Can something be deemed legal but remain wholly illegitimate? It seems so, in quaint ‘new’ Nepal. And the shenanigans at the Birendra Convention Centre on the night of May 28 were not without historical precedents. The Mahakali Treaty was ratified at midnight by a two-thirds majority of parliament in 1996 that is ‘legal’ but so illegitimate that fourteen years hence it remains dead and putrefying. Are the people of Nepal fated to cover their noses again at another legislative disgust?
The life of the Constituent Assembly cum parliament was mandated by the sovereign people of Nepal through elections to expire at midnight on the 28th of May 2010. In two years of bickering, junketeering, ‘Ramdev-ing’ in Tundikhel at 4 AM and overall profiteering through extended perks, the frivolous three main parties within it – the EhMaKa (or EhMaLe, Maoists and Kangress) – had not only failed in the main task of drafting a new constitution. Rather than hammering out acceptable compromise deals, this CA had widened the rift among the brokers of the 2005 Delhi peace appeasement on issues as fundamental as federalism, structure of governance, pluralism and the fate of the peace process itself. The dying CA was formally convened only eighteen minutes before midnight and went into a ten minute recess at seven minutes past the hour of death. Before reconvening at half-past-twelve, murky deals were made that allowed Dev Gurung of the Maoists and Sarita Giri of some Sadbhavana faction to withdraw their tabled opposition, and for the law minister to table the proposed amendment to the interim constitution extending its own life by a year as well as to remove the 72-hour provision in the interim constitution for reflection and debate that would allow the sovereign people of Nepal to know what the proposal was all about. RPP-Nepal spoke out against it, but was ignored as voting began at 12:50 and the measure was declared passed by an overwhelming majority at 1:20 AM.
All this was illegal and illegitimate, but even more surreal when a parliament that died at midnight resurrected itself to extend its own life. Some tantric feat in this secular Loktantra! The CA has thus converted itself into a CC, a maladroit 601-member constitution drafting commission, no longer enjoying the mandate of the sovereign people but answerable only to EhMaKa party oligarchs. How feckless its leading lights have become was exposed by a TV program on the late Sailaja Acharya. On 12th June, her first death anniversary, Kangress oligarchs spoke glowingly of her upholding the politics of values which would remain forever an inspiration for the youth. These were the same people that ridiculed her stance and hounded her out of the party: she had firmly argued that the route of the CA would lead to anarchy, that a constitutional monarchy was a necessity, that appeasement of the Maoists could not protect the Kangress if democratic principles were compromised. These clips were all aired by the TV channel together with the hypocrisy of the oligarchs, the unwitting corollary of whose speeches was that they themselves no longer inspired the youth since they did not uphold those values!
And it must be remembered that while Sailaja was fighting this futile battle on the eve of Jana Andolan-2, the ever-vacillating EhMaLe had just come out of a “regression half-amended” King’s government and went on, in a manner of speaking, “to sleep with its enemy” in the principle-less faction of the Kangress. Its Raghuji Pant, now the prime minister’s principle press person, wrote an article denouncing Sailaja and arguing instead that Sujata Koirala was a far superior a Kangressi leader for whole-heartedly supporting Jana Andolan-2. It is no wonder that the current Madhav-Sujata government sticks together in tight embrace, forgives her passport ignominy, promotes her father, the defiler of Democracy 1990 for a Nobel peace prize, and cannot be pried apart by any degree of Maoist protest, not the least because it is the Maoists who brought Madhav to parliament!
One cannot but help wonder if this fecklessness is genetically encoded into the EhMaKa oligarchic leadership. When the Royal Massacre occurred in June 2001, Kangress enjoyed a majority government and the EhMaLe was the main opposition; but not only did this combo not have the guts to assert parliamentary supremacy by conducting a parliamentary enquiry, but its general secretary, the current unelected (or rather double-loser) prime minister chickened out of sitting in the chief justice-led enquiry commission. Together with the Maoists and the “grand design”-feigning Girija, it chose, instead, the politics of innuendo and calumny. For those who believe that there is something called political morality, it was also baffling to see the EhMaLe welcoming the dissolution of the third parliament in 2002 by the Deupa Kangress (or Deupangress as opposed to the Girijangress faction) only to participate in its resurrected version in April 2006. One must for record’s sake salute former prime minister K P Bhattarai and former mayor P L Singh for refusing to step into that illegitimate body despite being genuine MPs having won elections from Birganj and Kathmandu respectively.
There is a Nepali adage – ‘a boil on top of a goitre’ – to describe a compounded mess. This resurrected body’s original five-year mandate from the people had already run out in May 2004 and hence it could no longer be considered a genuine ‘parliament’ but only a zombie verisimilitude. It went on to induct an un-elected third of itself from among the Maoists who believe neither in such a bourgeois parliament anyway or in multiparty political pluralism but uphold the dictatorship of the politburo and violence as a political tool. This illegitimate outfit then went on to decide in politburo fashion that Nepal would be a federal republic, a decision that would be ratified post-hoc by the first sitting of the CA. And what a sitting it was! Before the motion to declare the country a “secular, federal republic” was even tabled, a message was read out from the Mughlani parliament’s speaker congratulating the house for taking that historic decision! The motion itself was tabled by someone who was not even a member of the house, no debate was allowed before the voting, and party whips ensured that all EhMaKa MPs voted like meek sheep and very unlike elected, self-respecting representatives of a sovereign people. The video clip of that first sitting of the CA is certainly not something that Nepalis generations hence would be showing to their grandchildren with tears of patriotism in their eyes and lumps in their throats! The CA’s last day on May 28 too will evoke no such emotions as it gets consigned to the dustbin of history’s amnesia and limbo.