Monday, September 10, 2012

Stuck in a quagmire

Baburam Bhattarai’s promise for a “forward-looking” constitution witnessed a tragic death with the demise of the Constituent Assembly. His promise for good governance is running out of gas with his signature populist “Hello Sarkar” programme turning into a black hole where public grievances are sucked in and vanish. His failure to take action against his Cabinet colleagues: Bhim Prasad Gautam and Mahendra for irregularities reveal his advocacy and conviction towards good governance. And what an absolute farce his promise for social justice has turned out to be! People, whose property were seized by the revolutionaries that he and his progressive colleagues trained to bring about socioeconomic transformation, are still waiting for the transfer of ownership. 

His claims that the bloody insurgency he and his fellow comrades waged was needed to wipe out nepotism and strengthen national sovereignty, too, have been proven false. The recent appointment of Chirak Shova Tuladhar, Bhattarai’s sister-in-law, as the Tribhuvan University’s dean of the Faculty of Science reveals his conviction towards eradicating nepotism and understanding his own ability to withstand external pressure. Given the fact that the Promised Land is nowhere in the sight, perpetual optimists who believed in Bhatarai’s honesty all along may want to ponder whether Bhatarai’s surrender to violence to get where he is now was an act of heroism or a shrewd political move to further his ambition. 

Was Bhattarai bound to fail? Absolutely. His playbook to remain in power is not very different from the one used by ideologues in the former Soviet Union and the one that is being currently used in Cuba and North Korea. Bhattarai believes in expanding the size and scope of the government so that people have a false sense of security. He is least concerned about the poor delivery of services. It may be hard for well-informed citizens to understand why he does not realise the fact that it is virtually impossible to run a welfare state when a big chunk of your budget comes from foreign aid and the bureaucracy responsible for running the welfare state is ill-trained and politically divided.  But here is what he is trying to achieve through his big government—a platform that allows construction of counterfactual propositions and arguments. Had I been given the required time and freedom to pursue all my well-intentioned and thought-out plans, the country would have been free from the shackles of poverty, dependency, and underdevelopment. The country would be in a different league altogether, where bargaining for equal bilateral treaties would be much easier. Can you see the brilliance behind the ballooning of the size and scope of the government? 

While Bhattarai exhibits unmatched political shrewdness, the opposition is utterly incompetent and delusional. The NC and UML leadership have no agenda whatsoever than to shamelessly pursue the struggle for power. The new boss of the NC, Sushil Koirala, has surrounded himself with a herd of Girija Prasad Koirala protégés, who are not only dishonest and corrupt, but also lack the imagination needed to outsmart the establishment that very well understands and manipulates the sensibilities of the general public. Koirala himself does not seem to realise the fact that his own claims and actions are at odds. He claims that the party stands for democracy but denounces the conviction of Khum Bahadur Khadka, who is regarded as one of the most corrupt politicians of the post-1990 era. It is quite understandable that seeing a protégé of your mentor be convicted for corruption is painful, but the kid-glove treatment to corruption and misrule eventually derails democracy. Your claim as a saviour of democracy becomes indefensible the very minute you try defending people convicted by the Supreme Court, whose approval rating is way higher than your party. 

The NC leadership’s incompetence becomes even more glaring, when leaders such as Sher Bahadur Deuba, come out in support for the reinstatement of the expired CA. This shows the lack of understanding of the importance of rule of law in democratic consolidation, which Deuba claims to have worked for all his adult life. Dishonesty runs even deeper. Leaders shamelessly flip-flop on their position and records. Recently, a former finance minister in Girija Prasak Koirala’s government after the Jana Andolan of 2006 that oversaw the transfer of funds accused the Maoists of being involved in corruption in the name of more than 6,000 “fake” Maoist combatants. It is not the Maoists, but him, who should be blamed and held accountable for the failure to carry out due diligence and plundering the state coffer. This claim of corruption at this juncture sounds like a well-calculated move to climb the ladder. With the former super stars of the NC already behind bars or on their way to the big house, there’s room for upward mobility. Who says Nepali politicians lack vision? 

Political tribalism, incompetence, and dishonesty run deep within political parties. Some argue that the Supreme Court derailed the constitution-making process by forcing the politicians to adhere to a deadline. But in reality, it was political tribalism at its best that derailed the process, which was supposed to be participatory and transparent. In order to further political ambitions, a handful of leaders acted like tribal chiefs that benefit from a mix of loyalties, earned respect, and well-wielded power. As a result, the democratic deliberation process of constitution-making was turned into something so hostile and filled with anger and rage that the CA members were doing little more than screaming at each other. The country would not have been better off on an endless journey of constitution-making. 

If Nepal is to get back on track and evolve as a modern society, judicial activism alone is not enough. There is another institution, which needs to follow the path taken by the judiciary, and that is the media. Increased media scrutiny of politicians’ actions and the support for rule of law is needed. Consensus is great, but in this day and age, whereby a household cannot be run on consensus indefinitely, it is useless to keep on harping on the idea. At present, representative politics is completely disconnected from people, which has tremendously increased the risk of a legitimacy crisis as well as a crisis of policy implementation. Unless the media takes a greater responsibility and forces politics to connect with people, which is not something that bosses of major political parties are interested in, consolidation of democracy is virtually impossible. As long as the current herd of politicians have the opportunity and power to decide on contentious issues, prospects of having a viable constitution will remain bleak. The media should push for a referendum under the leadership of a neutral figure to settle contentious issues of the new statute. Let people decide what they want.
 

 

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