Monday, November 22, 2010

Time for course correction

Chickens of “consensus” politics have come home to roost. The manhandling of Finance Minister Surendra Pandey by the Maoist members of parliament is a preview of what the future holds for the politicians of the current coalition, who once endlessly harped on the need for consensus, if the outcomes of the political bargain do not go the Maoists’ way. The footage of the ultra-progressives (read the Maoists) manhandling the less-progressive (the minister from the less-progressive CPN-UML) is just a mouse-click away for the world to see. The timing could not have gotten any better. Pandey got roughed up at a time when the never-ending rounds of elections for the post of prime minister was providing the world a glimpse of how exactly a dysfunctional political system looks like.

As usual, each side is blaming the other for the incident. Anything new in that? Not really. The blame-game has been going on for a while now. Instead of trying to figure out who is at fault, it would be helpful if we spent our time and energy trying to understand why something as serious as this happened inside the parliament. It happened for a simple reason. And the reason is that as a nation, we allow politicians to run the country by cutting deals in the name of consensus. Nobody except the dealmakers actually know the terms and conditions of the deals. So, it is very easy for them to lie about them later. What makes this deal-based process even more complicated is that, for these dealmakers, pleasing their masters (Chinese for the Maoists and Indians for the current coalition members) is much more important and lies at the heart of anything they do or agree to than serving the nation’s interest and fulfilling people’s expectations.

Blaming the Maoists for insincerity at this point in time is completely absurd and unintelligent. The Maoists have been inconsistently consistent throughout about their motive behind joining the hands with the political parties. They wanted to use the opportunity to achieve their goal of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. The rationalization of the Maoists’ intent to come overground came from the very politicians that now grouch about the Maoist motives, pundits who change their color faster than chameleons to remain politically-relevant and human right activists that are now nowhere to be seen when a people’s representative is manhandled in broad light inside the parliament. Hence, the wound that politicians of the Nepali Congress (NC) and the UML complain about is self-inflicted. The sooner they learn to live with it, the better off they will be.

The Maoists are now one of the dominant players of Nepali politics and there is logic to what they do. Every move of theirs is well-calculated and is meant to serve their political agenda. With India against their quest for power, the Maoists have no choice but to tilt the domestic political balance by coercing their political opponents. They want the opponents to be perceived as feeble and power-hungry who will eventually succumb to their bullying tactics. And there is precedence to what they believe in. On the other side, there is no political preparation to tackle the Maoists. All they have is the same old slogan of how big a threat the Maoists are for democracy, which gives them an opportunity to cash in on India’s soured relationship with the Maoists, both of which will not take the coalition very far.

Putting the blame on the Maoists will not serve any purpose when it comes to correcting the course that they are in. The NC and the UML should prove to the people, which they have not done so far, that they can effectively govern the nation and meet people’s expectations. The state’s reach has been shrinking with each passing day. Regurgitation of the same old stale slogan of democracy being in danger from the likes of Krishna Prasad Sitaula, who not very long ago used every argument that they could think of to justify how bringing the Maoists overground was good for democracy, makes the case that the coalition is trying to make against the Maoists look malicious and empty.

The ongoing small-scale confrontation between the major partners of the coalition and the Maoists will get bigger and more frequent in the days to come. This is just the beginning. The NC, with its new president, can be a game changer if it dares to get away from the influence of the likes of Sitaula that failed miserably to correctly assess the Maoists’ motives. It is time to play the game with the Maoists the way they do. Backdoor dealings with them should be completely stopped. Things as important as budget should be made public with or without the Maoist support. If they oppose, they are the ones that will be seen as obstructionist, and if they get physical, they should end up behind bars. Appeasing the Maoists so far has not gotten the nation anywhere, has it? It is high time that they be held accountable for their acts.

The moving of the political process forward should be done smartly. Staying put in a futile prime ministerial election process makes the NC look like a club of politically-immature jokers. Its obsession with the prime ministership is pushing Jhala Nath Khanal and his fellow comrades closer to Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Helping the UML retain its political base is as important as maintaining its own political space for the NC. The UML’s loss is the Maoists party´s gain. Hence, letting Khanal become the prime minister is politically more profitable for the NC than alienating him by endlessly bidding for Ram Chandra Poudel. Even if Poudel became the prime minister, there will absolutely nothing in this lame duck environment for him to achieve that will change the NC’s face and fate. So, why remain obsessed? Cut your losses by not appearing insensitive to Khanal’s desperation to become the prime minister.

Banking on India’s support and regurgitation of democracy-in-peril rhetoric may work for a while and help the coalition stay put in power for some time, but with China’s support, the Maoist party is hell-bent on tipping the balance. If and when the balance tips, India will have no choice but to reengage with the Maoists. Aung San Suu Kyi received Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 1993 from the Indian government, but when the Indian government later on realized that the Burmese junta was not going to release Suu Kyi anytime soon, it started reengaging with the junta that put her under house arrest. Than Swe’s recent gala reception in India and the endless case made by India’s foreign policy experts, including Shyam Saran, about the necessity of becoming pragmatic when it came to dealing with Myanmar’s junta is an example of how far the Indian pendulum can swing with change in domestic political situation. Endless complaints about the Maoists’ anti-democratic acts have not made them change their ways, so it is time you change your ways and do things differently Mr Sushil Koirala. By opting for that, you would be doing a huge both to your party as well as the nation.

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