Sunday, December 08, 2013

Kingly Craft Of Conjuring Compromise

As the country continues to decrypt the November 19 election results, the subplot has suddenly thickened. Pundits of all persuasions were twisting themselves into pretzels trying to make sense of the 24 seats the pro-monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) won exclusively in the proportional representation category. Now party chief Kamal Thapa has given analysts an opportunity to undergo even more contortions.
The RPP-N was ready to compromise on its agenda to ensure that the country got a democratic constitution, Thapa said at the Reporters Club the other day. That remark set off a flurry of suppositions. Let’s focus on the three major strains. Did Thapa mean that the party would abandon its restoration-of-monarchy line, somehow conceding that a singular focus on reviving Hindu statehood might have produced it more seats?
Or was Thapa expressing displeasure at former king Gyanendra, who, it was rumored, financed the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), to the disadvantage of the clear claimant, the RPP-N?
On the other hand, was Thapa merely establishing his credentials as a pragmatist once he figured out how high he would have to roll up his sleeves? The RPP-N, after all, does not have the numbers to press ahead with its distinctive twin line, either through the consensus or majority route. Logically, it would not want to be blamed for the deadlock most analysts are predicting would grip the new assembly from the outset.
On the first count, it would be foolish to expect the RPP-N to be identified as a republican pro-Hindu-state organization. At the popular level, the monarchy and Hindu statehood are so interlinked that even if Thapa had run on a republican-religious platform, he would have been accused of stealth royalism. Just ask leaders of the rival RPP, whose avoidance of Hindu tag has done nothing to bolster their avowed republicanism.
There is no way Maila Baje could fathom whether the former monarch funded any parties or candidates, or, if he had, whether he favored one or two over the rest. But it would be entirely understandable if Nirmal Niwas bestowed its financial blessings on the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. The restoration of the 1990 constitution would be the easiest route to restoring the monarchy on the ex-monarch’s terms. Since the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML were two of the three architects of that document, their empowerment would only make sense for Nirmal Niwas. As for the RPP-N, some of Thapa’s pre-election remarks implied a heavy tilt towards India’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, whose private conduct in power, as recent revelations suggest, was detrimental to the palace.
The pragmatism explanation seems to make most sense. Even if the constituent assembly managed to produce a document this time, it is very unlikely to win sufficient endorsement from the street, considering the noises already being made. By appearing to compromise on his electoral agenda, Thapa has set out to preempt himself from disproportionate blame.
The outright failure of the second constituent assembly to produce a document, on the other hand, would bolster those seeking to pronounce the post-2006 march as a drag on the nation. The case for restoring the status quo ante, which has vocal advocates in the Nepali Congress and more stealthy ones in the CPN-UML, would thus be bolstered. Should the domestic realities so crystallize, segments within both flanks of the regional power system, who saw the period so far as an opportunity to rein in both the Maoists and extra-regional mischief-makers, would be impelled to enter the next political act.
All of this, to be sure, could be easily dismissed as pointless conjecture. Yet when every breakthrough in our recent political experience has had the tendency of raising immediate and dire questions, conjuring every conceivable scenario at least should have some soothing value.