We are in turmoil now and it is deepening. Nobody knows when the period of interregnum ends. Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, on May 27, asserted his executive authority in deciding November 22 as the date of holding election for a new Constituent Assembly (CA) even before the existing CA was left to die. The reason he gave to the people in his midnight address was there was no other way to conclude the constitution-writing with the parties failing to reach consensus to issue the statute from the CA on the day. But little did he realize that his adventure would reduce him only to a care taker prime minister in the absence of CA.
This is precisely what he is now after the President trimmed him to his new size. His resounding midnight roars have vanished. He is just shambling. As such, the provision of Article 38(b) of the interim constitution is such that the prime minister will be relieved from his office when he ceases to be a member of the Legislature-Parliament. Can a caretaker Prime Minister conduct the election for a new CA about which there is absolutely no provision in the interim constitution? To find an answer, we need to roll the discussion at a length. Let’s start with this mythological overtone.
Baburam's decision, or the way he was made the medium of transmission in arriving at this momentous transaction, has opened the Pandora’s Box. What has Greek mythology got to do in our context? The mythological narratives help us to understand the more specific situation in concrete terms. Pandora was used to punish Prometheus who had stolen the fire. The box was accidently opened and all the evils came out. It was closed immediately. Thus, hope still remained inside.
In our context, is there any hope left inside? In other words, where exactly is our constitution now in terms of our onward journey amidst the ringing alarms? Monsoon is still on its way but we the Nepalese people are all wet with the downpour of conflicting opinions. The international community is worried. UN Secretary General tells our leaders to show ‘willingness to set aside petty differences in the national interest’.
How will myriad of opinion crystallize in path-finding? Now, one stream of thought has it that, in the absence of CA, even the President loses his locus standi or the right of action. Others urge President Yadav, a constitutionally tied head of the state, to go for another type of Katwal-episode-adventure to sack Baburam Bhattarai the way he then shoveled Prime Minister Prachanda on August 15, 2008. What was started by some Nepali Congress former CA members and now shared even by Prachanda has it that CA be reinstated the way King Gyanendra reinstated dissolved parliament in 2006 or like the way Supreme Court reinstated it in 1995. As usual, the leaders are harping on the same chord for political consensus to pull out from the present quagmire. But this chord of consensus is broken and tied so many times that it has started giving a noisy sound after the expiry of CA. Now it lacks both beat and rhythm.
This sound of chaotic mixture is the interlude for the overjoyed royal supporters. They have opened two interlinked websites for drumming support. Here, Gyanendra Shah expresses his concern over the fate of the nation. The whole thrust of the postings is for the restoration of monarchy. Chautariya Samaj even wrote that they are ready even for Kot massacre, seizing power through violent means, if the king ordered them. The way it came back in Britain in 1660 after eleven years is the driving wish of the monarchy revivalist force. Bihar edition of India’s Hindustan Times ran a write up titled The King is gone, long live the king, in its May 31 issue for the return of monarchy.
Interestingly, the title construct is made to appear in line with what the medieval period French and then British strictly followed: "The King is dead. Long live the King!" Its objective was quick transition. France is a republic but British are still following it. The objective was quick transition. Its corollary is the longer the transition, the greater will be the chance of a nation being sucked into protracted conflict- be it monarchy or any form of government. This explains what is happening especially in African countries because of the longer transition. I intend to write in this area some other times, and also about the possibility of the return of monarchy in Nepal. Right now, let’s continue our discussion on political consensus. To this end, we now need to go back to King Gyanendra in a very brief way.
The largely mysterious royal massacre on Friday of June 1, 2001, brought him into the forefront of power as an inheritor of the throne. He was too ambitious like his father but lacked his competence and legitimacy. Besides, time, setting, people’s awareness were much different. The emerging educated middle class, as the opinion builder, was well established. Private sector was emerging. The state was no longer the only source of fund. Money was pouring inside from different organizations for known and unknown purposes. The wings of religion were made to hover inside. The world had become unipolar with multipolar regions. And, in our region, the US strategically cooperated with India.
