Long before he became today’s Venerable Acharya Rimpoche, Sridhar Rana worked as a pioneer in Nepal’s budding tourism industry of the late 1960s. It was a field full of the early romance of Shangri-La and bitten by that bug, he decide to “trek” to remote Bajhang, the district of his maternal grandfather and Nepal’s first humanist Raja Jaiprithvi Bahadur Singh. As Sridhar recounted to me in a chance encounter at New Road in those Hippie days, it took only a few days of trekking for the romance to wear off completely and for every carefully selected item in the backpack to become a painful burden. The rest of the trip then was mostly about trying to find a porter and some decent dal-bhat where no rice could be found. He might as well have been talking about the Loktantrick trek this country has been forced into over the last decade since the collapses 12-point Delhi architecture! It has taken only a few years for its prized items of romanticism to become burdensome embarrassments, a bhalu ko kanpat in Nepali, something that can neither be held onto for long nor let go of.
Loktantra’s votaries, both national and international, initiated the romantic adventurism that crashed when the genetically flawed Constituent Assembly fizzled out ignominiously on May 28th after failing to do what it was elected to do.In their desperation, the adventurists talk of “preserving” their so-called achievements – federalism, secularism and republicanism – either by reviving the CA “just for a few hours” or by getting the president to “do something”. Instead of honest soul-searching, their prattle has become as politically irresponsible as it is logically flawed. The Nepali expression, phalam ko chiura (beaten rice made of iron that cannot be chewed) aptly describes the as-yet undefined harebrained notion of federalism which proved indigestible to the CA because of the indivisible and interlaced nature of Nepal’s social mosaic as well as the alarm of neighbourhood geopolitics, and led to its demise.
Secularism, especially the manner in which it was imposed on a predominantly Hindu society through an unholy alliance of Marxist atheists, Abrahamic proselytizers contemptuous of other faiths as well as culturally-challenged Kangressi and Madhesi opportunists, promises unrest further out into the future. The recent exodus from Bangalore of Assamese and Nepalis is an early warning that Nepal too might not remain untouched by the clash of fundamentalists, the Tea Party types in the Western and the Taliban-inspired in the Syriac civilizations, without even the added involvement of Hindutwa-mimicing homegrown ones. For the present, however, there are enough other flashpoints to keep the Nepali political circus swinging.
It is the third adventurist “achievement” – republicanism – which is showing its feet of clay and remains the bottleneck behind today’s dead-end politics. A deep flaw was embedded in the 2006 movement when its leadership, both party and civil society, remained blind to the role of a head-of-state. Call it ceremonial, constitutional or by any other name, it is not just a rubber stamp. If it was, it could be replaced by one in some desk drawer in Singha Durbar to be used at the whim of the head-of-government! It is the repository of the residual powers of a state, which need to be used when events occur that had not been envisaged by those framing the written constitution. With the ignominious dissipation of the CA we are left with an illegitimate head-of-government (who horse-traded himself into power without even completing his unholy, opportunistic and the most frayed coalition governmentever) demanding that the head-of-state meekly submit to his whims. The latter, a prisoner of the misguided Loktantrick hype, is paralyzed with fear that he is now required to do exactly what King Gyanendra had to in 2002.
2012 has become the 2002 history repeating itself, this time as a farce. Unlike today’s president, King Gyanendra then had the weight of tradition behind him: he was king of the oldest nation-state in South Asia, and slightly older than the USA. He also had Article 127 of the constitution, which over thirty political parties asked him to invoke to dismiss the Deuba government (it had dissolved the parliament some five months earlier due to party infighting and was unwilling to hold fresh elections as mandated by the constitution). Today a decade later, the CA has self-dissolved; party infighting is even worse across the entire political spectrum making the elusive “national consensus” even more elusive; the interim constitution, flawed as it was and defunct as it has become with the CA’s collapse, has no provision for any electionand no one is in any position to claim leadership without a fresh popular mandate; the reputation of all political parties and their leaders is at rock-bottom, with hostility towards them rising sharply at the popular level; and the Leninists have captured critical state institutions and, clinging to them like leaches, hope to weather out any insipid opposition even as more state institutions lapse into leaderlessness. A real Loktantrick impasse if there ever was any!
And during such critical times, the presidency finds itself a rootless institutionunable to command respect or authority, created as it was by an interim constitution that itself is now practically defunct. While the King was above partisan politics, the president comes from the Koirala faction of the Kangress and is not confident he will receive the support of anyone else if he takes any step to resolve the impasse. His credibility has been further damaged by the recent Muni-Shyam Sharan revelations regarding the Katwal episode. Having posited itself against traditional and nationalist forces, the presidency has to rely on those failed politicians and parties that destroyed the 1990 democracy, the parliamentary parties by their unbridled corruption and the Maoists by political violence. As institutions, all political parties have shown themselves to be highly feudal, family- and clan-based and centered on immediate personal pecuniary gains. Such a litany of negatives can never add up to anything positive.
Any new Nepali leadership has to address a few basics, the first of which is the question of restoring political ethics which is the springboard that inspires volunteerism in the cadres as well as the non-partisan masses. It has been missing since the mid-1990s and attempts to revive them in 2003 were opposed by the current leadership of political parties. With the arrest of the Guptas, the Wagles and the Joshis, their sins are catching up with them and will eventually catch up with the thieving ones of Loktantra as well either at the eventual ballots or thereafter.. Their failure with the second chance they had requires that these stale leaders retire from public life. The second of the basics is the non-inclusiveness of the leadership of main political parties, yes, all Bahuns and not very honest or inspiring ones at that. It has raised the hackles of everyone else in the country and no lasting political solution will be found that does not address this issue head-on. And it can only be done by the parties themselves with courageous new leaders of integrity who have pan-Nepal appeal and acceptability.