Sunday, December 25, 2016

Outrage Of Ineptitude

“In what capacity do the Chinese keep meeting with former king Gyanendra Shah?”
That pointed question by Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi at a cabinet meeting last week encapsulated the collective mind-set of today’s rule class. Stress, anger, trauma, anxiety, fear and much more psychosomatic were strung therein.
From the text and timing, there was little doubt that Mr. Shah’s blistering statement the previous day was going to unleash a firestorm. By singling out the Chinese, Nidhi was probably conceding the deep cultural and religious ties the ex-king shares down south. More likely, our deputy premier and home minister was anxious not to get on the wrong side of New Delhi.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s cabinet did discuss Mr. Shah’s statement, wherein the ex-monarch had stated that social harmony among Nepalis was waning and efforts were being made to break the bonds of unity between the plains, the Hills and the mountains.
The people, the “supreme and permanent source of power,” were being undermined by political parties under the “unfair influence of outside forces,” the former king went on. “Words like revolutionary, pro-change and progressive” were being misused to defame nationalism and national pride. Ouch.
Our revolutionary-in-chief, Prime Minister Dahal, and his ideologically multi-hued colleagues struggled for a response. Eventually, they settled on Nidhi’s informal threat to reinvestigate the royal palace massacre of June 1, 2001. (So much for a supposedly forward-looking bunch!)
Truth be told, the cabinet was eight years late. Mr. Shah had exited the royal palace in 2008 daring the political class to prove his complicity in that tragedy. They chose to shut up. Particularly those “radicals” and “revolutionaries” who had profited politically by hurling those unfounded and scurrilous accusations during the so-called “people’s war”.)
Still, the ruling class was not going to let a crisis go to waste. If the Dahal government intended to use Mr. Shah’s statement to draw the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) away from the streets and into a broader “anti-regression” platform, it definitely missed the mark. Former prime minister and CPN-UML chairman K.P. Oli is doubling down on his demand that there be no more than five federal provinces, two fewer than already agreed upon.
In an extensive online interview, CPN-UML leader Subash Nemwang made repeated efforts to avoid criticizing the contents of the ex-king’s statement. Maoist leader Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, for his part, appeared to break from the collective outrage gripping Dahal’s party.
Deep down, the political class understands the corner it has painted itself into. The lionized protagonists of change remain stuck in the spring of 2006. In the years since, they have demonstrated an utter inability to either govern or oppose. Whether this is so out of sheer incompetence or blatant conceit is beside the point, especially when the implications for the wider country, neighborhood and world are so dreary.
So Deputy Prime Minister Nidhi, the Chinese (and yes, the Indians) are capable of speaking for themselves. But it is pretty clear why they choose to meet with Mr. Shah and in what capacity. He is the former head of state (and government, briefly) whose successors – adroit in whining and moaning – have proved utterly incapable of cogent and credible conversation on anything of substance, here or there.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Perpetuation Of The Eternally New

