Sunday, January 29, 2017

Knights Of The Long Knives

Caught between ‘two khukuris’ – to borrow his chilling description of his predicament – Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal seems set to tilt himself toward the knife-edge of elections.
The elections will take place no matter what, the premier declared the other day. When the country’s top Maoist is so wedded to the mandate of the people, not all hope is lost.
The question, though, is whether the polls are Dahal’s real desire. He is, after all, bound by the Constitution, under which there must be three elections – local, provincial and parliamentary – by 18 January 2018. The political class is all too cognizant of the ‘or else’ part but doesn’t want to be too communicative about it.
Much time, money and energy have been invested in promulgating the Constitution. What would happen if it appeared that the drafters created a document they could not implement? You’d think the people would  be up in arms.
But we’re inured to being ignored. Thus we’ve learned to live our lives in a seemingly alternate universe. Sure, we still complain about everything as loud as we can. But we’re also thriving from a semblance of tenuous mutual tolerance.
This equipoise was struck almost effortlessly. When the drivers of a ‘New Nepal’ kept speaking in platitudes, we didn’t mind. The past was a no-go zone. The future was too uncertain to comprehend. Sure, sustainable peace, state restructuring, transitional justice and socio-economic transformation were nebulous concepts, but they were noble enough to nudge us along.
The political class bit off more than it could chew. The mainstream parties and the Maoists continued to argue over who should get the real credit for bringing down the monarchy. Scant attention was paid to the imperative of devising a successor institution to the monarchy that could not only preside over a diverse state but also navigate the geopolitical pressures of an unstable neighborhood that was fundamentally susceptible to extra-regional dynamics.
The argument over how many provinces Nepal should have proceeded before we could ever sufficiently debate whether Nepal needed to be federalized to mainstream the marginalized. The urge to denigrate Nepal’s Hindu identity by identifying it within the narrow confines of the monarchy simply ignored how religion had established itself as a way of life.
With the political tides shifting directions, outcomes of expediency have now stood starkly before the imperatives of feasibility, legality and propriety. Yet once our leaders saw how a segmented populace clung to its own relative truths, they devised novel methods of reconciliation and compromise that satisfied just enough people until the next outburst of grievances. Last-minute point-wise deals pulled us from even the most dangerous brink. To smooth the way, parties split and united inexplicably but inexorably.
The Maoist-Nepali Congress government and the opposition Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist may seem at loggerheads today. Where it really matters to them, they are in accord. The 12-Point Agreement and its merchandises must be preserved at all costs.
As long as there is peace and a process to show, the political class is comfortable with splitting the difference. And that’s good enough for us, too, notwithstanding our interminable grumbles.