Sunday, December 20, 2009

Status Quo Anti(pathies)

After a 57-year wait, Nepalis finally got an elected constituent assembly last year. And what have we done with it? Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the operative question anymore. What are we going to do without it?
It’s bad enough that the body is likely to perish without having produced that mother of all constitutions. The principal parties can’t agree on what will happen after that. Now, Maila Baje does not mean to discount our innate ability to accept last-minute surprises sprung from elsewhere. (Remember how many agreements were struck just in time to prop up the 12-point agreement and perpetuate the fiction called the peace process?)
For now, though, presidential rule seems to be the favorite option of some. A group of Nepali Congress leaders actually went to Dr. Ram Baran Yadav suggesting that he pursue such a course. Nepal Workers and Peasants Party leader Narayan Man Bijukche, too, has been an avid enthusiast of the option for quite some time. But the only thing he seems to have brought to the table is the fact that Dr. Yadav was once his classmate.
It’s tempting to see the generals as honest brokers considering that they egged on King Gyanendra to seize power as well as encouraged him to relinquish it 15 months later. But, seriously, hasn’t Nepal moved past the point where the military can expect to take care of things? Sure, the generals can expect open support from India this time. But that might not be exactly a kiss of life, considering how flustered Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna seems to be at our collective national antics. Should presidential rule be imposed, moreover, that would open another can of worms. President Yadav already has a hard time planning a trip to India in the absence of a working deputy. He surely wouldn’t want the country to worry every time he went to the bathroom.
The Maoists, being the strict constitutionalists they claim to be, will probably expound on UML leader Bam Dev Gautam’s assertion that the presidency, too, will have lost its legality. (At least King Gyanendra had that much-maligned Article 127.) What happens then? Should things then revert to April 24, 2006, when King Gyanendra restored the House of Representatives elected under the 1990 constitution?
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal might once again find himself bolstered by popular mandate. But wouldn’t that, in turn, mean a return to May 22, 2002 when Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba recommended the dissolution? How much would that energize Deuba, who has already staked his claim to lead the Nepali Congress despite having lost the parliamentary party election to Ram Chandra Poudel?
And the legislators of that august house? Forget the dead and the dying. Many able-bodied members representing the major parties have fused into rival factions of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and others. Do they get to keep their seats? And what about MJF leader Upendra Yadav?
Which brings us to the Maoists. Would they be willing to snatch such a monumental defeat from the jaws of victory just because they can’t go back to the jungles in numbers enough to frighten the animals? Not too many might be welcomed back to a life of succor across the southern border. And far too many have become used to the trappings of life in the open. But self-interest hasn’t been a hallmark of the Maoists, especially considering their congenital difficulty in figuring that out. Their propensity to subvert others and reap rewards remains predominant.
So when Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai claim that the declaration of autonomous states is political move aimed at advancing the peace process, they may be on to something. Our two regional behemoths ultimately may be induced to fraternize with the Maoists in the interest of avoiding fissiparous tendencies on their own turf.