Friday, February 15, 2013

Seize the opportunity

It’s been more than eight months since the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (CA) that was supposed to promulgate a new constitution. In all these months, there has been little debate, if any, about the ways to tackle the actual issues such as whether the country should be divided into federal states along ethnic lines, an issue which caused the demise of the CA. Instead, politicians and talking heads continue to nauseate innocent civilians, with their eternal appetite for political nonsense, and their endless hypocritical posturing and rhetoric.

Five years of republicanism should have been enough to repair any damages to the nation and our collective psyche, or for that matter, chart out a new course. We are where we are because the leaderships of the major political parties have literally hijacked the deliberative democracy and forced citizens to live in a climate of political tribalism and loyalty oaths. A handful of politicians in major political parties have been acting like tribal chiefs who benefit from a mix of loyalties, earned respect, and well-wielded power.

The Maoists are not going to change unless they are forced to. They have been inconsistently consistent about their desire to capture the state, which may not be possible in a literal sense at this day and age, but it hardly matters. All they want is to remain in power for a long time. Will they succeed? Depends upon whether or not the opposition, which is intellectually exhausted and out of fresh ideas, is able to rebrand itself. Two shrewd and highly ambitious Brahmins (Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai) who prompted innocent citizens to take up the gun to fight against Indian hegemony, while they themselves were savoring Indian cuisine in government-owned guest houses in India, can go to any extent to remain politically relevant and in power. The sheer regurgitation of the phrase “democracy in peril” by the likes of Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Shekhar Koirala, and Ram Sharan Mahat that once justified joining hands with the Maoists as the only way out to save the democracy will not do the trick, when it comes to restoring people’s faith and defeating the Maoists.

Aung San Suu Kyi (in Myanmar) and Nelson Mandela (in South Africa) have proved that it is possible to bring an autocratic regime to its knees without joining hands with radicals or waging an armed struggle. It could be one of the two things. Either the likes of Sitaula under the tutelage of Girija Prasad Koirala failed to realize Maoist intentions, or figured out early on that given the party’s public approval, joining hands with the Maoists was the shortest possible route to get back to the corridors of power. The former makes them unintelligent, whereas the latter exhibits their dishonesty towards the ideals they claim to be fighting for. Either one is sufficient to render them unfit to lead today’s Nepal, with growing population of youth that is smart, ambitious and well-focused.

It is foolish on part of the NC and UML and other fringe parties to try and defeat the Maoists and other opportunistic forces through street protests and picketing. Instead of engaging in public nuisance, which will be returned in kind, if and when the Maoists are ejected from power, the opposition should agree to the best possible deal that they can get. The idea of the chief justice as the head of the election government is not that bad if you think about it logically. The current state of political gridlock is the result of endless political maneuvering so there is no point searching for a constitutionally correct path to end the crisis. The sitting chief justice can be asked to resign before he takes over to ensure neutrality of the judiciary. The opposition can bargain for the kind of people they would like to head the home and defense ministries if they suspect electoral fraud at the hands of the Maoists.

Once you have a government that you can agree on, build a broader democratic alliance, and bring the likes of Sashank Koirala and Gagan Thapa to the forefront. The UML can do the same by promoting cadres like Gokarna Bista and Yogesh Bhattarai. That way, even if you lose the upcoming election, it will not be a whitewash. You will still have a considerable political leverage that you can use to foil the Maoists attempt to sideline the major political parties and subvert the democratic process.

On May 24, 2010, I had written an opinion piece suggesting that the Constituent Assembly should be allowed to expire. Had we done that and put contentious issues that derailed the CA on the ballot, we would most probably have had a new constitution by now. Did endless harping on consensus get us anywhere? The NC and UML which like to project themselves as saviors of democracy, then, forgot the fact that in a democracy, office holders are supposed to be responsive to the needs and desires of their constituents.

The CA was extended without any debate whatsoever on the real issues, which dwindled the chances of having a new constitution in the first place. Pundits and talking heads bemoaned the lack of bipartisanship and endlessly regurgitated the need for cooperation, when in reality, there was no such possibility. Under the political obligations to please their masters, they failed to acknowledge the fact that Nepali politics, today, actually is beset with irreconcilable differences. What the Maoists want at the end of the day is drastically different from what NC, UML and other pro-parliamentary forces want. While the tools utilized (read innocent people) are the same, the end-goal is drastically different.

What Nepal needs, now, is fresh election, for both the parliament and local bodies, with contentious issues that led to the derailment of the CA on the ballot. We can choose to have a hundred rounds of CA elections, but unless we resolve the contentious issues, which is not going happen without referendum, the chances of having a new constitution are slim, if not nil. It is not that these issues cannot be solved through sincere discussions, but there is no desire among politicians to do so, as solutions will render many that have made political careers decrying socioeconomic and political marginalization jobless. Election is necessary not only to solve the existing mess but also to infuse some fresh blood into political parties that have become intellectually exhausted and have run out of fresh ideas. Do the right thing before it is too late!

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