Sunday, January 24, 2016

Making Amends In Perpetuity

Phew! That was fast.
Less than four months of its promulgation, our Constitution has been amended to address the demands raised by agitating Madhesi parties. The agitators, though, aren’t terribly impressed. Even the Indians, while welcoming the amendment more warmly than the main document, seem to see it as part of a wider political process of inclusion.
In retrospect, we should have listened to our astrologers. Most of them had said way back in September that the time chosen to promulgate the long-awaited new basic law was simply not propitious. The opposing line held that a secular state need not pay heed to such antiquated analysis. Good point. The challenge, as pointed out by Maila Baje, thus remained whether the political class could prove the astrologers wrong.
Express amendments per se are not a sign of a constitution’s feebleness. The first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution, for instance, were proposed almost simultaneously with the effort to seek states’ ratification of main document. In the late eighteenth century, while we were fighting the Tibetans and Chinese, the anti-federalists in the United States were too suspicious their rivals’ drive to constrain the power of the state.
Of course, Nepalis last September were more trusting of their representatives in the constituent assembly to go the full way. As numbers mattered more than notions of nationhood, disaffected Nepalis treaded a familiar path of protest. The outgoing government, just in case, had draft amendments ready. That duplicity alienated the Madhesis and infuriated India, whose displeasure is being felt by every Nepali every day ever since.
Those expecting the streets to cease their surge of fury anytime soon may have to step back a bit. The amendment, like the constitution itself, was forced on the community and was therefore not acceptable, said Upendra Yadav of the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal. Rajendra Mahato of Sadbavana Party also claimed that the agitation would continue as the amendment had been effected without taking the alliance into confidence.
Rumblings of discontent are being heard from the other side, too. The party of Deputy Prime Minister Chitra Bahadur KC voted against the amendment, while Comrade Rohit of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party called the amendment a latter-day version of the Sugauli Treaty.
With the CPN-UML, UCPN-Maoist, RPPN and the other parties in power whistling in the dark and the main opposition Nepali Congress mired once again in internal power realignments ahead of another crucial national convention, Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai’s ‘new force’ is sputtering to life.
The agglomeration of political has-beens, ex-bureaucrats and security officials and fading actors may or may not capitalize on the inertia in the mainstream. Despite its emergence in a semi-institutional incarnation, the new formation’s ideological hue remains nebulous beyond the centre-left identity its leaders have bestowed on it.
In any case, since Dr. Bhattarai abandoned his original ‘new Nepal’ enterprise midway, he hardly inspires the confidence his compatriots need today. Maybe it’s time to let the astrologers chart the next couple of amendments. The force of that would be something entirely new.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

National Unity: An Individual Account

Deputy Prime Minister Chandra Prakash Mainali may have done little to settle the long-running debate on whether King Prithvi Narayan Shah was indeed a noble unifier of modern Nepal or merely a ruthless and ambitious expansionist. Still, Mainali’s contribution to the discussion has served to inspire much-needed introspection vis-à-vis our collective future.
General-secretary of the now-scraggy Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist), Mainali the man still remains a valued member of our fraternity of comrades splashed across the political spectrum. His legendary past has provided enough impetus to keep him going.
When Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli inducted him in the cabinet as one of half-a-dozen deputies, Mainali’s individual persona was what largely counted. Few among us can probably recall offhand his rank (last in the ladder of deputy premiers) or the specific portfolio he holds (Women, Children and Social Welfare).
Individualism has left Mainali unconstrained in his speech. In early November, two days after being appointed, he suggested that India wanted to annex the Terai region through its blockade, prompting New Delhi to condemn his remarks as malicious.
In his latest comments, Mainali focused the touchy issue of Prithvi Narayan’s legacy on an equally contentious concept: secessionism. Regardless of whether secessionism is a clear and present danger to Nepal or only the threat of a handful of irresponsible politicians, the term today is being thrown around with too much ease for the good of anyone.
Whether a Terai region that chose to break away from Nepal became part of India or established itself as an independent entity, the prospect of a separation would merit a degree of deliberations that is sorely lacking. Would India, given its own endless restructuring imperatives and dynamics gripping large states such as West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, see advantage in the acquisition of additional real estate?
On the other hand, might a landlocked Terai, sandwiched – to borrow that hackneyed term – between still-landlocked Nepal and India have the viability to exist independently? From the current debate, it seems a rump Nepal might still adjoin at least West Bengal and Uttarakhand together with the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China.
Crude as Mainali’s assertion might sound, continuing with the national unity creed flowing from Prithvi Narayan – regardless of how contrived some might still consider it – would be the most fitting answer to the secessionists. As a political issue, restoring Paus 27 as National Unity Day failed to gain enough support within the Oli cabinet. The fact that we are still talking about it underscores the emotive power the subject wields over the very notion of Nepaliness.
Even if we concede that Prithvi Narayan failed to lay the foundation for sentimental/emotional unity among Nepalis, we are still forced to ask what role successive generations of Nepalis themselves have in that failure. If we as sovereign and free people want to make that ultimate break from the Divya Upadesh (Divine Counsels), then we would need to muster the courage and conviction to abandon Prithivi Narayan’s concept of Nepali nationhood.
Granted, that might be easier for some Nepalis than others. If anything, Mainali’s remarks have the potential of forcing the most hardened secessionists to sit up and ponder whether they may actually have a better deal within today’s national borders.