Monday, September 21, 2015

Can We Prove The Astrologers Wrong?

Our worst fears didn’t come to pass. At least, we didn’t have to promulgate the Constitution to just to find out what it contained.
In fairness, the process, albeit delayed, was remarkably robust. Ultimately, the draft experts submitted to the elected assembly was amended after fairly forceful, if at times flashy, public input.  That text was then voted upon article by article. And when the final version of the document was put before the assembly, it commanded more than two-thirds support.
If not allowing the perfect stand in the way of the practicable is the operative standard, let’s us all breathe in relief: better late than never. But, then, there’s that pesky little thing called politics. With an entire region of the country, comprising half the population, having rejected the basic law, promises of prompt amendments appear unlikely to mollify that constituency.
What difference might a couple of days’ delay in promulgating the charter have made in terms of its legitimacy? Then, again, what guarantee was there that last-minute talks with the disparate and divided Terai-Madhes-based groups would have borne fruit, right? And let’s not forget that, from the extreme fringes of the ideological spectrum, the document ways always going to have been pronounced dead on arrival.
Much has been made of India’s apparent displeasure with the process as well as the product. Nepali leaders rebuffed New Delhi’s last-minute intervention and kept to their schedule. However, they, too, probably aren’t in a celebratory mood for having done that. When the ideologically distinct Indian media uniformly begin to lament how Nepali leaders spurned New Delhi, you can guess that the story is still being scripted.
The Indian government didn’t sound too happy in its official response to the promulgation. Because of that perceived frostiness, no one knows what New Delhi’s next move might be. The Terai might suddenly go quiet, trying to make the best of the situation now and regroup for the next round. On the other hand, things might flare up to an extent almost justifying India’s expressed anxieties. The Chinese, of course, could afford to be happier about the outcome because it’s not their porch that’s smoldering. The responses of the other different external stakeholders have been consistent with their stated positions.
As has been long stressed in this space, there was no alternative to promulgating the constitution, Great Earthquake or not. There’s no doubt the process begun in 2006 was flawed, more so because of the subsequent slapdash compromises than because of the original spirit of the “People’s Movement II”. Much time and money was spent on keeping alive the idea of “New Nepal”. No matter how nebulous, it assumed a life of its own and needed a body.
Critics like yours truly will continue to point out that out, but not wearing some sinister see-I-told-you-so smirk. The drivers of the promised change are in full control. They can no longer blame the palace for subverting a people’s quest for full sovereignty. The first rule of thumb is that an empowered people will have greater expectations from their leaders.
Most astrologers said the time the constitution was promulgated was not propitious. A secular state may need not pay heed to such antiquated analysis. Yet the essential question remains: Can we prove the astrologers wrong?

Monday, September 07, 2015

Upsetting, Yet Understandable

In all honesty, I can’t say it doesn’t hurt. But it wasn’t entirely unexpected.
I used to tell everyone that a day would come when people would start demolishing our statues and portraits. “Come on, Girija babu, give the people more credit. They’ll never forget those who’ve been on their side all along.”
The mob that demolished my statue at Birgunj may or may not be representative of the popular mood. But it certainly had a different notion of history and accountability.
Five years after I left the mortal world, they still blame me for the mess country finds itself in. Out of loyalty, the Nepali Congress described the demolition as an “undemocratic act” that had really saddened the party and supporters of democracy. I don’t know about that. But I do wonder how the people would have felt if they saw the big picture.
In retrospect, the term “grand design” I popularized was kind of misleading. It contained too much of a sinister streak, almost an implication that everything that had gone wrong in Nepal was part of an elaborate external plan.
Things are far simpler.
I don’t believe Nepali politicians are congenitally predisposed to destruction. Hard as it might be to believe, we do think about the well-being of the people and nation. Events, ideas and perspectives drive us in different directions because they emanate from disparate levels. In an effort to outdo one another, we unleash forces that ultimate constrain our ability to act.
Personally, I never harbored hopes of becoming the first president of Nepal. The reason was simple: I never believed we could – or should – do away with the monarchy. That should have been clear enough from the “ceremonial monarchy” and “baby king” that I had been pushing. But, no, the long view was discredited as a camouflage for appeasement.
Institutionally, the Nepali Congress and the monarchy remained in antithetical existence. Deep down, each recognized how it was inextricably linked to the other. At the same time, each was most susceptible to disinformation spewed by other quarters vis-à-vis the motives of the other.
After the April 2006 Uprising, it’s no secret that we all discussed whether, in the name of sidelining the monarchy, we had unleashed forces that would ultimately consume us. Sure, Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh broke tradition and arrived at the airport in New Delhi to welcome me with the warm epithet of South Asia’s elder statesman. You think I was fooled? All I remembered then were the humiliating hours Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made me wait outside his office when I wanted to convey my opposition to his advice that we should support the king’s first takeover in the interest of national salvation.
Within the party and among our allies, there was a feeling that I was unable to grasp the generational transformation Nepal had undergone. Okay, even if we conceded that the monarchy was a political anachronism, what would fill the wider institutional vacuum? In those heady moments, who had time for cooler minds. (And what would a lanky havaldar who just couldn’t stop living know?)
Eventually, the 12 Point Agreement had to be preserved through a bevy of side deals, compromises and unspoken undertakings. There was no appreciation of the post-1990 reality that the passage of time would erode our popularity and restore faith in those we supposedly had vanquished.
I know there are many who envy my good fortune that I left the world when the going was still good. Their desire to lump every ill on me was partially realized at Birgunj. I’ll gladly take the hit – and whatever comes next – on behalf of those who thought we were smarter than your average Nepali.