Monday, December 6, 2010

Mainstreaming the Maoists

Six months have already passed since the extension of the term of the constituent assembly (CA) and there has been very insignificant, if any, progress made in terms of drafting the new constitution. It is almost certain that the constitution will not be drafted even within the extended period. The new constitution will not be drafted for a very simple reason, and the reason is that there is no consensus among the major political parties of the ruling coalition and the Maoist party on major issues such as pluralism, federal, and economic development model to name a few. 

The ongoing contention over these issues is crucial, because the course of Nepali politics and fate of the politicians on either side of the divide will largely depend upon the kind of society we choose to be and the kind of economic model we embrace. For survival, the coalition members need a pluralistic society with an economic policy that equally promotes the development of all three sectors: Public, private, and cooperative.

On contrary, for the Maoists to thrive, regimented society with a state-led economy is a must. In many ways, the fight over the type of constitution each side wants is an existential battle that each side cannot afford to lose. And, that is where the problem lies. Unless there is a complete defeat or surrender of either side, Nepal is not going to have a new constitution, period! Even if it ended up having a new constitution, the chances of which are extremely slim, it will not be a long-lasting document. The status quo, however, is not only unsustainable but also dangerous. Existing unstable situation will further be aggravated by competitive populism, a dangerous permissiveness that tolerates criminalization of our polity and society and serious erosion of the legitimacy of the state. But breaking free from the status quo is not as simple as we would like it to be. The dysfunctional nature of the legislature and the state has its roots in the nature of our electoral process. The decision to run the circus of 601 people in the name of inclusion is where the problem started.

In a country, where political course of the country is shaped by not more than a dozen politicians, ushering inclusion was not that difficult. Unnecessary ballooning of the legislature has led to both reduced focus and effectiveness of the legislature and the government. What a poor country like Nepal needs is a smart and effective legislature and government that can introduce and implement policies and programs that are pro-people. Just to showcase inclusiveness, we have ended up creating a “loya jirga” (grand assembly) like institution that we see in tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In our case, it is even worse. The chiefs, unlike in Afghanistan and Pakistan, do not bother to show up in the “grand assembly” to solve contentious issues but direct followers to stall the progress.

The politicians belonging to the coalition prefer status quo because being in power helps them maximize their personal gain and minimize personal pain, even though the society at large loses, and is increasingly getting debilitated. The current coalition is an example of dangerously stable equilibrium. By not making any sincere effort toward promoting good governance, the current coalition is actually doing a disservice to its cause and is in a self-destructive mode. In the absence of good governance, the propertied and educated middle and upper classes that have great stakes in democracy, peace, and order will increasingly get disenchanted with the governance process and come to the dangerous conclusion that freedom and democracy are synonymous with chaos and anarchy.

At some point in time down the road, if the status quo continues, the support for authoritarianism that can bring order and peace to the society at any cost will swell, so that they can pursue their economic dreams. If and when that happens, all the bargains and backdoor dealings that have been going on to keep the current government in place will be worthless. In other words, the political parties that are supporting the current government, whose leader is more interested in jetting the globe rather than making a serious effort to solve the nation’s problems, are basically caught between the devil and the deep sea. The smartest way to come out of the current situation, which is self-defeating, is finding a right candidate that can effectively deal with the radical left and govern the nation at the same time.

The mainstreaming of the Maoist party is getting increasingly difficult not because they cannot be mainstreamed but because the path that the ruling coalition has embarked on is dead wrong. The Nepali Congress (NC), CPN-UML, and the Tarai based parties that have well adapted to Bihari-styled politics must take cues from the victory of Nitish Kumar, the incumbent chief minister of Bihar. By veering away from caste-based politics and making good governance his main agenda, Mr Kumar has virtually wiped out all his political competitors.

The only way to mainstream the Maoists is by defeating their agenda through good governance. Instead of trying to sell socialist rhetoric, NC, UML, and other major parties should focus on promoting good governance. The larger political problem for the Maoists and the fly in the ointment to their "socialist" mantra is that more and more Nepalis are today looking to government to help with the socioeconomic and law and order challenges facing the country. If the government can solve some of these problems, the Maoist party’s base will automatically deflate. Nothing can be dumber than competing with the Maoists in selling “progressive” dreams. We all know what happened in the last CA election, don’t we?

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