Sunday, March 03, 2013

Upside of Distorted Reality

You have to admire the key national interlocutors for at least attempting to persuade us of the earnestness of the political conversation.
The major political parties implore the chief justice to head an election government as if they are really acting in ultimate acknowledgement of their responsibility to the nation and people.
A divided legal fraternity looks askance. One group tells the president that he should desist from what they call an utterly unconstitutional move, notwithstanding the grudging political consent it may have mustered. Other individuals turn to the Supreme Court for relief.
The rival school insists on the political validity of the controversial proposal in view of the exigencies of the moment, unabashedly allying themselves with a section of the political class.
Passions run so high that Bam Dev Gautam, of the CPN-UML, challenges Nepal Bar Association office-bearers to run the government if they were so adamantly opposed to the chief justice doing so. The president, for his part, pledges he will not go out of the bounds of constitutionality.
Foreign ambassadors counsel elections as the only outlet that would allow Nepalis to determine their fate themselves. Somehow we are supposed to forget that many of these same governments did their best to foil elections when Nepalis had a real chance of resolving their problems internally in 2005-2006. Or that the interim constitution, hollowed out by ceaseless political conveniences, makes the Panchayati Constitution look like a model of jurisprudential sturdiness.
It’s fun to watch all these conversers struggling to wear a straight face. Yet, Maila Baje feels, there is some virtue in their ever-widening reality-distortion field.
The external architects of change, more than the political parties per se, ran out of options once it became clear that the concept of ‘new Nepal’ was a mere camouflage for geo-strategic realignments. The elevation of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai to the premiership gave them the final cover. His reputation and persona – more designed than deserved, alas – were expected to buy time for the external protagonists to reconcile their wider contradictions.
Once the Bhattarai magic wore off, another fa├žade had to be put up. The real job was nowhere near completion. Each external actor in Nepal today wants not only sufficient space to stand on but also enough energy to checkmate present and potential rivals.
A world in transition with constantly moving targets, after all, has to tend to all angles. The U.S. pivot to Asia propels the Europeans here, too. India’s Look East policy results in the Chinese looking south-west with a grander gaze. Yet global issues such as climate change and free trade – where the West has the upper hand – impels the Chinese and Indians to act together.
Nepal cannot escape the impact of these unresolved contradictions. Federalism, pushed by foreign quarters largely to denigrate the monarchy and the traditional order, now has to be delivered in ornamental doses, if at all. Local advocates, who campaigned in sincerity, cannot be appeased.
Issues like secularism and homosexuality, too, were tools to thwart tradition. By allowing non-governmental entities to push the agenda, foreign governments got to exercise plausible deniability. Yet when social engineering and the grievance industry overtook the political process, our immediate neighbors could not tolerate the spillover effects.
An exclusive Sino-Indian grand bargain to stabilize and shelter Nepal cannot be expected to go unchallenged, given the heavy investments countries and organizations farther afield already have made here.
All this is bound to leave our heads spinning. Yet we must also acknowledge how fortunate we really are. We may not be allowed to swim free out of these turbulent waters. But we also know that those around us cannot afford to let us sink.
So let’s keep ourselves wet, scooping and kicking the water, even if we’re going nowhere. Around us, sooner or later, something’s gotta give.