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s use of the anniversary of King Mahendra’s Paus 1 takeover to warn us of the dark clouds of inauspiciousness hovering over today’s polity may have been purely coincidental.
It is hard, after all, to conceive that anyone could have choreographed with such precision the ongoing controversy over the latest proposal to amend our new constitution. Yet the coincidence has been enough to rankle our top Maoist.
Two of Dahal’s main comrades in arms during the decade-long ‘people’s war’ have denigrated the current experiment in rather scathing terms. Mohan Baidya, who broke away in 2012 to form a more hardline group, has called for an abrogation of the current constitution. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, who left the party three years later to form the Naya Shakti, lately has described the New Delhi compromise of November 2005 as a mistake.
Now, neither man has suggested reversing course. Baidya wants a more ‘people-oriented’ constitution. Bhattarai’s problem is only that the 12 Point Agreement should not have been signed on Indian soil.
Still, from Dahal’s perch, those may be moot points. The nation is in no position to go forward in any radical way. At least not yet, especially when the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist seems to have become more conservative than the Nepali Congress.
Always a nebulous concept, ‘New Nepal’ has lost much of its luster since the April 2006 uprising. Bhattarai’s party – the quintessence of newness, at least in form – hasn’t done much by way of drawing a viable roadmap.
The alternatives, therefore, are between preserving the status quo and shifting gears in reverse. Republicanism, federalism and secularism being the three pillars of the existing order, Dahal – as the principal protagonist – is justified in mounting a spirited defense.
What is also true is that people like George W. Bush, Hu Jintao and Manmohan Singh and the dynamics they represented – and responded to – in the process of becoming external catalysts of change have become ancient history. Our national protagonists may still believe they control the content, but the context has changed.
The Maoists can mock the CPN-UML all they want for masquerading as nationalists when they were the ones responsible for the Mahakali ‘sellout’ in 1996. But that criticism only serves to underscore the contextual change Nepali politics has undergone.
Evidently, Dahal as prime minister is in the best position to grasp that reality, but he can’t be seen anywhere in public as preferring one of the aforementioned pillars over the others to forge a national compromise. While Dahal knows he may not afford to dither for too long, he won’t capitulate without drawing everyone else into the muck. SPAM stood for the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists.
To preserve the status quo, therefore, the leadership must become more creative in creating and controlling chaos. Crying wolf over a supposed threat to democracy doesn’t quite cut the ice. Mounting a rebellion as prime minister to preserve republicanism, secularism and federalism? Now, that’s a new one, even for Dahal.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Keep Amending It To Keep It Alive

Call it the Dahal Doctrine. Think what you will about the controversy surrounding the latest proposal to amend the Constitution, but change is progress.
We now have it on good authority of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal that amending the basic law is the beginning of its implementation.
The implementation phase, therefore, began about a year ago, when the first amendment set out to ensure higher representation in government bodies on the basis of proportional inclusion of the Madhesis as well as other marginalized communities.
A year and a half after the Constitution was promulgated, we’re on the cusp of another amendment. Before mocking Dahal’s justification as an act of abdication, keep in mind that he made it at the National Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the 68th Human Rights Day. All those legal eagles there took Dahal’s remark as a matter of course.
Indeed, a fuller quote from the prime minister may put things in better perspective: “The government has registered the constitution amendment proposal in the parliament secretariat to establish ownership of all over the constitution and ensure its wider acceptability. This alone is the reality and the objective need for the constitution amendment.”
If that doesn’t exactly make sense, Dahal is not entirely to blame. Not to beat a dead horse here, but the constituent assembly was something our leaders knew would open a can of worms.
Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala had long insisted that such an assembly – the core demand of the Maoist rebels – would open Pandora’s box. Most of the other main constituents of the erstwhile Seven Party Alliance agreed with Koirala, as long as they rode high on the Constitution of 1990.
You couldn’t blame these parties for being mad at king Gyanendra after he took direct control of state in February 2005. Suddenly, the world’s best Constitution had become irrelevant. Yet our estimable leaders shouldn’t have pushed the constituent assembly as a weapon against the palace, without fully gauging the impact of their decision on the country and people.
Ideally, a constitution written by representatives of the sovereign people would be a million times better than one gifted by the king or written by an appointed committee. In the euphoria of spring 2006, it was easy to ignore the three underlying elements involved: sovereignty, people, and aspirations.
Today we have a situation where an amendment duly registered by the legitimate government of the day is being denigrated by an equally authentic opposition as one being pushed by India and, therefore, dead on arrival. Of course, sovereignty, the people and our aspirations must be upheld. But through what mechanism?
Today it’s provinces and borders, tomorrow it might be sharing of resources and something else some other day. Our national grievance industry has barely whirred into action and no one can gauge its installed capacity.
Collectively, we entered post-truth politics long before Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and eventual triumph made shell-shocked Democrats in the United States give that phenomenon a catchy name. When truth becomes so relative, can reconciliation ever embody even a semblance of finality?
Maybe the real debate should be on how many amendments should be permissible in a calendar year? Would any such restriction be deemed an infringement on our sovereign rights?
If so, how could we ensure that foreign influences do not masquerade as indigenous aspirations? Equally important would be to ensure that legitimate popular demands are not tainted as foreign inspired.
That way, the Dahal Doctrine might become a little less befuddling.