Monday, March 15, 2010

Going Through The (Democratic) Motions

Though they still believe in the centrality of insurrection to their existence, you must admit the Maoists have picked some democratic habits along the way. Much as they might warn us against an impending return to the 1990-statute-era bad old days, the ex-rebels’ espousal of the integral tool of the time suggests their readiness to lurch backward and keep up with their rivals.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s nervousness with the Maoists’ talk of a no-confidence motion in the legislature was reflected in his dash to the Bhaktapur residence of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party chief Narayan Man Bijukchhe. Yes, the same guy whose party would never take part in power but determined who would during the 1994-1999 hung parliament.
Things could have been a bit different here. Why should a government full of unelected people worry about the mandate of the house? Even if the legislature were to register its loss of faith in the government, hasn’t the country already lost confidence in its representatives? Sure, the body still has over two months’ life in it. But aren’t the Maoists and the rest supposed to spend that time writing the constitution?
You can’t quibble with the Maoists’ argument that the largest party in legislature can’t be kept out of power without damaging the peace process. Nor can you ignore the fact that they were the ones who made national history by stepping down from power before anyone demanded they do so. What do the Maoists think they can gain by getting back in? A national government won’t let them off the hook. The UML, in particular, has a proven record of always letting the prime minister take the fall. If the Maoists’ intention is to prevent the promulgation of the constitution and subvert a peace process that is slipping out of its grip, why not let Prime Minister Nepal preside over the failure? It would be easier that way to step into the vacuum.
If the abbreviated-constitution trial balloon has alarmed the Maoists, then that is an overreaction. Such a statute may have worked in other places but Nepalis aren’t about to digest any more tentativeness. For many, a full step back would be preferable to half of one forward.
There may be another dynamic at play here. Foreigners who advocated mainstreaming our rebels would not have done so without having extracted assurances from the signatories of the 12-point agreement that the Maoists would live up to their commitments. In India, at least, those advocates appear to have been marginalized. People like M.K. Narayanan and Shyam Saran have exited the scene. Pranab Mukherji was always a fishy character. Sitaram Yechuri’s latest mission to Kathmandu looked more like an exercise to save his credibility.
Amresh Kumar Singh, having grasped the full meaning of media attention on his marital woes, too, has come around. He was among the first to concede the likelihood of a restoration of the monarchy. If anything, his contention that that would be a direct result of the inefficiency of the political parties than of a palpable shift in the popular mood was doubly damning.
Then the Maoists see how easily the Nepali Congress’ Khum Bahadur Khadka can speak of the centrality of the monarchy by claiming he is not a royalist. Hridayesh Tripathi wants a Hindu state within a republic. Days after former army chief Rukmangad Katuwal departed for New Delhi, the incumbent, Gen. Chattra Man Singh Gurung, whom the Maoists once praised as a man of the people, echoed his predecessor’s opposition to bulk recruitment former rebel fighters into the national army. UNMIN may retain special affinity for the Maoists, but it has been reduced to whining about how it might have to pull out of Nepal.
Like the sponsors of previous no-confidence motions, the Maoists must have weighed their chances. If it were to fizzle, what would be the democratic response? Maybe the largest party would then egg the others on to extend the term of the assembly and then challenge the decision at the Supreme Court.