The blame game among the herders of goats and sheep has acquired an added ferocity. A section of the Maoists, some Madhesh-based parties, and radical rightists are pitching for polls.
However, political parties with longer experience in parliamentary practices appear to be more interested in the formation of a “government of consensus” – shorthand for “we also want our share of the spoils of office” – than in fresh elections. With the Constituent Assembly (CA) gone from the scene, it’s a free-for-all for all kinds of politicos.
Sooner, rather than later, squabbling politicians, too, shall tire and fall. Then it’ll be time for the enlightened intelligentsia to take over the stage in some pretext or the other and work with a redeemer of their choice to “save the nation.”
The prognosis may appear unnecessarily alarmist at the moment, but it’s difficult to be sanguine when silence reigns in the realm of politics.
Many bottles of sparkling wine must’ve been uncorked in the charmed circles of Kathmandu when the CA died without promulgating a new Constitution.
Friedrich Engels had the reputation of being one of the biggest “beheader of champagne bottles” of his time. It’s quite likely that aristocratic professionals of his ilk in various Marxist camps – the Socialist socialites and Communist cognoscenti – also celebrated the “Death of the Sovereign” in a befitting manner. There’s no bourgeois truer to the spirit of good and easy life than a lapsed Marxist.
The middle class heaved a sigh of relief. Now they wouldn’t have to put up with the absurdity of former Kamaiyas drawing the future course of democracy.
The generation that had grown reciting nationalist slogans of the Nepali textbook “Mahendramala” has little faith in its own ability of influencing national policy.
It’s even more distrustful of the unwashed masses that popular politics invariably puts in positions of power. Insecure and nervous, the Nepali middle class is perpetually on the lookout for a wise and strong leader who will release it from misery.
The refrain of bankers, businessmen and bureaucrats ever since the formation of the CA was the same: “After all, what these people in chappals who have never even heard of Adidas – let alone Armani and Gucci – know about liberalization, privatization and globalization? All they care about is identity. We want prosperity.”
They are happy that experts, rather than elected representatives, would have a bigger say in the formulation of a new Constitution, if or when it’s promulgated. The loyalty of professionals comes at a price, but they usually keep their side of the bargain.
With politicians, one can never be sure. They sway with public opinions rather than keep their commitments made to lobbyists or pressure groups.
Hints of promise
When Pushpa Kamal Dahal anointed his deputy Dr. Baburam Bhattarai as the Prime Minister of the country, the decision was welcomed as an indication of “reformation” of the UCPN (Maoist).
Aspiring young entrepreneurs and professionals were elated with the emergence of a premier with impeccable pedigree (descendent of the Gorkhali royal priests and precepts), unparalleled achievements (topped the SLC Board of his time, never came second in his life, and had written an impressively annotated PhD. thesis), progressive outlook (married outside of his caste and forsook a possibly lucrative career to chase his dreams) and infinite promise (like them, he too believed in the dictum, “It’s economy, stupid!”).
Apart from his antecedents, the Maoist ideologue was also future-oriented. He was as savvy with the tools of social media as the smartest Facebook or Twitter kid wielding a Galaxy, an iPhone, a Blackberry or a “fake-original” smartphone inside a restaurant on Durbar Marg, a café in Thamel, a bar in Jhamel, or an eatery at Kumari Pati.
Yuppies could do business with the graying scholar who appeared determined to transform the government into a facilitator for the profit sector.
In the eyes of ambitious professionals, the stocks of Dr. Bhattarai went several notches up when he signed the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA) with India. The premier appeared to be making all efforts to assist businesses.
The coterie of the Prime Minister created an impression that the power games of politics that centered on the CA was a hindrance to the grand economic plans of the visionary reformer.
It was assumed that Madheshi parties would lose their influence as soon as the CA died. In the absence of a functioning legislature, Janjati lawmakers wouldn’t have a forum to be spoilsports.
Dalits had impressive presence in the sole representative institution of the country. Since they were more interested in inclusion than in economic growth, they didn’t deserve the sympathy of people more concerned with unavailability of petrol than the delayed arrival of the monsoon.
The assessment of economic planners coincided with the conclusions of conservatives that the CA had outlived its utility. They needed a Jang Bahadur, and not a useless talk shop, to take the country fast forward into a consumerist utopia.
Just before the expiry of the CA’s extended term, as determined to have been the final one by the Supreme Court, an inflammatory text message did the rounds in Kathmandu Valley that urged directly, “We need a Jang Bahadur to stage a Kot Parba not in Basantpur but at New Baneshwar.”
Their prayers have been answered. With no legislature to oversee his decisions and most constitutional bodies either incomplete or ineffective, Prime Minister Bhattarai can continue to run the government the way he wants, without worrying too much about the practicality of elections that he has announced.
The apparent peace that hangs thick in the capital and in other urban centers in the country is not accidental; it’s an indication of the sense of relief of the middle class. No wonder, political parties in the opposition draw a blank when they talk about unseating the government through street protests.
End of dreams
Foxes don’t hunt, but they begin to salivate the moment they sense that a predator is on the prowl and the hunted is completely unaware of the dangers lurking behind the bush. Premier Bhattarai’s advisors may have honorable intentions, but politicians often lose control over the levers of government the moment there is no Parliament.
Ex-Premier Madhav Kumar Nepal has had set a dubious precedence about autonomy, authority, and longevity of a caretaker government. In this, the UML stalwart had a clear advantage: The instruments of government were packed with cadres of his own party and the institutions of the society had a natural affinity for the kind of cultural conservatism that it fosters.
The Maoists, on the other hand, have a public image somewhat similar to that of the pre-1990 Nepali Congress: Of being agents of subverting cultural values and introducing revolutionary ideas in society.
Let’s talk less about the Madheshis, the better. President Ram Baran Yadav and former Speaker Subhash Chandra Nembang have set such high standards of conformism that no Madheshi or Janjati leader can ever measure up to the expectations of the dominant community without compromising their ethnic identity.
So the Permanent Establishment is sure to begin undermining the authority and influence of their political masters in every possible way.
It’s possible that the objectives of Premier Baburam Bhattarai were noble and even the opposition parties had no grander design than merely replacing the government. Their collective brinkmanship, however, put the CA to rest. The contradiction inherent in an observation of Oscar Wilde – “There are only two tragedies in life: One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” – mustn’t have been lost upon Bhattarai who is used to taking books with him to weekend retreats.
However, politicians in the opposition camp seem to have no inkling of what they have lost. Restoration of the CA is an empty rhetoric. Instead of pressuring the government to conduct elections as soon as possible, opposition parties are helping prolong the political paralysis, which means, inter alia, that real power in Nepal will go back again where it has always remained: The Permanent Establishment that runs this country like a fiefdom.
The dream has ended. But the country is still asleep. Meanwhile, foxes continue to follow hunters on the prowl in stealthy silence. The rest must make some noise to break the stillness that has begun to envelop the society in its dark embrace.
Lal contributes to The Week with his biweekly column Reflections. He is one of the widely read political analysts in Nepal.