Sunday, May 25, 2014

Due Process Or Fig Leaf?

Seeking to stand straight after his recent somersaults on the monarchy, Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) chairman Kamal Thapa has made this much clear: he is a firm believer in due process.
Opening the party’s national convention the other day, Thapa said the party remains committed to its basic objective of restoring the monarchy as the symbol of national unity. But since the RPP-N does not have the numbers to press that agenda in the constituent assembly, it will not allow the issue stand in the way of the much-delayed new constitution.
But wait a minute. Didn’t Thapa warn just the other day that any constitution that failed to restore Nepal’s Hindu statehood would do little more than light a national bonfire? Surely, anti-secularism sentiments inside the assembly are not any stronger than their anti-republic variant.
Perhaps Thapa and his party have decided to choose their battles carefully. More likely, though, is that Thapa recognizes he does not have a monopoly on the monarchy-restoration discourse.
By separating the party’s ideological and pragmatic orientations, the RPP-N has created room for further debate on other crucial aspects. For instance, what kind of monarchy would a restored crown symbolize? What would the cost-benefit rundown in terms of constitutional, ceremonial or cultural monarchy reflect in terms beyond economics?
By invoking the principle of due process, Thapa has also opened the door to further deliberations on the possible mode of restoration. Should our elected representatives fail yet again to draft a new basic law for their version of a new Nepal, the prospect of restoring the 1990 Constitution would gain attraction.
But how exactly might that be done? Would a Supreme Court ruling, based on something akin to the doctrine of necessity, restoring the status quo to April 24, 2006 suffice?
If so, where would that leave the Maoists and the federalism/inclusion agenda, not to mention the slew of accords and compromises reached since? Might constitutional amendments be enough to take care of the dreams the political establishment has woven?
Might another avenue be popular protests in favor of restoring the monarchy? That notion might sound ludicrous at first. But we all have seen how quickly crowds can swell in our midst. And when we have counted heads, has it really mattered where they have come from?
Public protests might provide enough pressure to our political parties to move towards, say, pledging a referendum on the monarchy. More likely such protests would give them the fig leaf they so badly need. Indeed, the parties have always left some room for the prospect of the restoration of the monarchy. The president didn’t move into the palace complex the king vacated. The much-hyped Republic Pillar has been delayed for one flimsy reason or the other.
Clearly, the post-2006 establishment is in search for a safe landing. Can leaders who can’t seem to manage their own organizations and coteries be expected to conduct the country? Blaming the monarchy for Nepal’s ills might still be an attractive ploy in the minds of our politicos. It resonates less and less beyond.
The Maoists have always carried the nationalism-is-at-risk card, ready for use against their current rivals. The other mainstream parties can claim how they were hasty in dumping the monarchy and in trusting the Maoists. Both could unite in reaffirming their faith in a reaching a home-grown compromise this time around.
And the average Nepali? Heck, even the most rabid anti-monarchist among us would have to admit that republicanism was not what drove the protests in the spring of 2006.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Modi-fying Our Hopes And Fears

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s electoral triumph has triggered predictable reactions across our political spectrum vis-à-vis its impact on Nepal’s troubled polity.
From Foreign Minister Mahendra Pandey, representing the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist, to Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) president Kamal Thapa, representing the right end of the spectrum, disparate voices have emerged. But when you boil it down, expectations of calm continuity or critical change depend on the hopes and fears of who is speaking.
The status-quoists, so to speak, do have a point. The Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh may have anointed our Maoists as the drivers of republicanism. Still, it was the BJP-led government that had opened channels to the rebels, while still labeling them terrorists in public.
For adherents of the international-conspiracy angle of the Narayanhity Massacre, at least, the fact that the entire line of King Birendra’s family was wiped out while the BJP was at the helm says a lot. So does the fact that the BJP-led government tried hard to use the Indian Airlines hijacking to bring Nepal under New Delhi’s security umbrella. And when that failed, the Indian establishment’s attempt to feign outrage at the Hrithik Roshan controversy was a poorly disguised effort to pursue that objective in a different way.
So when Foreign Minister Pandey and other members of the ruling establishment hope that Nepal’s post-2006 republican political order is safe, they have some justification. RPP-N president Thapa, for his part, has grasped the other side of the story.
Even before the BJP won its own majority, and was still expected to return to power at the head of an alliance, there was reason to believe that the Sangh Parivar would exert a far greater influence over a Modi government than it ever had over Atal Behari Vajpayee’s.
Constituents of the wider Hindu nationalist base the Parivar embodies have been more vocal in their opposition to the secularization of the world’s only Hindu state. As the Parivar pushes the BJP’s campaign to take over the state governments in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – after sweeping the parliamentary constituencies there – and tries to build on the opening it has made in West Bengal, Nepal is likely to come under greater weight from events in the three largest Indian states it borders.
It would not be unreasonable to expect the BJP and its base focusing exclusively on the restoration of Hindu statehood in Nepal. But, then, you don’t really have to be a rocket scientist to conclude the inevitability of a restoration of the Hindu monarchy to operationalize a restored Hindu state. If some things are sometimes left unsaid, it is because they are too obvious.
Thapa’s public comments on the monarchy’s role in the future of the RPP-N agenda can best be understood in this spirit. His latest attempt to blame the monarchy for its irredeemability, at least in its constitutional form, was bound to be taken as brazen impudence, given his status as home minister in the royal regime. But, then, Thapa can afford to take some political license in the circumstances.
He does not merit too much of our opprobrium. After all, as Maila Baje has often pointed out, if the monarchy is ever to be restored in Nepal, it will be through the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML and, specifically, their ownership of the spirit of the 1990 Constitution.
As for the debate raging in Nepal over the outcome of the Indian election, it could have been tempered with a little realism: Whatever a Modi government does vis-à-vis Nepal, it will have done to advance India’s core interests – regardless of our hopes or fears.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Ins And Outs Of It

