Sunday, February 16, 2014

Let’s Pass The New Statute To See What’s In It

Forget what’s precisely behind the tussle over the home ministry between the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML). It’s but the latest manifestation of our collective cluelessness vis-à-vis the newness of Nepal.
Surely, Nepalis – leaders and the led – are entitled to celebrating as long as they want their arrival in the midst of world’s civilized mainstream, having overcome their monarchical/oligarchical legacy. But the partying eventually has to stop for the real job to begin, doesn’t it?
Consider the record so far. Inclusiveness remains a noble endeavor up to the point where it gets bogged down over who is most aggrieved and who is most economically endowed to ensure oneself in, say, the new constituent assembly.
Federalism is an ideal that must be pursued at all costs, but nobody seems to be able to figure out how many sub-units we require or can afford. A presidential system would instill some stability in leadership. Yet it also raises the risk of an individual’s monopolization of power, a feature of old Nepal we’re determined to cast aside.
An elected president and prime minister, on the other hand, would be the apotheosis of popular legitimacy, not to speak of collective action toward a common goal. But the possibility of perpetual institutional conflict remains a menace that is not too difficult for us to comprehend.
We have a polity fractured into dozens of parties, not to speak of the countless groups masquerading as apolitical enablers and the well-oiled external sponsors of a thriving grievance industry. And we’re not even counting the accumulating list of the newly aggrieved around us. Yet we’re constantly barraged with pleas for consensus.
Our much-reviled partyless system, in spite of its coercive character, couldn’t foster a culture of consensus. (The endemic liberal-hardliner fissures within the Panchayat system, anyone?). Are we not merely chasing a mirage in the maze of pluralism and free will fueled by an abiding individualism?
Perhaps not. Infuriated by the ostensible betrayal of the Nepali Congress, some UML leaders are suggesting that it might not join the government of Prime Minister Sushil Koirala even if their party got the home ministry.
Instead of relenting, much less conceding that that was the eighth unwritten point of their much-hyped agreement, Koirala almost effortlessly turns to United Communist Party of Nepal- Maoist (UCPN-M) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal for support.
The Maoist chief, having overcome the latest internal challenge to his waning leadership, obliges, saying he wants the country to finally begin drafting the constitution. But Dahal’s magnanimity has a price tag. He wants the speakership for his party as a demonstration of the dignity with which the UCPN-M will continue to be treated.
Where it really matters – i.e., outside the political boundaries of Nepal – keeping Bam Dev Gautam out of the home ministry might be worth it all. Gautam, to his credit, has come out with a chronological record of negotiations buttressing the accusation that the Nepali Congress did indeed renege on its pledge. What’s he to do when he has adversaries right beside him?
So be prepared for the UML (at least the aggrieved faction) to start touting more energetically the prospect of leading the government after Koirala’s customary 100-day honeymoon.
In this convoluted climate, you would think our politicians would have the good sense of not putting a time-frame on their primary task. Yet everyone everyday goes about promising the promulgation of a new constitution within a year.
There may be method to this madness. Caught between conflicting and uncontrollable external variables and fuzzy albeit intensifying popular expectations, the political class has reached halfway across the world to devise an escape hatch: You have to adopt a new constitution to understand what’s in it. So let’s do it quick, but not that quick, either. A year sounds about right, doesn’t it?