Dahal at present is in his chosen position but like of a 'big, powerful rat in a trap' depicted in a fable. The rat that is neither ready to give up nor able to free itself from the trap, but moves berserk dragging the trap along, causing more damage to the surroundings, which sometimes can scare away even the cats.
--By Achyut Wagle
Chairman of the United Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN) Maoist, Puspa Kamal Dahal has tried a sort of rewriting the dictionary of political science that traditionally defines democracy as people's mandate reflected through ballots. 'It is the conflict between the janadesh (people's mandate) and matadesh (mandate of the ballots), 'Dahal declared in a public function on 16th of February, 2015. The distinction he was trying to make was indeed precariously interesting, though not much different from that of any notorious dictator one can pick or choose from the world history pages. From Hitler to Pol Pot, everyone thought that the democratic dispensation provided only inadequate space to fulfill their absolute ruler's ambitions.
Dahal’s new assertion has several political ramifications. As he now presents himself as the sole messiah of the identity-based politics in Nepal, his tactic of avoiding the majoritarian decision-making process has irrationally fueled the aspirations of smaller political and interest groups sidelined by the second constituent assembly (CA) elections. Although he has failed to suggest any alternative method replacing the majority vote or rule-based outcome to resolve any contentious political issue, within or without CA, his insistence not to return to the CA process has only added to already exiting political mayhem, with regard to constitution writing process in particular.
Dahal at present is in his chosen position but like of a 'big, powerful rat in a trap' depicted in a fable. The rat that is neither ready to give up nor able to free itself from the trap, but moves berserk dragging the trap along, causing more damage to the surroundings, which sometimes can scare away even the cats. His inescapable trap is his own political position which articulates that Nepal should be federalized on the basis of ethnic identity, not on the basis of economic viability of the new provinces in the envisioned federal structure.
This plank of politics, in fact, got defeated in the last CA elections thus Dahal's party has less than thirteen percent vote in the House. The strength of Madhesh-based parties got significantly truncated in similar fashion. But, incidentally, all those forces such vanquished have now come together under Dahal with a consolidated slogan of making the identity the only basis of federalizing Nepal. And, Dahal, in turn is forced to move along with this dangerous trap. Ironically, he has re-christened the defeated voice as janadesh and ideologies that got elected were only matadesh, suggesting that the majority deserves to be duped.
On a serious note, as an emerging political philosophy and also as a tool to more representative democracy, the politics of identity and inclusion that Dahal and so called thirty-party alliance under his frenzied leadership have been pushing for should face no resistance. True, as argued by its advocates, the identity issue shouldn't be construed as a prelude to the separatist politics. But, the problem is: there is a poles-apart difference in the understanding of the terms (inclusion, identity, autonomy and much-touted about preferential treatment of 'prime' ethnic groups in the provinces to be created on the basis of some form of communal identity) between the decision-making elites and their functionaries. The leadership at the centre is trying to portray a very rational face arguing that it only assures a socially justifiable redistribution of state powers to citizenry. To the extent of adopting a paradigm of positive discrimination to give recognition to so far relegated lot of populace, the identity politics is not only acceptable but indeed desirable. But that ideal situation is likely to be realized in the long run only through a mature, constructive and dignified politics.
Unfortunately, this form of politics is still a mirage for Nepal. Except a few frontline leaders advocating for ethnicity-based federalism, entire rank and file of in the parties, now under one alliance, to push forward the identity politics espouse hate towards majority of population, particularly so called upper caste Brahmins, Kshetris and Thakuris. The blame game holding these upper castes historically responsible in absolute terms for the socio-economic backwardness and plight of minority nationalities has already put the communal tensions at the boiling point. The air is such that any decision for or against of the ethnicity-based federalization will potentially give sense of loss to some other community. The platitude of creating a win-win situation for all is impossible to see a day light without adopting first, again, the democratic process, and second reversing from the blame game to stop the hate-politics.
