Monday, April 26, 2010

Way out

Finally, the politicians are acknowledging that constitution will not be drafted by May 28. However, they are yet to acknowledge their personal responsibility in the failure. Everyone has their scapegoat ready. If you are someone with a radical bent, by now you must be convinced that it is the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML’s fault. For the NC and CPN-UML sympathizers, it is all because of the Maoists lack of interest in drafting the constitution. Finger pointing and the blame game will continue for a while.

With the chances of promulgating the constitution by May 28 getting slimmer with each passing day, some politicians and pundits have already started floating the idea of extending the deadline. The deadline should not be extended for two reasons. First, rewarding incompetence is a horrible idea. It would set a wrong precedence. The absence of an adequate mechanism to reward the competent and, as a corollary, weed out the incompetent, is perhaps the most important factor that discourages talented youngsters from joining politics. Second, the politicians have promised heaven and earth to the people. In order to garner support, the Maoists and mushrooming ethnic parties have promised rights and resources to every ethnic group that they found would benefit them. They genuinely think that pursuing ethnic agenda will politically profit them down the road. Given the fact that the Maoists and ethnic parties are not going to budge on ethnic agenda, the NC, UML, and other smaller parties of yesteryears, frankly do not see room for negotiations. Giving in to the Maoist and ethnic parties’ demands means constricting their own base. So it is not the lack of time but refusing to rise above petty party interests that has stalled the drafting of constitution.

For a viable constitution to be drafted, there has to be a minimum understanding between the major political parties. In the current adversarial environment, reaching any kind of consensus looks almost impossible. Therefore, instead of pushing for an extension of the deadline, what is needed now is a real sincere push toward the creation of an environment, whereby a constitution that is acceptable to the majority of the population can be drafted. It is not enough that we have a constitution. There has to be a consensus on the need to honor the one that we will eventually end up having. Or else, the very people engaged in drafting it will start running away from it as fast as their legs can carry them.

It is important to lessen the hostilities and create an environment suitable for consensus. In order to create that environment, we need to have a national unity government. But before the national unity government is put in place, there should be an all-party agreement on contentious issues that derailed the possibility of having the constitution on time in the first place. With the rise of the possibility of getting into the government, politicians will be more willing to make compromises. As a regional power, and more than that, as the one that orchestrated and solemnized the marriage between the democratic forces and the radical communists, which was sure to end up in a nasty divorce not due to the ideological differences but due to the equal greed for power, India has the biggest role to play in bailing Nepal out of the current mess. It is not just because cleaning one’s mess is a moral imperative, but also because a rogue neighbor can be a pain in the neck. With Pakistan to its west and Bangladesh to its east, the last thing India wishes for is a rogue neighbor to its north.

The problem that India has when it comes to dealing with Nepal’s perpetual mess, which is partly of its own making, is that its script is often like a B-grade Bollywood movie. It appears promising in the beginning but soon falls apart. What is needed is a tight script and professional directorial venture that very well takes into consideration the dubious nature of the characters. First and foremost, it is important to understand where these characters come from, where they stand, and what they want to achieve at the end of the day. If one is to look closely, it becomes very evident that all of them want the same thing, ie, power.

In their quest for power, the Maoists want to subvert the rule of the majority through mass mobilization. They basically want to paralyze the government through their urban-centric uprising. While the Maoists want to inculcate a sense of fear among the people and paralyze the government, which they think will eventually pave their path to power, the non-Maoist parties, especially the bigger ones, want to portray the Maoists’ urban-centric uprising as a prelude to government takeover. The Maoists are not that stupid to take over power forcibly like some NC and UML politicians seem to suggest. They know it very well that it is not feasible to capture the state and run it in a fragmented political landscape like the one we are presently in. NC and UML leaders have their own interests in portraying the Maoists as dictators in making, which does have some truth to it though. They want to use it as a basis to justify their right to remain in power indefinitely.

It is almost impossible that political parties will find a solution to the existing political stagnation on their own. The deficit of trust is so wide that no side is willing to blink. It is sad but true that without Indian intervention, the current mess is not going to get sorted out. India needs to act immediately. If the current political system that relies on India’s “stabilizing” role breaks down, there will be an undeclared civil war in the country. The best way to salvage the current situation is by cutting a deal with Pushpa Kamal Dahal. And, this is the best time to do that. Get the most out from his unquenchable thirst for power. Dangle the prime ministerial lollypop in front of him and make him agree to things like dissolution of the infamous Young Communist League, and return of seized property. If he does not agree to that, bargain for inclusion of the smallest possible number of Maoist combatants in the security forces. Given the power-hungry nature of Dahal, this is the best time to get concessions on many important issues, which if not resolved soon, pose greater threat to peace, stability and democracy.

Expedite the process and get it done within a couple of months. In the meantime, someone else can head the government to satisfy Dahal’s narcissistic ego. Once the weapons are firmly under the government’s control, PLA integration issue is amicably settled and the YCL is disbanded, Dahal can head the national unity government where all parties in then expired constituent assembly will be incorporated based on their respective strengths. It may be a tall order but worth pursuing. Establishing a national unity government by making Dahal first deliver on pertinent issues is the only safest way to get out of this current mess.


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