Sunday, May 03, 2009

Principle Of Most Privilege

So here’s how it goes. The Nepali Congress supports Nepal’s most assertive army chief who also happens to be the adopted son of the king it hates the most, in the name of upholding democracy. The popularly elected Maoists who claimed to have singlehandedly abolished the monarchy can’t assert their prerogative of establishing civilian supremacy over the military.
Gen. Rookmangad Katuwal, who throughout the week was rumored to be plotting a coup, decides to accept his discharge order and seek judicial remedy. His boss, supreme commander Ram Baran Yadav, preempts things by ordering the general to stay put.
Maoist chief ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai describes the president’s move as a “constitutional coup”. This, hours after declaring that the army is behind its new chief, General Kul Bahadur Khadka. Except that Khadka wasn’t quite sure whether to accept the appointment.
The peace process faces its worst threat over a man who is going to retire in a couple of months anyway. It’s worth it, considering the principles involved, each side claims. Insubordination cannot be tolerated in a new Nepal, the Maoists claim. (Especially when it blocks the restive Maoist commanders from the career-enhancement opportunities that drove them to the peace process.) Better to issue the sack order unilaterally and fall than to look for a pretext to quit.
The Nepali Congress can claim it looked past the grievous injuries it suffered at the hands of the military to establish the rule of law. (Never mind that from B.P. Koirala’s prison diaries, it looks like his 1960-1968 detention was his best eight years in terms of culinary choice.)
With a leading party member having replaced the monarch as supreme commander, it was incumbent upon the Nepali Congress to defend the status quo. If Sujata Koirala wanted Katuwal out because he had failed to invite her to the army’s New Year’s bash, well, that was her problem. Our president cannot be held back by the recognition that his ethnicity remains the least represented in the national army.
The Unified Marxist-Leninists promptly withdrew from the coalition claiming the Maoists violated the principle of consensus governing governance. By putting forth a proposal to oust Katuwal, Khadka and Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal together, the UML sought to inject some clarity in its traditional cloudiness, which ended up muddling things more. At least, Jhal Nath Khanal and K.P. Oli could bury their differences and bolster the prospect of resurrecting a UML-led they felt had fallen victim to a constitutional coup 14 years ago.
The promise of regaining power with the help of the Nepali Congress, which had plotted its downfall in 1995, is rivaled by the hope of regaining the communist center. (Imagine how hard it must have been for our mainstream comrades to be taking orders from people who were living on UML’s crumbs of a few safe seats in the 1991 and 1994 elections.)
Nepal Sadbhavana Party quit the coalition to tighten the screws on the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF). With the Chinese infuriated by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s decision to call off his China visit at the last minute, who knows what tug of war must be going on between the northern and southern wings of the MJF?
The most telling part of the entire saga was the least reported – and not just because it preceded denouement. The three principal parties of the former panchas have decided to back a Nepali Congress-led broader democratic alliance. With Surya Bahadur Thapa and Pashupati Shamsher Rana both having been placed under detention after the February 1, 2005 royal takeover, it has become a bit harder to dispute the democratic credentials of the parties they lead.
But the Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal of Kamal Thapa? Wasn’t he the most controversial member of the royal government after the chairman himself? And not the slightest murmur of indignation from the Nepali Congress. Is the nation’s self-designated sole democratic party ceding so much ground to put the finishing touches to a formal demand for a referendum on the monarchy? It’s all in the neck.