Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The great president hunt

It has been more than two months since CA elections were concluded. Except for the abolishment of monarchy, which was already agreed upon, political process has not moved forward by an inch so far. It appears that unless the ongoing power sharing negotiation gains some momentum and a deal is struck, pressing issues such as skyrocketing inflation and lawlessness will have to wait. In a nation where politicians' gain come before peoples' need, do citizens have a choice?

The parties involved in the negotiation are trying hard to sell their choice for the first president of Democratic Republic of Nepal. Puspa Kamal Dahal vouches for a non-political person but proposes Ram Raja Singh for the top job. Since when did Ram Raja Singh become a non-political person? June 20, 1985's bombing, for which Singh, has taken responsibility, is not something that a law abiding non-political person gets involved in. However, when compared to the death and destruction caused by the man who is proposing him for the top job, Singh's crime is minuscule.

Although Girija Prasad Koirala has not expressed his desire to become the first president himself in public, it is an open secret. As long as the likes of Krishna Prasad Sitaula are around, is it even necessary for Koirala and Dahal to do their dirty laundry?

The Maoists were clever enough to keep Koirala guessing when it came to the issue of the first president of Nepal for the last 2 years. What the Maoists know very well but may not acknowledge in public is that, had Koirala known that he would not become the first president, he would not have pushed for a republic as hard as he did. Had the Maoists made it clear well in advance, Koirala would have refused to become a "useful idiot." So they played it smart and played it well.

Dahal and his men do not want Koirala to become the president because they seriously think that they are the ones who brought this change, and to a large extent, they are right about it. For the Maoists, making Koirala president is like acknowledging him as an agent of change. Furthermore, it opens up a space for future intervention. Given Koirala's proximity with the international players and the Nepali Army, the Maoists' game plan of swiftly marching towards the authoritarian regime may come to a grinding halt. Why take a risk? From the Maoists' stand point, it makes a perfect sense.

No matter who becomes the first president, the power sharing negotiations should come to an end pretty soon. For common Nepali citizens, Dahal's desire to checkmate Koirala and deny him the chance of fulfillment of his desire to become the first president is irrelevant. All they want at this point in time is a regular supply of fuel, textbooks for their kids, and some degree of law and order. It is, thus, completely unjustified and immoral to overlook the problems faced by the citizens and concentrate solely on sharing the pie.

It is time to move beyond the petty politicking and address the problems faced by impoverished Nepali populace. No point beating around the bush. Do what it takes and move the political process forward. If the politicians were really serious about having a well respected and accomplished citizen as a first president, they would be proposing the likes of Ganesh Raj Sharma, who not only respected the law of the land himself but also made others do it, not someone who has been involved in bombings. When the entire process is not about setting a right precedence and selecting an individual with a strong moral character, how does it matter whether it is Ram Raja Singh or the killers of Dikendra Thapa, Jitendra Sah, Ram Hari Shrestha, or for that matter, another bomber Babban Singh?

If it is all about political correctness, then why not propose Jwala Singh for the first president? A Dalit, a Madhesi, and an insurgent. What could be a better package? For the populists who value ethnicity over meritocracy and character, it would be a super deal. It might even help insurgency in the southern plains to subside. When a former insurgent can be a prime minister, why not at least discuss the prospects of an insurgent, who happens to be a Dalit and a Madhesi for the top job?

Regardless of whom the Maoists propose, when it is all said and done, there is a big probability that the Maoists might end up accepting Koirala as the first president. They are not that foolish to blow away the revolutionary gains just to appear politically correct.

How long Koirala's legacy will last in a society, which is engulfed in perpetual revolution is, altogether a different question.

Actually, the Maoists might gain by accepting Koirala as a president. The best way to preempt Koirala's anti-Maoist moves in future is to make him the president. Koirala's lust for limelight is simply too big to be underestimated. The infamous back-stabbing of Krishna Prasad Bhattarai to secure the prime ministerial berth in one of the general elections not very long ago serves as a classic example of how far Koirala can go to get what he wants. When Koirala could not contain the Maoists as the most powerful Prime Minister in the history of Nepal in the last two and half years, why should the Maoists be afraid of him as a ceremonial head of state?

Given his age, letting him become the president might be a safer bet for the Maoists.

The very minute someone else becomes the president, seven party alliance (SPA) is unofficially over. After that, political realignment will take place. The political resistance that will start after Koirala is denied his cherished dream job might be, too soon and too big, for the Maoists to contain.

Becoming a president of the youngest republic might be a dream come true for Koirala and might benefit his blind followers, but for democracy in Nepal, it will be a disaster. Once Koirala becomes the president, the ongoing appeasement of the Maoists will continue further. Having secured the place in history, it would be foolish on the part of liberal democrats to assume that Koirala will do anything to contain the Maoists and strengthen democracy. In the last two and half years, instead of containing the Maoists by forcing them to disband the YCL and surrender all their weapons, Koirala relentlessly engaged in their appeasement, which resulted in strengthening of both the political and muscle power of the Maoists. When Koirala could not understand that appeasing radicals only makes them bolder through his half a century long political career, what will he do differently and significantly after he becomes the president to force the Maoists to change their beliefs and embrace multi-party democracy?

If it is really for democracy in Nepal, the Maoists' hardheaded pursuit of having a left-leaning individual as the first president should prevail. The political realignment will occur only when Koirala is forced out. As long as Koirala enjoys the limelight, in the name of taking the peace process to its logical end, NC will keep on rationalizing the Maoists' high handedness and the march toward authoritarianism.

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