Sunday, July 01, 2012

Restoration: The Story Continues

P.L. Singh has provided another emphatic boost to demands for the restoration of the 1990 Constitution. In a recent write-up, the eternally cheery former mayor of Kathmandu (and former member of parliament) offered a caustic analysis of how the purported solution to Nepal’s deepening turmoil was derailed immediately after it was set in motion in the spring of 2006.
Particularly significant was Singh’s articulation of how the agreement India mediated between the palace and the Seven Party Alliance (and the Maoists) was subverted almost the moment after King Gyanendra restored the House of Representatives. (Dismissing the royal move as illegal, P.L. Singh himself refused to take his seat in the restored legislature.) In effect, the 1990 Constitution, the instrument that was supposed to have put the political process back on track, ended up digging the ground for its own burial. If the irony of all that genuinely impressed the Maoists, it surely did not do so for too long. The former rebels had made too many promises to too many quarters that they simply could not have kept. Little wonder then that they considered the constituent assembly – the epitome of their “struggle” – any thing more than the parliament they had once denounced as the venue for foisting mutt meat as mutton on the people.
Today, Sher Bahadur Deuba, the prime minister to whom the Maoists so proudly submitted their 40-point charter before launching their ‘People’s War’ and later started negotiations for a safe landing, can barely suppress laughter while surveying the lives and times of key Maoist leaders.
Indeed, the federal republic the Maoists claim to have enshrined remains a fantasy. The monarchy, jettisoned in the name of popular aspirations that were never seriously articulated during the “19-day movement”, lives on in the nation’s consciousness. Deep down, Maila Baje feels, more and more Nepalis continue to recognize that they have that traditional institution as the last line of defense.
The Maoists have spoken from so many sides of their mouths on the monarchy that walking back from republicanism would seem rather easy for them. Where they will have less success is on the issue of federalism. Foreign governments and their non-state agencies stand discredited even among beneficiaries for having tried to steer the federalism movement toward amorphous albeit insidious ends.
With the monarchy no longer available to kick around, there has been more informed debate not only on the structural and proximate causes of accumulated discrimination but also on the range and nature of the victims. No community has a monopoly on grievances, real or exaggerated.
Moreover, leaders of specific communities clamoring the most for redress have come under scrutiny for their own role in perpetuating, if not entirely perpetrating, injustice. The debate has acquired such intensity in recent days that leaders like Pradip Nepal of the CPN-UML have begun to come out openly against the wisdom of federalism.
External drivers have become less enamored of the ongoing enterprise. Professor S.D. Muni, long considered a prime architect of India’s Nepal policy, has outed himself in a recent book chapter as a leading figure behind the 12-Point Agreement. Even he has been reduced to asserting that the change in India’s policy in 2005-2006 was a response to the existing balance of the principal forces that have remained central to New Delhi’s Nepal policy. Scarcely implicit in Muni’s assertion is the reality that the balance could change at any time and manifest itself anew.
Other external stakeholders are perhaps likely to review their posture in less conspicuous and more impenetrable ways. Once the general dynamics of external and internal realignments begin to emerge more clearly, the non-Maoist parties might find it easier to change their postures and rationalize them.
Within the Maoists, the rival factions might try to blame each other for the failure of their revolutionary agenda. Yet, during the last six years, ordinary Nepalis have had much more time to reflect on the march to a nebulous newness. They have become more competent in distinguishing between foreign assistance and intervention, between sympathy and subversion, and between goodwill and gibberish. And they are better able to judge the actions and intentions of domestic players within these external undercurrents.
As for the 1990 Constitution, the very existence of that document in the national psyche is bound to drive the discourse among advocates and opponents of restoration in the coming days. Whatever ultimately happens, the Maoists will have the most explaining to do.