This is what it finally came down to. The most inclusive legislature ever in Nepal’s history was reduced to 600 or so members, some sloganeering, some snoring. Nepal did not meet its tryst with destiny on 27 May, it postponed it again.
Political power had shifted long ago from Baneswar to Baluwatar, and its most vivid proof was that the Constituent Assembly elected in 2008 was not even allowed the dignity of a formal closing ceremony. A ceremonial assembly was unceremoniously disbanded and left to die. CA members were often scapegoated for the delay, but they were just following orders of the parties who appointed them.
The announcement of the expiry of its mandate was done at the Prime Minister’s residence, by a prime minister in an ex tempore address. He spoke not as a head of government, not as a leader of all Nepalis, not as a statesman, but as a defensive, haughty party boss delivering his first campaign speech.
Everyone has to take a share of the blame for Sunday’s futile deadend, and for the last four years of dilly-dallying, wheeling-dealing, back-stabbing and give-and-take. They confused the country’s long-term interest with the partisan short-term ambitions of egotistical party leaders. They confused genuine devolution of power away from Kathmandu with a disastrously unworkable ethnic final solution. They engaged in ruthless brinkmanship right until the end just so they could have the upper hand in elections in six months’ time.
It won’t help to dwell on the past now, over opportunities squandered repeatedly, the Rs 6 billion wasted on a constituent assembly that was treated like a rubber stamp body. We have to look forward, try to patch a perilously frayed social fabric and to protect our pluralistic democracy.
If Prime Minister’s Bhattarai’s speech on Sunday night was anything to go by, the next six months will be a struggle between those who want to strengthen democracy and those who don’t even try to hide that they want to capture complete state power. It will be between those who want to preserve national unity and co-existence, and those who want Nepal sliced up into supposedly autonomous ethnic enclaves.
Lenin and Stalin carved the Soviet Union up into ethnic Soviet republics with a token nod to self-determination, but kept totalitarian power centred in the Kremlin. Can we expect any better from a party that keeps the portraits of Lenin and Stalin on the wall of its headquarter? Mao Zedong did the same with ethnic provinces, but the Chinese state now needs to use violence to keep control of those so-called autonomous republics. Will a party in Nepal that thinks Mao was too moderate do things any differently?
We want to give our Maoist prime minister the benefit of doubt. He may be trapped by his own past rhetoric, he may have internal party dynamics to confront, or he may have been emboldened by public opinion surveys that showed him to be the most popular leader in Nepal today.
On the other side, the neo-elites of the parties that stand for democracy and pluralism, the Nepali Congress and the UML, still function as an exclusive club of mainly high caste men. They have not been able to work effectively together to counter an unreformed communist party that hasn’t renounced violence, and that still believes in a totalitarian people’s republic.
In the next six months, the party that jettisons tired old discredited faces for fresh new personas with new ideas will survive. The ones which retain their old men and talking heads will be history. All main parties have a younger generation of leaders who have ideas and a vision for the country, but were never given responsibility. It is time to pass the torch on to a new generation in this race with history.
In the end, there are only two sides of the coin: a society that is open and just and one that isn’t. (Courtesy: Nepali Times)