Every Nepali including the international diaspora feel shame at Nepal’s leaders not being able to deliver a constitution on May 27 as promised, resulting in the Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) bowing out of the short-lived unity government. Prime Minister Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai has proposed fresh elections on November 22, apologizing to the nation on what has happened. Whether it is national or international supporters or detractors of this move, it will surely influence new political awakenings in Nepal, hopefully giving opportunity for a new class of professional leaders to represent every walk of life.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha’s crocodile tears could not hide the jubilant feeling inside the UCPN- Maoist’s moderate Pushpa Kumar Dahal led wing, because the passing of the constitutional deadline would provide mending grounds for its own internal rift with the ever estranged Mohan Baidya camp. In recent days, the Bhattarai government had shown total political inflexibility brushing aside the public opinion just like ex-King Gyanendra’s advisors did on one crucial Himal Media opinion poll that depicted certain governance missteps during direct monarchial rule that could have been easily averted. However, the present move of Nepal’s Maoist leaders in not cooperating with the Nepali Congress, UML and the ‘broader Madhesi front’ in devising a new Constitution amidst heated debate on ethnic federalism, is proving a true blessing in disguise for Nepalis. In fact, many believe it to be a secret ploy to keep the NC, UML and the Terai fronts out of the corridor of power when arguments suddenly turned nasty questioning Nepal’s social and ethnic foundation. PM Bhattarai did not want an incomplete eleventh hour constitution, according to those close to Baluwatar. The NC and the UML’s central leadership have now realized the truth on coalition politics, despite pressing the President to find a political alternative, which is impossible. Nepal’s fifth Republic Day commemoration itself was toned down, with only the President and heads of various institutions present, the international media questioning Nepal’s democratic republic credentials to host such an event.
Even President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav’s office appeared optimistic until midnight of May 27, preparing in haste to invite all possible dignitaries including the foreign diplomatic corps and the media, the majority whom would have basked away from such a hurriedly cast political road show the Nepali people had not approved of in the first place. I mean, how can a constitution not vetted by the people be a true Nepali constitution? The Constitution, just like the national anthem is the singular identity of all Nepali citizens from the Terai to Pahad.
With the Constituent Assembly now dissolved, Nepal’s 600 odd ex-CA members have little left to be desired. They face public disdain in creating a serious political and constitutional confusion, social disharmony and communal tensions, despite knowing all Nepalis desire a singular democratic platform that binds them together in one common social and cultural plane, which includes economically marginalized groups. Thus, the big coffee shop debate among Kathmandu’s Western and Indian educated bankers, bureaucrats, businessmen, leaders of various industries intermingled with foreign diplomats, some prominent civil servants and local media heads is “for whom does the Federal Democratic Republic when addressing Nepal, stand for?” and if it is indeed a Federal and Democratic Republic in existence for the past few years, which brand import are we Nepalis talking about? Maybe, it is time this corps of hardworking, industrious and professional people got elected to a tight fitting future Constituent Assembly of no more than 101 members; Nepal’s progress can be easily credited to them.
But the bigger question related to the recent constitution drafting exercise, which the Nepali media failed addressing is: who is governing Nepal now? For instance, the envoys of India and China were both seen dashing to their respective capitals in a furtive bid to update their leaders on what awaits Nepali political awakenings (sans the emotional drama, fist fights and personal mudslinging that are part and parcel and reported with much gusto in foreign diplomatic cables). Some clever Nepali media voices interjected, the Indians were in control. Others felt it was the Chinese, and some stated the Europeans. While many international diplomatic observers, including some from the United Nations saw a prominent role of India in shaping a just and democratic political order in Nepal, The Economist recently portrayed a weak Nepali government being dictated through cables from Beijing on quelling anti-Tibet activism in Kathmandu. The constitution drafting process, and the basic draft itself, reportedly had heavy foreign pressure built into it.
Similarly others felt the U.S. and the big G-8 club had an inner say and wanted Nepal to maintain a transitionally independent foreign policy, like it always has, to meet the challenges of economic globalization by developing Nepal’s own export competitiveness, visibly long enough until the entire region catapults itself into a Himalayan economic growth zone in the North-South axis. The Constitution was thus something big to think about in the long term and needed wider consultation. Some Nepali and SAARC pessimists wrote Nepal was falling into the Bhutan or Sri Lanka paradigm, others suggested foolishly a Sikkim like trap. But these are all Kathmandu valley based rumors, nothing else but rumors surrounding the failed constitution drafting process!
For instance, no one in the Indian political leadership wants Nepal in any way to be part of India, despite the open borders, close religious and cultural ties. Besides, who would want to latch on to a confused Nepali state, bursting with all sorts of problems at its seams, a country without a constitution? Some right wing Nepali media stated it is Professor S.D. Muni and his national and international chelas (students) all belonging to the JNU think tank cub, the most prominent being Prime Minister Babu Ram Bhattarai, but these are again mere fox calls not even worth their value in Nepali paisa. Rest assured, everyone in India, including senior leaders such as Sonia Gandhi from Congress-I, the BJP leadership and Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh want to see Nepal prosper and see the Nepali people happy and confident about their own progress. This is a bottom line we Nepalis have to accept given the open-handed Indian generosity displayed so far in six decades of close cultural and economic diplomacy. One must also clarify, Ambassador Jayant Prasad not only represents the Indian government, MEA, but also the Indian business community, artists, cultural icons and all that forms the basis of Nepal-India close ties. India’s official and unofficial aid to Nepal amounting to billions of rupees are all hinged to that reality. India, in fact, has always maintained that the Nepali constitution writing process, as with the Nepali political system must be Nepali people led and Nepal-driven.
For the future, democratic sustenance and rapprochement between various political forces, old and new is a must for this to happen and to bridge existing gaps in Nepali politics. For instance, if ex-King Gyanendra wants to run for the President or Prime Minister of Nepal, this is a good opportunity to present himself in front of the electorate, so too with other aspirants for the top two executive jobs. Unfortunately, Nepal has been reeling under democratic authoritarian rule from one regime to the next and it will need a drastic change in national political vision amongst all to think as “HAMI NEPALI, HAMRO SAMBIDHAN, HAMRO PRAJATANTRA” (US Nepalis, Our Constitution, Our Democracy).
As for me, I am truly convinced by the internationally well travelled, warm-hearted, democratically open minded and engaging U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton who candidly stated to The Economist in a recent interview that, “In every country today, there is politics. It may be authoritarian politics, but there is politics. Leaders have to stay in touch with what their people are thinking. If people were not thinking about the United States, we need to start them thinking… leaders have to learn better how to respond and manage public opinion. It doesn’t in any way undermine the necessity of actually leading.” Leading for Nepal’s democratic change eventually with a homespun, all-inclusive Nepali constitution is what I am emphasizing at this point and our leaders better listen to national and international public opinion on Nepal!