Friday, April 25, 2008

Stop rationalizing defeat

Those who call themselves diehard democrats but remain enamored by the Maoist win in Nepal need to return to reality urgently. For if they do not, this “surprise” Maoist victory will turn into a lengthy series of astonishing feats.

The humiliating defeat of Nepal’s democratic forces is a consequence of the convergence between the following elements: A failure of collective intellect, dedicated effort, and imagination. In aggregate, these individual deficiencies amounted to a gross underestimation of Maoist capacity - much of which was allegedly based upon the application of dubious methods. Where collective intellect and effort are concerned, the debate is bound to rage on. But where failure in imagination goes, it becomes necessary to put oneself inside the Maoist mind and see things as they see them, to understand their beliefs, strategy, and supporting tactics.

Bridging the intellectual chasm that divides the Maoist worldview from the democratic worldview is not a simple task. It takes tremendous patience, conviction and moral rectitude to recognize elements that differentiate one’s political outlook from those of one’s rivals. Had either the Nepali Congress (NC) or United Marxist Leninist (UML) leadership taken time to dispassionately evaluate the Maoist machine, they would have understood long ago that the Maoists are in this to win - not to compromise, or become mainstreamed or to play by anyone else’s rules but their own.

For the Maoists, the game that began with projecting feudalism as the root of all evil will logically end with the realization of their strategic intent. The Maoists’ goal of using different combinations of bullets and ballots (and whatever other mechanisms and individuals that happen to be available) will culminate only when all marginal threats to their expanding power base have been eliminated. Whether this process of elimination occurs figuratively or literally, whether through perversions of democratic process or through decrees, are all secondary to the question of what remains the Maoists’ strategic end-goal?

The best way to have this question answered is to ask it: “Do the Maoists intend to exercise a system of vibrant multiparty democracy as defined by Western standards or do they intend to implement their own vision of democracy in Nepal?” The relevance of this targeted question remains the contradictory manner in which Maoists within their party have traditionally responded, and unfortunately, the manner in which Nepal’s rent-seeking civil society pundits have interpreted available Maoist responses.

In effect, allegations that the Maoists used undemocratic methods to subvert their competition during constituent assembly elections simply cannot be written off using rationale which suggests that the NC and the UML did the same, a decade ago. By extension of this line of reasoning, is the hypothetical implementation of a one-party communist republic justified based on the fact that Mahendra implemented a one-party Panchayat system a half-century ago? Barring differences based on political extremities, the logic is identical - and equally flawed.

While it is hardly surprising that the Maoists will continue to leverage ethnic appeal to fulfill their remaining agendas, it is completely shocking to read staunch democrats justify the Maoist victory on grounds of political goodwill generated through the Maoist insurgency. Is goodwill borne of political cleansing and then capitalized on through the absence of choice, a new democratic standard for Nepalese to look forward to?

Understanding a problem is the first half of the path to solving it. The democratic forces in Nepal should learn a lesson from how the Maoists have done “business” to date. The Maoist method of power consolidation amounts to restrictions over choice, populism over substance, and the use and abuse of any and all elements that elevate the Maoists’ chances of consolidating their powerbase.

The next step in the Maoist game plan is to garner international legitimacy through a power-sharing arrangement with the NC and UML. Ironically, Maoist strongman Pushpa Kamal Dahal is guilt-tripping the NC and UML into remaining within the Maoist government by citing the need to live up to past agreements. As for unprincipled individuals like Bam Dev Gautam, he isn’t far behind on the list of “useful idiots” and may be written off as an aspiring Maoist.

The point here is that the utility of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) is not quite over for the Maoists. The Maoists still need the UML and the NC to maintain international cover, while the Maoists mould a constitution of their choice. They understand that if the constitution-making process is delayed and that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) returns to the power in India, the Maoists’ days of smooth sailing will be over. So, until the constitution of their liking is drafted and the Maoists are positioned to sweep the next round of local and parliamentary elections, they will continue to extend olive branches to the NC and the UML.

The urge to cling to a false sense of short-term power at the detriment of a vibrant, long-term democracy is something that both the NC and UML should carefully consider. As far as past agreements are concerned, elected NC and UML members to the constituent assembly are already positioned to fulfill their parties’ commitments. At this time, it may be more appropriate for the NC and UML to engage in some long overdue introspection, soul-searching and re-invention so their parties do not re-perform the recent acts of humiliation when the time for parliamentary elections arrives. There’s nothing wrong with these parties for some “time off” from the daily grind of governance to get their own houses in order.

For the Maoists, the game is almost over. They have substantially weakened the UML and are in the process of accommodating the Royalists. By suggesting the provision of social, economic, and cultural rights to the king they have indirectly tested the public’s appetite for a ceremonial monarchy using different terms (“monarchy with certain cultural rights”). By hinting at providing space to the Nepal’s King, the Maoists have once again attempted to define the direction of the Nepali’s political debate. In essence, they are experimenting BP Koirala’s notion of national reconciliation but once more, by using different terms. The Maoists are systematically recreating their own public image while eroding the defining characteristics of their political opponents.

Under such a radically transformed environment, the mainstream political parties of yesteryears can only survive by positioning themselves in the center and forming an alliance to protect multiparty democracy. The NC and UML need to spearhead efforts to align moderates from all walks on political life in Nepal. This act, in essence, must address the urgent need to guarantee the sustenance of multiparty democratic politics in Nepal and have nothing to do with opposing the Maoists. If the Maoists construe the formation of such an alliance as unacceptable to their agenda, people must understand that there’s a fundamental problem with the Maoist agenda, not the proposed multiparty alliance. If it serves to assuage the Maoists’ fragile sensibilities, they (along with their leftist alliance partners) may be invited as observers to the alliance of multiparty democrats. Who knows? The Maoists might even learn a thing or two?

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