The space for rational politics is gradually narrowing down as leaders like Dahal are finding no personal benefit in upholding a democratic politics primarily due to their shrinking legitimate political base and clout. Some Nordic and Scandinavian countries who do not realise the threat and undercurrent of possible communal tension in Nepal or knowingly want to make Nepal a laboratory for testing the success of inclusive politics, too, are fanning the ambition of a lot of these leaders. But all other major international forces relevant for Nepal, mainly China, India, the US and the United Nations (UN), have put pressure on Dahal and Madheshi leaders to revert back to the dialogue. This implicitly is the message that Dahal's threats of 'announcing a new constitution from the streets, orchestrating a parallel CA business conducted by CA vice-chair who belongs to the Maoist Party, showing the real powers of people, or the likes' are implausible and unacceptable propositions in the parlance of modern day global democratic practices. The recent statement issued by the UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon requesting the protesting parties to return to the dialogue table and, also a preparedness of some crucial Terai-based Parties, that supposedly look for South Block to sit for talks than go for street protests are some convincing signals to these realities.
The fault doesn't only lie only in the opposition ranks. The ruling coalition has more blatantly failed to tap this unprecedently favourable international climate in favour of the democratic process in CA. The government's diplomatic channels, almost all of them are as good as defunct. Whatever diplomatic support the Sushil Koirala government is getting is largely dependent on briefings by the Kathmandu-based missions of those respective countries. And, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking considerable personal interest in Nepal's political developments. Otherwise, the importance of mobilising these channels, at least to take them into confidence to resolve all outstanding political issues through diplomatic process, is hardly realised by the Koirala government and his party Nepali Congress. The main ally in government, the CPN-UML is no different despite the fact that the foreign ministry portfolio is in its bag. Nepal's diplomatic missions in crucial capitals are either vacant or filled by the appointees of the previous government who are vowed opposition supporters. Thus, the diplomatic manuverabilty of Koirala government is, in effect, non-existent.
The opposition has rejected even the second official offer of Prime Minister Koirala to sit for talks. Koirala in fact has failed on two crucial counts. First, he is unable to test the pulse of the opposition strength and devise the strategies accordingly. He also has failed to push the opposition to logically defensive domain despite the fact that the latter are behaving most irrationally and undemocratically, delving in defensively on destructive demagogy out of CA functioning. Second, though he might have chosen to vent anger on some of the diplomats for meddling in Nepal's internal affairs, he actually seems to have no real knowledge about the extent of penetration of diverse international interest groups and their ability to influence the course of Nepal's politics.
There are indications that the curtains on Koirala's tenure as Prime Minister are likely to fall without making any mark in history and forcing him to exit rather unceremoniously. This assessment doesn't come only from opposition parties, media or intelligentsia, but from his own party's central leadership. During the NC central committee meet in the third week of February, a score of Central Committee members put forward the agenda of 'seeking an alternative for the government from within the party'; citing the lacklustre performance of Koirala-led coalition government. Only a single positive aspect of Koirala as PM is: despite tactical and strategic failures, he seems committed to deliver a new constitution as soon as possible. But the tasks for him are proving to be far harder said than done.
At present, more destructive than the opposition is the government's main ally, the CPN-UML. Its Chairman KP Oli was all set to replace Koirala as Prime Minister. Oli, though callously, planned to finish the constitution writing process by January 22, 2015, not because all its provisions would be accomplished by then addressing the needs of a 'federal republic' nation, but he was rather keen on promulgation of any new constitution so that he could replace Koirala in that pretext citing a year-old power-sharing arrangement between the two Parties. But, it was Dahal who emerged as the main stumbling block en route to Oli's prime ministerial ambitions.
The prevailing political scenario essentially degenerates to a situation, where the task of constitution writing hinges on hopeless limbo. The opposition is perhaps going too far from the possible point of return. The ruling coalition suffers from incumbency blindness, thus fails to gauge the immediate real risks of state failures. Moves from all parties are more oriented to destructiveness regardless of their speeches made in the name of people.
The writer is former editor of Aarthik Abhiyan National Daily.