Sunday, December 06, 2009

When A Coconut Becomes A Hot Potato

The crescendo of cynicism is getting shriller. The new constitution, the centerpiece of our nebulous quest for newness, may not be drafted within the May 28, 2010 deadline. From the Nepali Congress, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel are at the forefront of the naysaying as the grand old man recedes to the background.
The Unified Marxist-Leninists’ Bam Dev Gautam for quite some time now has been equating any delay with the revival of the monarchy. Depending on individual exigencies, politicians from all parties entrusted with the solemn task have been making dire predictions. They Maoists seem to be the exception to this alarmism, at least in public. They see the least problem perhaps because they are the ones most strenuously standing in the way.
Critical as meeting the deadline is, the sky won’t fall just because it is missed. The assembly can extended its life for six months if a state of emergency prevents the drafting of the constitution on time. Granted, an emergency cannot be imposed just to extend the assembly’s term. But, then, there is no shortage of justifications for such a move. Moreover, the strictest constitutionalists tend to be the first to remind us that post-conflict jurisprudence is not the same as everyday rule of law.
As for the wholesomeness of the exercise, well, it was always a mirage. When the mainstream parties used to maintain that a constituent assembly would open a Pandora’s Box, they were not merely distinguishing themselves from the Maoists. President Ram Baran Yadav summed it up the best when he told Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha the other day that while the Maoists had pushed republicanism to the forefront, the rest of the parties went there because the palace shoved them real hard.
Clearly, the Maoists were not expecting the body, either. Or at least they had not anticipated much use for it. Their push for autonomous regions is less a circumvention of the assembly than an acknowledgment of their dependence on permanent revolution for existence.
Being a small nation sandwiched between two giant and mutually competitive neighbors has been bad enough in the best of times. If Nepalis believe a constellation of micro-states would make them fare any better, well, who can stop them? That’s why we’ve become our neighbors’ problem now.
And what are they to do? No amount of public reiterations from across the political spectrum seems to satisfy China’s justified concern for its soft underbelly. The Indians’ exasperation has reached a point where some have begun to broaden the debate and publicly insist that partition is not a settled fact.
If the antics of its principal constituents were not enough to subvert the ultimate democratic exercise, the proliferation of groups – armed and otherwise – outside the assembly has come in handy. That tribe is about to swell after Madhesi Janadhikar Forum leader Upendra Yadav pronounced that the body had outlived its utility, at least from its constituents’ perspective.
Yet no matter how bad things get, a popularly drafted constitution remains a national imperative. Rightly or wrongly, Nepal’s political instability is attributed to the lack of popular participation in charting its fate. Without healing that breach, the hemorrhaging will worsen. But even a resounding declaration in favor of the assembly’s extension in perpetuity might not help here. The recriminations rolling from all sides are too revolting.
President Yadav recently lamented that he would not have entered politics if he knew friends would one day deceive him. What really transpired behind the scenes during the dramatic sacking and subsequent restoration of Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal would probably have to await Yadav’s memoirs. But there’s a woeful pattern here.
The president’s gripe came mere days after his former deputy, Parmanand Jha, revealed he had chosen not to take the vice-presidential oath in Nepali as per the advice of leading politicians. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal seems to feel sorry for everyone except himself. And who knows whether, deep down, he really doesn’t regret assuming the premiership during, as they say in the vernacular, the ghosts’ teatime?
Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, for his part, is consumed by his own May 4 incident, when he made history by resigning the premiership before anyone had demanded he do so. With leading luminaries from the major parties engrossed in personal introspection, the country can only pause to ponder for itself.
Unlike our primate cousins, human beings are expected to do something creative if they happen to lay hands on a coconut… such as not tossing it around like a hot potato.