The Maoists were in war with the state since February 13, 1996 for the establishment of socialist state. Crushing them was not like the feeble insurgency of Nepali Congress in 1961 that his father nipped into bud just before the Indo-China War. He proposed China to be included in South Asian Association of Regional Co-operation (SAARC). It was different then that his father went ahead linking Kathmandu to Tibet region of China by going ahead with 736 Kodari highway in 1965 despite Indian and American dislike. King Gyanendra could not comprehend the governing realities or was simply misled.
He denied Girija Prasad Koirala to use the Royal Nepal Army to control the Maoist insurgency. In desperation, he resigned on July 26 from the premiership in less than two months being together with the new king. Likewise, he sacked Sher Bahadur Deuba twice. Deuba filled in the vacancy after Girijababu and initiated the first peace talk with the Maoists although it failed on November 23 and the same day the Maoist attacked more ferociously in 42 districts simultaneously. After the 9/11 terrorist attack, America was all out to defeat it and thus came forward to assist Nepal. Now Deuba government showed resolute posture to defeat the Maoists. To this end, he clamped emergency on November 26. Less than two months later in January 18, 2002, American Secretary of State Colin Powel came to Nepal to give all out support to thrash the Maoists. King Gyanendra could not make use of it. At this point, India was seen in the maneuvers and openly objected. Thus, the US backtracked and linked to itself to India’s initiative.
Deuba was all the way with King Gyanendra like the palace groomed Lokendra Bahadur Chand. He even dissolved the parliament on May 22, 2002 without his party’s consent, resulting into the formal split of his party on September 22. As if his job were over, King Gyanendra dismissed him on October 4 and took control of the government. His action earned a wide support as the emerging educated middle class was sick and tired of the politicians who were increasing political garbage and the looting the nation. At that point of time, one who was perhaps the happiest man was Girijababu.
After Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Surya Bahadur Thapa, King Gyanendra did see the need of broad based politician thus allured Sher Bahadur Deuba and appointed him the prime minister with UML in the government. With cease fire and war alternating, the Maoists were hard pressed as the international support grew not to let poor country bleed because of terrorism. King Gyanendra wanted the credit of defeating Maoists all for himself. In February 2005, he dismissed Deuba government, assumes the full executive power and declares emergency. This was his greatest mistake. He alienated the international community, the political forces at home and had to beat the Maoist on his own. Now King Gyanendra had to fight on three fronts. Perhaps no one has ever own fighting on all fronts. Thus was his waterloo created.
India utilized this moment in a well calibrated way. This is how political consensus was born in India. The Maoist, whom India had declared terrorists before Nepal did and against whose leaders red corner notice was issued, had their safe headquarter in India. The comrades who could disturb the politics of political consensus that included Mohan Baidya and Gajurel were arrested and put in Indian jail. Likewise, others including Matrika Yadav were handed over to Nepal government. The Seven Party Alliance (SPA) that was spearheading the movement against King Gyanendra for the restoration of democracy was unable to pick up the momentum. At this point, India had the series of meeting of leaders of the SPA and Maoists facilitated. Finally, the New Delhi meeting on November 22, 2005, forged the 12-point understanding between the seven parties and Maoists on the plank of political consensus.
This is how Jana Andolan II was launched. The emerging educated middle class drove the movement and the Maoist support gave the manpower. The rural people flowed inside Kathmandu voluntarily and also through Maoist intimidation. The 19 days relentless thrust forced King Gyanendra on April 24, 2006 to restore the dissolved parliament. Three days later Girija Prasad became the prime minister. On the strength of political legitimacy acquired through Jan Andolan II he cut the privilege to the King and declared the house supreme.
