Friday, February 24, 2012

Some Words To Go With ‘Our’ Voices

With the Constituent Assembly once again on its way toward acknowledging its failure in fulfilling its primary responsibility, Maoist hardliners tells us not to worry: their party will unveil the ‘people’s constitution’.
The document would be based on the discussions that took place in various thematic committees of the assembly and would be promulgated only in consultation with the other parties.
But, then, haven’t the Maoists already said the door to compromise has been slammed shut. By whom, it is not clear because it does not seem to matter.
What we do know is this: you cannot promulgate a ‘people’s constitution’ from the streets without letting the people back onto them in massive numbers in time.
What exactly would this constitution supposed resonating with our voices look like? Most of us think we have a fair idea. In a great leap, the People’s Republic of Nepal would likely resemble China not of 1949 but that of the mid-Sixties.
The opposition will have a place in a consultative assembly expected to rubberstamp the official line. The recalcitrant will confront struggle sessions complete with dunce caps. But how might all this be codified in words and paragraphs? Here are some of Maila Baje’s thoughts.
The Preamble: “Chairman Dahal is the great leader of all the nationalities of the country, the head of our proletarian dictatorship state and the supreme commander of the whole nation-whole army. Vice-chairman [Baidya/Bhattarai/Shrestha, take your pick] is Chairman Dahal’s close comrade in arms and successor, and the deputy commander of the whole nation-whole army. The thought of Pushpa Kamal Dahal is the policy leading all the nation's work.”
The People’s Liberation Army: “It is the task of the People’s Republic of Nepal’s armed forces to guard against subversion or aggression by imperialism, social imperialism and their lackeys. The PLA and the people’s militia are led by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist.”
Fundamental Rights: “The most fundamental rights and duties of citizens are to support Chairman Dahal and his close comrade-in-arms to support the leadership of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, to support the dictatorship of the proletariat, to support the socialist system, and to observe the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Nepal.”
The State: “The PRN is a full-fledged Socialist state led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants.” (The very first paragraph of the Preamble originally contained assurance that the people’s democracy could “build a prosperous and happy Socialist society.” But we understand that was put in abeyance by the party pending a final decision on Dahal’s successor.)
The People: “There is three-level system of ownership within the collective ownership economy. According to that system, ownership is shared by the people’s commune, the production brigade and the production team - the latter being the basic accounting unit within the three-fold system. The right of members of people’s communes to operate small-sized private plots shall be ensured provided that the development and the absolute supremacy of the collective economy is guaranteed.”
The Upshot: This will be Nepal’s first constitution to acknowledge with great pride the country’s status as a dictatorship.
(Edited version of a piece originally posted on May 17, 2010)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bihar, To Thee He Now Sings

For long, the purported travesty of democracy in Bihar proved potent for Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, as he denigrated Nepal’s parliamentary system and described the Maoists’ vision for a new Nepal.
So it was hard to miss the irony behind Prime Minister Bhattarai’s one-day visit to Patna to inaugurate the Global Bihar Summit, where he praised the progress the bordering Indian state has recently attained as well as the man who turned things around.
Maila Baje doesn’t want to deny Dr. Bhattarai his inherent right to tailor his outlook and opinions to the ground realities of the day. Thus when our prime minister hailed Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as a visionary leader, it is likely that Dr. Bhattarai himself was awed by the transformative leadership that can emerge with little forewarning.
Until not too long ago, after all, Nitish Kumar was considered part of the cabal of coalition-driven chaos that lay before India’s central politics amid a crumbling Congress party. Retreating from the boisterous climes of New Delhi, Nitish Kumar settled in Patna.
Now, bolstered by an impressive reelection as the chief minister of a state once lamented within the Indian union as its most lawless, Nitish Kumar is on his way towards the league of N. Chandrababu Naidu and other people of action unconstrained by life at the provincial level.
In an effusive overture, Nitish Kumar asserted that Nepal could emerge as the richest country in South Asia. While suggesting the development of more hydroelectric power plants, Nitish also sought water management in a way that could lead to better irrigation in the fertile lands in Bihar and Nepal.
The water issue is critical to Bihar, where more than two-thirds of its farmland is vulnerable to floods from rivers originating in Nepal. Several villages were wiped out during the 2008 floods, some of which are still believed to be buried under layers of sand. And who knows what sorrows seasons in the future might reap.
By harnessing Nepali rivers, Bihar could expect to rid itself of perennial devastation, while hoping to solve the power problem as the state continues to grow. Water is already a sensitive subject in Nepal and is likely to become more so when individual Indian states start handling the matter.
Nitish Kumar seems to be doing his best to woo all sections of Nepali political opinion. He recently welcomed the Nepali Congress’ Pradip Giri, winning quite a few minds in a party where skepticism of India has grown in direction proportion to the period of its exclusion from power. The acquittal by a Patna court of 11 Nepali Maoist leaders, too, is seen as having come after much lobbying by the chief minister.
Praising Dr. Bhattarai’s inaugural remarks at the end of the two-day event, Nitish Kumar described the summit as having added a new chapter in India-Nepal ties. How Dr. Bhattarai will fit this camaraderie into his wider criticism of the open Nepal-India border as the cause of Nepal’s economic impoverishment will be interesting to watch – both for style and content.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Crafting A Constitution With A Bill of Wrongs

