Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mugged By Reality

For a country whose future was traditionally discussed around the constrained sovereignty of the two other Raj-era Himalayan buffer states, we have come a long way. Forget Sikkimization or Bhutanization. Nepali Congress leader Shekhar Koirala has begun drawing parallels with more far-flung climes like Crimea.
That’s not the only way in which the Nepali Congress, the country’s oldest democratic party, has been exuding its creative side. Khum Bahadur Khadka, a one-time stalwart who many had been tempted to dismiss as a has-been, warns of an impending religious war, if not now then in 20 years’ time. All this comes after Shashank Koirala, in an acclaimed address to the Nepal Council of World Affairs, sought to hold his own party accountable for at least part of the national malaise.
Promulgating a constitution – or whatever can resemble one – has become a prestige issue for the prime minister of a party that claims to have spearheaded three revolutions but doesn't want to talk about how it squandered it all each time. Sushil Koirala’s cabinet colleagues from the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist sound quite confident too. (How could they afford not to be?)
Those arrayed against a half-done document are quite formidable. Yet their divisions have provided strength to the proponents of meeting the January 22 deadline.
As frustrated as we might be, let’s not pretend we were not forewarned. After all, the mainstream parties were rejecting the Maoists’ demand for a constituent assembly on the ground that it would open a Pandora’s box until King Gyanendra began sidelining them. Antipathy toward the palace need not have translated so cavalierly into fissiparous alacrity.
Geopolitical realities conspired to take Nepal is’ aspirations for change in a different direction. The three principal external powers – India, China and the United States – were principally hedging their bets. Our wizards of smart stuck their necks out too far. Eight years down the road, the parties that could so easily agree on what was not part of the mandate of People’s Movement II – the abolition of the monarchy – cannot agree on ways of meeting its principal demand – inclusiveness.
How could they, when we are still in the process of manufacturing newer victims and victimizers?
The geopolitical equations have shifted since when an Indian coalition government trying to negotiate a strategic partnership with the United States had to appease its communist allies by outsourcing Nepal policy to them. Nor are the Chinese and Indians engaged in a zero-sum game over Nepal or South Asia. After all, the Chinese President was fraternizing with the Indian prime minister while their border guards were trading fire.
And the Americans? Tibet is a useful pin to prick China. But when the US President on Chinese soil says that he is not in favor of Tibet’s independence, you know how much the ground has shifted from 2005-2006.
One Nepali newspaper editorially suggested the other day that Nepal had moved beyond the divisive issue of the monarchy and must be allowed to reach out to the future. Six years after Gyanendra Shah left Narayanhity Palace, his private visit to New Delhi has all of us in thrall. What might be cooking the Indian capital, where legions of dishes have been produced over the decades suiting all kinds of taste buds out here?
So this is where we are. A multiparty constituent assembly is being asked to develop consensus when all of its constituent parties fought the elections on their own manifestos. Yet when the two principal ruling parties and their minor allies can muster over two-thirds majority behind their constitutional roadmap, that is called undemocratic.
That’s the kind of thing that happens when reality mugs you.