By the magnitude of his ‘flexibility’ shown in recent days including the withdrawal of the three-day Nepal bandh after the first day and taking the constitution writing process forward, it would appear that Prachanda has greater things in store for the New Year.
--By Akhilesh Tripathi
Bikram Samvat 2072, the new Nepali year which started about two weeks ago, is going to be interesting. There are telltale signs of that. Consider the following incident!
On the eve of the New Year, Constituent Assembly (CA) Chairman Subash Chandra Nemwang called a meeting of the top leaders of the major political parties to discuss the thorny issues of the new constitution. CPN-UML Chairman KP Oli was absent. The reason was he was climbing Dharahara! On this conspicuous absence, UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Prachanda grumbled, “For Oli, Dharahara is more important than the new constitution.” Later, Oli, whose Dharahara climb was aided by an oxygen cylinder, retorted, “It is difficult to climb up like the UML, but quite easy to go down like the Maoists!”
Why did Oli ignore an all-party meeting to climb the Dharahara? There are two possible answers. One, Oli, who is said to be playing the final innings of his life wanted to accomplish his wish of being atop the historical monument (Had he waited for 12more days to fulfill this wish of his, he wouldn’t be able to do so because the historical monument built by Nepal’s first prime minister Bhimsen Thapa was grounded in the April 25 earthquakes). Two, he deliberately ignored the meeting of the major parties to pile more pressure on the opposition parties, mainly the Maoists. Who says he doesn’t aspire to become the next Prime Minister at the earliest possible? After all, he climbed the Dharahar to dismiss a major allegation against him that he is sick and unfit.
Nepali politicians speak in different ways. Oli climbs Dharahara, all 213 steps. By doing so, he is sending three clear messages: I am strong enough to climb; I can see the view from the top; the New Year is going to be beautiful.
Prachanda, while talking to the media, says he’s willing to take any risk for the sake of delivering a constitution on time. In a meeting of the three major parties – Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN (Maoist) on April 20, Prachanda agreed to resume the constitution writing process. It’s a big example of flexibility shown by him.
By the magnitude of his ‘flexibility’ shown in recent days including the withdrawal of the three-day Nepal bandh after the first day and taking the constitution writing process forward, it would appear that Prachanda has greater things in store for the New Year. Or at least, greater things are at stake that justify his move to alienate the Janajatis, anger the Madhesis, and shutting the door to unification among the six Maoist parties.
But why did Prachanda change and became flexible? Prachanda has lost a lot of political ground in recent times. The Nepal bandh called by the 30-party front led by him could not win public support. So it fell flat on the very first day. Similarly, Prachanda’s party’s candidate faced a humiliating defeat in the CA by-elections held recently. That is also a measurement of the people’s support to the Maoist agenda. By now, Prachanda understands that he is not backed by any kind of popular support. All these factors have forced the UCPN (Maoist) leadership to review their position and become flexible in the political give and take.
So, it’s been a common knowledge in recent months that the Maoists have backtracked on their position on federalism. It may not have been just a coincidence that the Maoists’ softening of stance followed Baburam Bhattarai’s India visit and Prachanda’s China visit.
By now, it seems, the Maoist leadership has understood that a general strike or a trip to the neighbourhood seeking help (intervention) will not help. That is perhaps why the three major parties – NC, UML and UCPN (Maoist) – have agreed to allow the constitution writing process to move forward. Oli’s Dharahara climb has helped in this process. Oli cannot climb the Dharahara again because there si no Dharahara now. But the opposition parties, mainly the Maoists, now know that the UML chief can engage in any other similar undertaking to mount further political pressure on them.
Making Institutions Inclusive
Another thing we learned from the year gone by is that institutions, once designed, are difficult to change.
The April Uprising of 2006 sought to change the way the state and political parties respond to the people’s needs. But it did not have a clear vision of what new institutional structures might look like. Parties like the Nepali Congress and UML define this change in their own way while, the Maoists, Madhesis, and Janajatis, on the other hand, have their own agenda for reforms, including the form of government, federalism, and electoral system. The failure of the Maoists and Madhesis to push forward their agenda shows how entrenched and entangled existing institutions are in the Nepali society.
Restructuring of institutions is required at two levels: at the level of political parties, and at the level of the state. At the level of the political parties, the internal party structures allow a few leaders to extract from the ordinary party members and unions that have penetrated all levels of the society. The recent Supreme Court verdict trying to limit the role of employee unions is an example. Most employee unions are extractive institutional structures. They serve their members by lobbying for their promotion and transfers, especially when their party leaders are in power. Therefore, a meritorious government employee, if he or she is not a member of these extractive unions, has fewer chances of getting a promotion or a good position.
Given the existing state structure, top political leaders who have control over parties like the NC or the CPN-UML have few incentives to restructure the party and the state. Making the party and the state more inclusive means giving up on their monopoly of power and privileges. Reforming state and party structures, therefore, is a difficult proposition for almost all top politicians. As many studies have shown, once institutional structures are in place, it is difficult to change them in favour of the ordinary people.
One of the implications of such a situation is that political divisions have crystallised at the local level also. Nepal is a deeply divided society. Nepal’s political parties have created a social chasm that runs vertically, from the highest level to the community level. At the community level, the divisive political allegiance has more to do with getting access to state resources and opportunities than to development and ideology.
As a result, allegiances are usually made to political parties that have a greater prospect of getting to power. Without such political allegiance, which is something more than just an affiliation, people rarely get access to state resources or even entry into the marketplace.