old national commitment. But one overseen by someone doubly blemished? Jhakku’s phone number, anyone?