We can’t turn back from a federal Nepal but can’t seem to agree on the kind of states to create. So one of our brilliant political minds came up with a dazzling idea. Let’s promulgate the new constitution, setting aside that contention issue, and any other ones, for that matter.
The Nepali Congress has an established tradition of taking half steps and then claiming to be the only party with the fortitude to go the full mile. Yet, Maila Baje thinks Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat’s proposal may not be as half-baked as it sounds. Nepal can’t put off indefinitely the culmination of that hopey-changey moment six springs ago.
To be honest, the political shenanigans have become too delicious to miss. The systematic mockery of constitutionalism is being supported by the paragons of democracy in the south and west, as the supposedly reactionary right finds itself the lone voice pleading for a semblance of legality on our march toward newness.
What makes things urgent for us, however, is the fact that our giant neighbors aren’t really smiling anymore. A modicum of political stability is required for the three political successions in our midst.
Up north, Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to hand over leadership to the next generation of communists at the party Congress later this year. However, Xi Jinping’s accession will only mark the beginning of the transition to the fifth generation of New China.
In India, the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty is searching for that propitious moment to pass the torch to Rahul Gandhi. As the party traditionally most accommodative to the Chinese, the Indian National Congress cannot afford events in Nepal to provoke any Chinese reaction that might help to spoil things.
The crucial leadership transition intersecting the two relates to the 14th Dalai Lama. His Holiness has begun the Great Withdrawal in the full knowledge that his eventual demise is likely to set off rival claimants to Great Fifteenth. To preempt Beijing, the current Dalai Lama is toying with the idea of naming a successor, perhaps even one not born inside Tibet.
The succession struggle is likely to be waged not only from Dharmasala and Beijing but also from other traditionally assertive Tibetan sects who have been overshadowed all these decades only by Tenzin Gyatso’s larger-than-life persona.
A formal if incomplete Nepali constitution, an elected government and other indicators of domestic life can give sufficient stability for the next stage of the geopolitical maneuverings.
Of course, the risks inherent in jumping the gun are obvious. Members who adopt such a constitution will have done so with their reservations. That will make it easier for some of these same people to be among the first to burn copies of the document. At least there will be a document to set ablaze.
What’s more, not all will have been lost. We can attach a bill of rights – or, more appropriately, wrongs – as and when we deem necessary. It’s not for nothing that some alien quarters have prepared themselves for at least two years of ethnic conflagration before Nepalis can decide which group’s victimhood tends to run the deepest.
Should we then agree on the model of federalism – or any other form of the state – we can keep adding them to the main document. Finding that unworkable, we would have the option of changing that. That way, hopes of everything between a people’s democratic republic and Swiss-style confederation will have been kept alive.
Sound outlandish? We’ve made enough amendments to the interim constitution to breeze through the job.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Stop Whining, Mr. Prime Minister

For a man who knows how to dish it out, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai sorely lacks the ability to take it. His latest gripe involves how some Kathmandu-based ambassadors have insulted him.
“Ambassadors direct their shoes to my face while seeing me at my office,” the prime minister reportedly complained to a group of friendly scribes. The diplomats’ postures also seem to pinch Dr. Bhattarai a lot.
Before castigating the premier for singling out this fraternity of foreigners, you have to concede one thing. Dr. Bhattarai knew what he was getting into domestically when he consented to taking the top job. Politicians of all stripes were going to pillory him at every opportunity. (Isn’t that what Dr. Bhattarai did to his predecessors and a great many others?) The diplomatic corps was somehow supposed to be another thing altogether.
Prime ministers before Dr. Bhattarai had had to deal with their share of haughty and overbearing envoys. Awkward slippers and even more awkwardly crossed legs were the least of their concerns.
Yet Dr. Bhattarai’s predecessors were at least dignified enough not to whine about it. (Would Dr. Bhattarai have refused the premiership had Comrades Jhal Nath Khanal, Madhav Kumar Nepal or Pushpa Kamal Dahal volunteered their worst moments with ambassadors? Didn’t think so.)
This brings us closer to the kind of person Dr. Bhattarai seems to be. Or, to be more precise, the kind of his skin. Even if you can’t see through it, it does seem very, very thin.
Remember how, during his underground days at height of the insurgency, he engaged in a blistering exchange of magazine columns with BBC Nepali Service journalist Rabindra Mishra?
Or the ease with which he took a few media critics to court for defamation just because they had the temerity to question whether there was a quisling behind his peripatetic nationalistic exterior? (After having thrown around the Q word with such abandon himself all these years.)
What Dr. Bhattarai does seem to have is an inflated sense of self-worth. The we-are-the-ones-we-have-been-waiting-for attitude is eternally palpable in the premier. Even if Nepalis tended to go along with that carefully crafted image, should foreigners do so, too? When they see that trained architect, Maila Baje must ask, how likely are they to also recognize one known more for demolishing things?
This is by no means a defense of the diplomats, who are here to further their own national interests. If they saw in Dr. Bhattarai’s decades of prose literal translations from Mao Zedong’s Collected Works updated only for local context, would they have pointed out those points of similarity, especially when the convolution suited their governments? Yet could they be expected to restrain their body language in the way they did their words. These ambassadors, too, follow the news, all the way from the Mustang to the talk of merger.
Sure it should pain every Nepali when his or her leader is hurt by foreigners. If our premier is so intent on bolstering himself from external arrows, a better way would be to start building a shield by winning over more of your own people.