On January 15, 2007, the restored parliament is transformed into interim parliament with 83 Maoist seats and approved the interim constitution, a product of political consensus. It stipulates that the governance will be on the basis political consensus till the Constituent Assembly drafts a new constitution. Political consensus is defines in the interim constitution thus: ’political consensus means the political consensus reached between the seven parties- Nepali Congress, NCPN(UML), Nepali Congress (Democratic), Janamorcha Nepal, Nepal Sadbhawana Party (Anandi Devi), Nepal Majdur Kisan Party, Samyukta Bam Morcha Nepal and NCP(Maoist) on 22 Kartik 2063 (November 8, 2006)’ Two Congress parties became one on September 25, 2007 bringing SPA to six.
The way events have proved political consensus was designed and became absolutely necessary till the monarchy was abolished. Nothing less than deposing monarchy or else we go to jungle, roared Prachanda many times and even pulled his party out of the government to press his demand. His party rejoined a week after the SPA agreed to declare Nepal as federal republic on December 23, 2007 with necessary amendments even though the interim constitution clearly stated that the fate of monarchy was to be decided by Constituent Assembly. Six months later, monarchy was formally consigned to history. The Maoists never wanted to take any risk in this matter as they were not sure about themselves and also who all will be elected forming the CA.
With monarchy gone or mission accomplished, political consensus became the politics of grabbing power and looting the nation. Nobody owed any onus to this redundant mechanism. So to dump the political filth, scrapping this provision became necessary. The constitution was amended and amendments became the regular feature as if one were editing an article. The CA’s tenure of two years was extended to four years by such amendments. Baburam even had one such last minute extension registered despite the Supreme Court’s injunction. He is now facing the contempt of court. But these people can always say that they don’t accept any verdict except that of the people.
The interim constitution was designed in a tailor made way to fit who the Prime Minister or president is going to be. This has necessitated amendments when the person changed. Girija Prasad Koirala, as Prime Minister, took the whole Maoist load and also opened the state coffer to them so that he would be the President under political consensus. The constitution was designed for the Maoist Prime Minister. But they betrayed him. Their pettiness has devoured so much of national sensibility and has made the country so vulnerable. One could see how filthy politics was played on the issue of indigenous people for immediate political gain to power. Now the spate of allegation and counter allegation between the consensus partners inundates our land. Still, they talk so loud about how worried they are to safeguard the interest of peasants, workers and marginalized people. Hypocrisy par excellence! For an individual to be President, we are now having mixed system of governance.
Prachanda’s speech used to make me spellbound. We can see how pathetic he looks now. His government was toppled in nine months, in his own words, by 'foreign lords’. He raised the bogey of civilian supremacy but in vain. To have Madhav Nepal’s government constituted, the Upendra Yadav’s party was split to make the necessary parliamentary numbers. Madhav Nepal became unassumingly stable. So he had to go.
Jhalanath Khanal came being a lesser evil but his too was toppled. The main two Madesh parties from our Terai are split into so many parties but have formed a front for power sharing with the Maoist. It is not just power sharing. It is loot sharing as well. Many agreements are made and many broken. All along day and night within this period, they have harped nothing but the dire need of political consensus to fulfill the responsibility of the downtrodden people. It is the height of deceitful rhetoric.
Now the question is of legitimacy. They have all burnt the political capital which is the strength of the nation. Here, I would like to say what I have mentioned many times. One person, not elected though, enjoyed the legitimacy unparalleled in the history of Nepal. It was Krishna Prasad Bhattarai after the restoration of democracy, and he delivered the constitution too within a year.
Now these failed leaders lack enough political legitimacy. Instead of realizing where they are and how they have pushed our country to disaster, they are brickbatting against each other even more furiously. The polarization of parties into those in the government and those in the opposition is severe. This is how they are marshalling their strength to go to people and explain who is right and who is wrong. As if this were not enough, the intraparty conflict is growing further. This kind of war of nerves is utterly disgusting as they have still failed to take stock of the situation and get into immediate corrective path. They have no alternative than to be engaged the way they were resolutely together while throwing the monarchy, not with hollow rhetoric for individual gain in terms of being the prime minister of the country thereafter. Let them not play the politics on political consensus any more at least till this country is out of present swamp they have jointly created. This is the only hope remaining inside the Pandora’s Box they have opened. May wisdom prevail.