Sunday, April 01, 2012

Interim Constitution In Perpetuity

Just as tenacious doubters were beginning to reconcile themselves to the possibility of an abbreviated constitution being promulgated by the May 27 deadline, ethnic activists have fired their salvo. A full-throttled conflict would be inevitable, they say, if the exalted promise of federalism were to be tampered with in any way.
In case you missed it, the lack of consensus on the kind of federalism that would suit us best is at the heart of the realization that a partial constitution would be better than none.
Why not then, you may ask, promulgate a constitution that would encompass the different models of federalism in turn. If the ethnic variety turns out to be as unworkable as its critics say, the geographic variant could be adopted next. There are no limits to the number of amendments you could contemplate once the basic law is enacted. That way, the federalism debate, too, could persist. Maybe someone might think up just the right kind of model.
A trivialization of the task? Look at the broader picture. No matter how the constitution were to look – full or truncated – chances are that it would be greeted by a surfeit of bonfires. Many of the people who were part of the process will find it politically expedient to oppose the constitution in the most inflammatory form possible.
Perhaps, then, the smoldering fragments could provide the basis for further amendments. Take this out, put that in, in, say, six-monthly cycles. The Big Three could take collective leadership of a mechanism overseeing the changes.
Where would such a document draw its legitimacy from, you ask? The interim constitution, of course. That document was born to live until we spawned a formal constitution. With work still in progress, it would be imprudent to invalidate the interim statute, wouldn’t it?
Even by the standards of the general cockamamie going around, Maila Baje acknowledges, this approach sounds crazy. But it would sound less so once you considered the alternative. A full-fledged conflict among the various contenders would make the Maoist conflict look like a walk in the park. At least that was a battle between two clear and identifiable combatants with sharp objectives. (What was the last count of the number of armed groups active in the country, anyone?)
True, there is a bright side to renewed fighting. For one, the country would be able to recognize real grievances from the ones contrived on an industrial scale. Those prepared to fight the hardest and longest for their cause might not be the ones with the deepest convictions.
As we have learned from the Maoist and Nepali Congress insurgencies, external uncontrollable variables have to be factored in heavily. In the given circumstances, however, where the closest of the foreign hands have begun to tremble a bit, the ferocity of the fighting should be a sufficient pointer to who might prevail and how – and what the rest could do.
The obvious downside here is our collective traditional propensity to compromise midway, sometimes even settling on issues that were never part of the original objectives. But if compromise we must, what better way than to perpetualize the interim constitution?