What’s more likely to happen in the next couple of weeks? Baburam Bhattarai and his supporters formally walking out of the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to create their own organization or the Mohan Baidya Maoists returning to Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s fold?
An equal chance you might proffer. And why not? The two possibilities do seem to have some sort of relationship. For Baidya to return, Bhattarai would have to leave. Conversely, for Baidya to stay out, Bhattarai would have to stay in.
Now, things aren’t so cut and dried. This makes the issue all the more intriguing.
For starters, what is the opportunity cost of Bhattarai staying in? The ‘nationalist’ current in the Maoist movement would remain splintered. Ideologically, Dahal and Baidya stand wide apart, the former more attuned to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML)’s new capitalist sympathies.
In the aftermath of the divisive Biratnagar conference, Dahal has described Bhattarai’s activities as deviant and revisionist, a charge Baidya has leveled against Dahal for far longer.
The Dahal-Bhattarai relationship has always been a difficult one. Each has attributed the vexation to their different backgrounds. Overall, the love-hate relationship has worked out well for both.
Dahal has relied on Bhattarai throughout for the ideological underpinnings for his political program. If Bhattarai has been able to transition from a party’s chief ideologue to a broadly acceptable national leader, he owes it in no small measure to Dahal.
How strong would Bhattarai’s faction be independently? Bhattarai the man might be able to prosper anywhere. But would his supporters be able to emerge from his halo sufficiently to build the new organization into a viable force?
The Maoists command a segment of Nepali political allegiance that would now have to divvied up organizationally. While many true believers accuse Dahal of ideological deviation from the glory days of the people’s war, many of these same critics see Bhattarai as complicit in the degeneration.
Bhattarai would have to try to broaden his organizational base by encroaching upon territory now controlled by forces to the centre and right. Good luck on that.
For someone as self-absorbed as Bhattarai, forming a one-man army would be self-actualizing. But we all know he can’t act alone on matters of such consequence.
Despite their ideological differences, the ‘nationalism’ plank would be enough to bring the Dahal and Baidya factions closer – possibly even toward eventual unification – especially given the political advantage they could derive should internal dynamics turn even more disheartening.
Those standing against such a coalescing of forces – currently more preponderant outside the country than within – would want Bhattarai to stay in. The question is: Would he want to defy them?

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Tableaus Of An Open-Ended Transition

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s assertion the other day that democracy in Nepal remained to be institutionalized was striking. And the venue made it all the more so.
It’s unclear how the participants at the 24th General Convention of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) took that statement collectively. If they greeted it with the same resignation with which the prime minister made it, Maila Baje feels our scribes easily could be forgiven.
The prime minister, after all, made it a point to remind the assembled journalists of their great role in strengthening democracy. While establishing that there was enough culpability to go around, Koirala also dangled the promise of every working journalist owning his or her own car within ten years, if things went right. (Sorry, nothing about non-working scribes there.)
It would have felt good to be able to attribute this admission by the leader of the party that has been at the forefront of Nepal’s three epic struggles for democracy over the last six decades to the unique challenges our country faces. Across the world, nations have faltered and flourished in institutionalizing democracy over the same time span. King Mahendra still gets a lot of grief for having enunciated it, but the Air and Soil Theory of Politics does have a ring of truth to it.
Still, Koirala’s claim is an act of brazenness – and one, to be fair to the prime minister, that spans the political spectrum. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai has made a post-election career of plugging the need for a new force. In doing so, the chief ideologue of a party that has not fully shed its totalitarian ambitions not only admits the erroneousness of the armed insurgency as an agent of change; he implies that none of the assorted communist factions have the capacity to take Nepal forward. If Dr. Bhattarai’s latest call is but a ploy to unseat Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal, he might have done a better job of camouflaging it.
Remarkably, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) has conceded the centrality of capitalism in Nepal. This comes at a time when the principal capitalist country in the world is demonstrating nostalgia for Soviet-style regimentation in the name of fairness and equality.
Still, the CPN-UML is needlessly debating whether the April 2006 uprising was a political or social revolution. Undoubtedly a manifestation of Nepalis’ quest for change, the event was part of the externally inspired color-coded revolutions spiced up by the imperatives of a budding strategic partnership between an evangelist administration in the United States and a secular one in India, the latter possessing a virulent communist strain.
Once the confusion of that concoction becomes clear, it is easier to understand the true character of that spring of discontent. But to be able to do that honestly, the CPN-UML would have to quit pretending to be a communist party.
Ultimately, the parties’ ambivalence stems from the fact that they do not have the monarchy to kick around anymore. Turning the transition into an open-ended travail thus becomes expedient for the players. As long as the international community continues legitimizing such inconsistency as evolution, all is well.
Truth be told, our leaders would love to excoriate the many external hands in public, and some have trained their guns on the West. As for the hand right around the corner, every pol knows that’s the kind you don’t bite – and certainly not with their kind of appetite.