The political parties continue to foist ugly power struggle on an unwilling and ailing nation. It is very unlikely that the ongoing power struggle will end with the sixth round of prime ministerial election slated for Sept 5. The struggle will not end, not because it cannot, if sincere effort is made, but because the stakes are too high for the parties involved. Nepali Congress (NC) does not want Puspa Kamal Dahal to become the PM for a very simple reason. Once Dahal gets back to the power, it will be virtually impossible to edge him out. With the strength that Dahal has in the Constituent Assembly, money his fellow proletariats have made after coming over ground, and the muscle power that he has kept intact by not agreeing to the integration plan proposed by the ruling coalition members, NC with its dwindling base has more than enough reasons to play safe. Besides that, NC’s politicians that have gotten shamelessly used to taking turns in enjoying power without facing the electorate, genuinely think that it is their turn to rule the country.
For the Maoists, the situation is equally tricky. Dahal and his fellow comrades very well understand that whoever becomes the Prime Minister now will oversee the expiration of the CA. They will have no bargaining power that they enjoy now once the CA expires, all bets will be off. The transformation of image, from murderous guerillas to elected politicians has been a glorious one. Power, prestige, and money that came with the transformation of image are not things that the Maoists would want to lose. Going back to jungles is, thus, not an option anymore, no matter how hard they try to lie about it. They want more power, not less. And, they will keep holding the nation hostage one way or the other till they get what they want.
As far as Jhala Nath Khanal is concerned, he has no option but to operate under the guise of neutrality. The pace with which political and security situation is worsening in the country, he very well understands that he might not have another chance in the future. For now, playing at the hands of the Maoist comrades very well serves his purpose and there is very little K P Oli and Madhav Nepal can do about it. Pushing Khanal too hard may result in getting him even closer to the Maoists, which obviously Oli and Nepal do not want. Madhav has already become the Prime Minister, but for Oli, that dream is still alive, and in order to fulfill that, he needs his party to remain intact. If courting external force alone was enough, politicians of fringe parties would have become PM long ago. Oli is seasoned enough to understand that reality. So, for Oli, there is very little that he can do at this point in time than letting Khanal continue his quest for premiership under the veil of neutrality.
The problem, however, is not limited to domestic struggle over power. It runs way too deep. Like domestic political forces, international forces, too, are also trying hard to out-compete each other. The quest for control has gotten so fierce that India has engaged itself to such a level that it has started micromanaging things in Nepal. Increased Indian activities have alarmed China. Recent flurry of visits by Chinese officials clearly hints that China is definitely not happy about bloated Indian presence in Nepal. Besides, India and China, which happen to have the biggest interest in having Nepal in their sphere of influence, there are other Western forces that have significant interest in Nepal. Multiple external actors with both covert and overt interest and their support to warring sides have brought the political process to a grinding halt.
While both domestic and external struggle for control over Nepal is getting uglier and deadlocked, there is something else that is happening in Nepal. The state is slowly but certainly inching toward collapse. The industrial sector is bleeding to death due to a daily eight-hour power cut and the militant activities of the Maoists’ labor union. More than 300 industries, mostly small and medium ones, are believed to have shut their gates for good. When the entire world is progressing from industrialization, Nepal is wriggling backward. The dependency on subsistence agriculture is increasing. The only ray of hope is foreign employment. But putting too much faith on it will not get us anywhere. Had remittance been answer to domestic growth, the Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh and other leading labor exporting countries would have been first world nations long time ago.
The decay in security situation is equally alarming. Some 10,000 illegal small arms are believed to be floating around in the capital alone. If this is the situation in the capital city, what it would be like to live in hinterlands, where the state’s authority has completely eroded? In order to buy-in popular support, political parties, especially the Maoist, pushed social mobilization to such a dangerous level that it has out-stripped institutional capacity. The level of sophistication and impunity with which land sharks operate in the country and radical communists that pretend to be playing by the norms of democracy confiscate private property says all about the power of the institutions on the ground. Both personal and political freedom of citizens has been severely curtailed. For citizens, the collapse of the state is an abstraction. It has already happened.
The chaos will further worsen if strong action is not taken immediately. The problem, however, is that there is no institution in Nepal that sees itself as the bulwark against worsening chaos. The president has so far been reluctant to send even a strong signal. He seems content hosting dinners for foreign dignitaries and gracing religious functions. The only bold step he took after he took office was the reinstatement of Rookmangud Katwal as the army chief. The time has come again that he steps forward and does the needful. The first thing in his to-do list should be the dissolution of this worthless CA. Even the partisan hacks now acknowledge that this CA will not draft the constitution, so what’s the point in wasting tax payers’ money in feeding fraudulent sharks? Dissolve the CA and demine the field by putting criminals behind bars. The election date should come along with the dissolution notice, or else, these very politicians that have been making a mockery of democracy will try to paint the president as a dictator. Contentious agendas such as the federal structure should be put on the ballot.
It is important to put an end to the manipulative politics that Dahal and his fellow comrades are engaged in and force politicians of moderate political parties that have mastered the shameless art of backdoor dealings to face the electorate. Enough is enough!