Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thinking Outside The (Pandora’s) Box

Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal insists the new constitution must be brought out on schedule to preserve Nepali sovereignty. His deputy, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, says that can’t happen without the former rebels at the head of a national consensus government. Maoist lawmaker Khim Lal Devkota goes on to propose amending the drafting calendar a ninth time, which the relevant folks heartily endorse. Patriotism is the first refuge of procrastinators.
Even before finalizing its terms of reference, the High Level Political Mechanism seems to have worked wonders. Look at the way it has rejuvenated Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala. He reminded Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal that, eight months into office, he has not done enough toward drafting the constitution. Specifically, he admonished the premier for his failure to properly plan the integration of former Maoist combatants.
That was enough for Nepali Congress vice-president Ram Chandra Poudel. Staking a middle ground where none seemed to exist, he revealed that Koirala and Dahal had already reached a secret understanding on the integration of about 5,000 former rebels. Suddenly we know who the extremists are. Is peace about to break out?
Granted, the Madhesi parties are against the model of 14 provinces that has come into fashion. But at least one faction has gone ahead and declared a single Madhes region comprising 22 districts. The Chure Bhawar wants its own place under the sun and moon (which still seem likely to remain the defining features of the national flag).
Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala still wants a referendum on federalism (and whatever more a plebiscite can accommodate). Defense Minister Bidya Bhandari stands by her utterances against nationalizing the heavily indoctrinated former People’s Liberation Army. Although the Maoists have withdrawn their indefinite strike for national sovereignty, one of the organization’s preeminent hardliners, Chandra Prakash Gajurel, is still warning of impending Bhutanization/Sikkimization.
If you are looking for the Pandora’s Box our leaders were characterizing the constituent assembly as until about five years ago, you have a whole carton to go through. It won’t really matter how much more the storage space grows. The true action is going to be on the outside.
At least during the decade of destruction, we knew who didn’t want the status quo and why. How many malcontents do we have today? And the demands? The problem is not that they are mounting. Consider how fast they can change.
Take as the metaphor for our times the man they arrested for setting off all those bombs in favor of restoring Nepal’s Hindu-state status. Reading the international Christian press these days, it looks like he has undergone a full-blown conversion. What changed his heart? Nope, not the Good News. It was, by his own admission, the failure of any Hindu of repute to visit him in the gaol.
If this tormented soul should ever walk free, what would stop him from embarking on another religious transformation in another direction? Fear of what might happen if the constitution were actually to come out on schedule, perhaps?