Friday, December 26, 2014

Con, Sense And Us

Dear Consensus,

Why dost thou so tormentest us so sore?
Our destiny is so inextricably tied to your appearance. At times, you have been within our grasp, only to slither away into oblivion.
We’ve heard so much about you in the last eight years. But do we really know you?
General agreement, we thought you were. Or was it concord? The variants – harmony, concurrence, accord, unity, unanimity, solidarity – all have that positive ring.
What is it that you actually embody – general opinion, majority opinion, common view? Or do you arrive – to paraphrase Abba Eban – when everyone agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually?
We’re not the only ones debating your character, you may say. Take climate change, and humanity’s role in it. The world is still unable to agree on how conclusive computer models are that they should be allowed to regulate our behavior. But that’s all in the future.
We’re in the here and now. Our new constitution is struggling to emerge on account of your adamancy. The ruling parties have the votes to promulgate the statute by a two-thirds majority. We can understand why the Maoists don’t want that to happen. But why are the two principal democratic parties appeasing the former rebels?
The Indian prime minister, too, tells us not go for a majority-backed constitution. Loyalists in his country are acting as if they represent a one-party theocracy. But, no, we have to have everyone on board.
Forget the number of provinces, for a moment. We have a polity that spans the hard secular left to the religious right. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal may or may not want a return of the monarchy, but it certainly wants the reinstatement of Hindu statehood. The leader of the original Rastriya Prajatantra Party has gone on record that he wants a Hindu republic.
The ranks of anti-secularists are said to be burgeoning in the Nepali Congress, while a few luminaries close to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist have been spotted at pro-Hindu-state conclaves. (And who knows how many Maoists in their splintered existence might acquiesce in Hindu statehood just to settle scores with rivals?)
As a non-party polity, the Panchayat system could not enforce its every-Nepali-is-a-Pancha-and-every-Pancha-is-a-Nepali credo.  Nor could the repression of the Rana regime, before that, enforce conformity in perpetuity. Yet, we are told that a popularly elected multiparty assembly cannot promulgate the new basic law without your august arrival.
Pity our leaders. They got what they wanted without really wanting it. They play-acted their way toward opening that Pandora’s Box fully realizing what lay within. Today, they are ready to acknowledge failure, but only after devising a formula that equitably apportions responsibility.
That’s not likely to happen soon, especially when the parties are using their last fig-leaf: a new power-sharing blueprint.
So, as hard as it is to say, it’s up to you to make a grand appearance. Tell us, unequivocally, that you are entirely unachievable. The pols would be forced to deliver or craft a more credible excuse. As for the people, our belief that we have been conned for so long will have been validated.
And the constitution, you might still ask. With you out of the way, we’ll keep trying with a new sense of earnestness.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Finding Faith In Alien Encounters

There are times when you wonder whether our foreign friends really want us to get a new constitution. British Ambassador Andrew Sparkes’ recent open letter advising the drafters to ensure that religious conversion is enshrined as something approximating a fundamental right is one of those times.
The substance of his letter is not the point here, conforming as it does to Western nations’ eagerness to promote Christianity and its Good News in our hapless homeland. Nor is the question why the top representative of a putative ‘Englistan’ emerging from fertile ground of hedonistic secularism would so brazenly ignore developments at home.
The timing of the ambassador’s letter is what inspires Maila Baje to question his motives. Our political class has enough on its hands with its self-imposed constitutional deadline looming. The Hinduism/secularism has the potential to create problems that would dwarf those stemming from federalism. In fairness, the British envoy advocates religious freedom in general. But you don’t need special skills to detect the Christian tone of that dog whistle.
Sparkes wasn’t the only alien muddying our waters. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did that by advising us to devise a consensus-based constitution instead of a numbers-driven one. That pleasant plea basically provided a paradigm for prolonging the stalemate, given that each political party in the constituent assembly won seats on the basis of their own manifestoes on the constitution.
With such incongruities having stepped in, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) have reverted to what they do best: devising a new power-sharing platform. In other developments, Nepali Congress leader Khum Bahadur Khadka has seized the Hinduism banner from Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (RPPN). The latter party now has only the monarchy as its exclusive agenda. With RPPN President Kamal Thapa’s personal relations with the last monarch said to have cooled, factional rivalries have overtaken that organization. Leaders have taken to defending their lethargy to the former monarch’s apathy toward a restoration.
So entreaties for the status quo ante have started coming from the ostensible purveyors of newness. Weeks after Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel publicly defended the intrinsic virtuousness of the 1990 Constitution, CPN-UML leader Oli advocated its modification into the new one.
Although both leaders tried to walk back their comments, the mere articulation was enough for the Maoists to begin twisting themselves into pretzels. Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal claims that he is shrewdly manipulating the two principal parties, while his deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, insists having a basic outline of the constitution by January 22 would be an achievement.
The teeth have long since come off the Maoist tiger, and it will ultimately accede to anything as an act of self-preservation. But comrades have to act as if they are putting up a fight. Bhattarai thus claims his people can accept the Nepali Congress-UML concept of federalism so long as the two main parties can persuade the janjatis of its merits. (What about the madhesis, comrade?)
A President Sushil Koirala and a Prime Minister Oli might even try doing that in earnest, if only those pesky foreigners just knew when to shut up.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Speak Up, Dear Leaders

By now, it is pretty much clear that if we do indeed get a new constitution by January 22, it will have been merely because of our political class’s fealty to its self-imposed deadline. The document will not be able to appease every constituency, address every grievance, and anticipate every impediment to future we all want.
Why let the perfect stand in the way of the good, right? Why indeed. But what after January 22? Will we have a mechanism in place to revisit constitutional issues, say, every ten years? If so the number and structure of states should not be too big of an issue. Maybe we can try either a presidential and prime ministerial system first and come back to change it if we don’t like it. But will mere pledges made today be enough to placate the disaffected, whose ranks are only bound to grow?
Then there’s the school of thought articulated most recently by Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal. What is so sacrosanct about January 22? After all, it was a deadline imposed by lawmakers, chastened by their failure to complete their job the first time around. Call it a case of entanglement by eagerness.
No, the sky didn’t fall when the last constituent assembly repeatedly missed its deadlines and eventually died on us. But, then, Dahal, too, needs to address a couple of things. Why is consensus being forced upon a political process that has, at its roots, multiparty competition? Wasn’t conformity and the other cousins of consensus supposed to be the hallmark of polities like the maligned partyless Panchayat system we had long ago cast aside?
The numbers game need not necessarily be bad if what the Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist and others are intent on push through corresponds to their respective platforms during the election campaign. Shouldn’t elections have consequences?
But, more importantly, why does Dahal think the ruling parties are so averse to consensus. Forget the master-slave routine he is spouting at every turn and focus on the substance. If the insecurities of political parties revolving around state restructuring and mode of governance have become so entrenched, what is to say that those same fears won’t perpetuate a stranglehold on the new system? If the fate of districts like Jhapa and Kailali are so stuck on considerations related to the commingling of India’s state and international borders today, what else might go up in the air tomorrow?
But who are we kidding, right? Such questions became irrelevant about two years after the first constituent assembly was elected. After that, we bungled into a series of side deals to keep up the fiction that the 12-Point Accord was alive, primarily for the benefit of its sponsors.
Maybe our politicians should finally come clean and throw at us what resembles a constitution on January 22. Before we can catch the booklets to start burning or ripping them, our pols should scream at the top of their lungs: “As your elected representatives we tried our best to reconcile everything you’ve been asking for. This is what we’ve got, and we’re sick and tired. Now, take it or leave it, coz we’re going home.”  How newer could Nepal get?