Sunday, February 14, 2010

Statute Of Limitations

From the way the latest political shenanigans are heating up, it does look like we won’t be getting the new constitution on schedule. The signs were there a few weeks ago when Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala chastised Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal for incompetence on that count and inaugurated the highest level blame game. Now the entire Nepali Congress is sore at the UML-ization of the government.
The rest of the country is clueless about which UML our self-professed sole democrats are talking about. The pro-military, anti-Maoist or the traditional have-it-both-ways wing? Having played their part in fomenting many of those divisions, the Maoists have no time for such hair-splitting. They insist on heading the government for the constitution to come out on time. If they don’t get top job anytime soon, the constitution will still come out. But it will be a “people’s” version that will usher in the “new democracy” they increasingly remind us the People’s War was also about.
All eyes are on what President Ram Baran Yadav will hear in India and do after returning home. Amid the Maoists’ surging patriotic fervor, Yadav’s presence in New Delhi became so crucial that Vice-President Parmanand Jha had to be brought back to stand in for him. Since Jha decided to take the oath in Nepali as well this time, Yadav probably doesn’t feel entirely at ease leaving him in charge.
But the president is already on shakier ground. Once the constitution deadline is missed, it would unravel the understanding behind the peace process, the Maoists warn. So Yadav himself would be out of work. (Unless he gets back his Nepali Congress general secretaryship.) In that case, who will the generals – our supposed last line of defense – take orders from? The directory, cabal or whatever you call the High-Level Political Mechanism?
Maybe. What makes us think the military, which couldn’t do much during the king’s supreme commandership, would fare any better this time? International support, perhaps. But could that alone compensate for all that has gone wrong in the force since the spring of 2006?
Still things may not get so out of hand. A couple of different final versions of the constitution are probably already floating around somewhere. If getting the Constituent Assembly to endorse any one of those becomes a problem, the body could enact a partial statute. If federalism could be held in abeyance pending a special study commission, other contentious issues could also be easily thrown aside. And should the country have a hard time accepting another gesture of gradualism, we can always elect a new constituent assembly. (It’s not for nothing that France takes pride in the fifth republic.)
From all that has happened, you have to marvel how easy things were the last time. How could Bishwanath Upadhyaya bring out what was hailed as the world’s best constitution – all the way until its death gasps – in a matter of months? The bogey of a palace takeover? Probably not, since the Maoists’ avowed opposition to traditional democracy has not unified the mainstream parties in any way.
By dismissing all those linguistic and ethnic grievances – which formed 90 percent of the suggestions the commission received – as a distraction, some might snap back. Say what you will, except that Upadhyaya didn’t have a point, especially considering the doom and gloom already surrounding this enterprise.