Saturday, November 30, 2013

Choices to make

As the November 19 election for a second Constituent Assembly (CA) nears, the question is whether the imminent electoral exercise will inevitably cause the political parties to head for more confrontation or if it will outline a strategy of cooperation and co-evolution instead.

The developing political scenario suggests that political parties are sticking more closely with the two contentious issues of the last CA—federalism and the form of government post-election. In the absence of collaboration, it will be tough for the CA to write a well-structured constitution, which is what the country needs.

Since 1990, Nepal’s democracy has been grappling with consistent flip-flops and political maneuverings. It has already lost over two decades in coming out completely from the shadow of royal institutions. The current constitutional crisis would have been unlikely if political principles were in alignment with peoples’ aspirations.

Nepal’s tryst with democracy hasn’t always been painful—the country witnessed full-scale transformation into a ‘democracy’ within a short span of time, compared with other South Asian democracies. The first generation democratic leadership of the country deserves closer evaluation, as they had a clear grasp over their goals and intentions. Sadly, things are dramatically different now.

Nepal has failed to capitalise on many chances to cement its democracy. The eventful 1990s were spent initially in a ‘tug-of-war’ between the king and the political forces, and later in the Maoists v everyone else. The last decade began with an unfortunate royal massacre, which not only ended the monarchy’s natural continuity but also greatly affected the natural progression of democracy.

Since 2001, what has dominated the major political discourse in Nepal should have avoided—intense factionalism, directionless ideological formations and fragmentations, unprecedented rise in regionalism and an excessive focus on the federalisation of the republic. Demands were mostly routed through demonstrations, discarding basic civic and moral sense.

At this crucial juncture, the reckoning should be that Nepal fared well under a central command. It is a small country where territorial divisions are not as important as its emancipation as an economy and democracy. India and China can be the good examples for Nepal, given how far these countries have traveled from medieval monarchies into modern states.

Nepal, however, always has the option to keep the constitution-making exercise simple and inclusive. As a modern parliamentary democracy, it can go the Indian way—where the constitution was made through a rigorous consultation process and by adopting the wisdom/aspirations of the land along with fine examples from outside.

The Indian Constitution, at least notionally, embodies the best of democratic values; and this despite diverse ethnicities and massive size. Whatever the verdict of the election, all political parties should approach constitution-making as a consensus-driven exercise. For this, the trust in the existing parliamentary model needs to be incorrigible. Sans faith in the present system, it will be impossible for the political parties to offer a better alternative to the Nepali people, who are more interested in a dignified life.

Meanwhile, the adamant stand of Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist against the election only proves once again the directionless working of his camp. Baidya should revisit the basics of communism, which teaches that a ‘connect with people’ is supreme. Second, he needs to figure out the constituents of a ‘class structure’ before fighting for the cause of ‘invisible proletariats’. He is about to commit a bigger blunder than his alma mater, the UPCN (Maoist), when recognising the divide between the ‘elite’ and ‘oppressed’.

Baidya’s half-baked political programme may not lead him too far. Earlier too, the Maoists performed miserably on crucial socio-economic as well as cultural matters while they were in power. That was at the cost of a rare political edge, which was post the diminishing status of the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML.

For long, Nepali leaders have not looked at political developments beyond the ‘surrealist order’, which allows ‘unconscious choices to be expressive’. This is an existential downplaying and must not be continued. The Nepali people’s faith in democracy should reflect in its institutions.

Political leaders have to be sensitive to this or they will end-up undermining democracy and finally their own utility in public space. They have to make choices and the poll is going to be most opportune for hat. This election will decide whether democracy in Nepal is a lame duck or a winner.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kathmandu Post on November10,2013)

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