Shoddy Constitutional Exercise: Will Ek Thaan or Ek Thangno Emerge?

No one dares utter the much-awaited ‘S’-word (for ‘succession’), but the undercurrent fight is already gathering steam among its fratricidal camps.

July 13, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 08 No. -3 July. 11- 2014 (Ashar 27, 2071)

Because the Leftist language of political discourse is more home-grown than that of their “long self-exiled in Muglan” rival Kangressis, their use of the Nepali language is often more evocative and capable of capturing the public mood, even if in apologetic tones. One such expression doing the rounds is “Jasari bhaey pani ek thaan sambidhan”, which roughly translates as: “Hell with all that has been argued – let us just come out with a bundle of phrases that we can call a constitution, even if by any hopeless means”. It is a statement that signifies the incompetence of the current political class, its fatalism as well as the lack of any vision or statesmanship. And Nepalis hope against all hope that such lot will provide us a “constitution to end all constitutions” for generations of Nepalis to come?!!

One reason this poetic rhyme of “ek thaan sambidhan” arouses much wider emotion is because of its suggestive relation to another homonymic word, “thangno”, which is swaddling cloth a newborn is wrapped in. Often it is made of strips from well-worn cotton sarees no longer fit for the older revered relatives because it would probably have been faded, threadbare and even torn in places. It is also something the baby would relieve itself in till potty-trained, hence something disgustingly excretory. From “thangno” comes the abusive adjective “thangney”, meaning worthless, repulsive, vile and many things similar.

Given the current political circus of mud-slinging and personality rifts among all the major political parties, there are disturbing signs that the Nepali public is getting increasingly pessimistic about a meaningful “constitution to end all constitutions”, or even one thaan constitution of any kind emerging from the current CA-2. With the party president and incumbent prime minister Sushil Koirala undergoing extended cancer treatment in the US, the Nepali Kangress is in suspended political animation.

No one dares utter the much-awaited ‘S’-word (for ‘succession’), but the undercurrent fight is already gathering steam among its fratricidal camps. However, true to the undemocratic internal tradition within this oldest democratic party which allows a neo-feudal oligarchy of overlords to decide for the whole party, news has just come in of its deferring its general assembly by a year. Its four-year mandate is to expire in a few months, a matter known four years ago; but rather than go for a new assembly to allow fresh new faces to emerge from among its younger leadership, it is self-extending the life of the old lot.

The EhMaLey fares slightly better, but just barely since the bar of political integrity has been set so low in Loktantrick Nepal. It has managed to hold its general assembly which it did not defer it as its rival the Kangress and the Maoists; it is seeing very democratic, mud-slinging competition, quite unique for an authoritarian Leninist party; and it has banished pictures of hirsute or bald foreign Marxist deities from the main podium, relegating them to the press corner perhaps to assure journalists that they are still Marxist-Leninist communist even if not true believers anymore. Their main deities on the podium are now their late Nepali leaders Pushpa Lal, Madan Bhandari and Man Mohan Adhikari; and the current leadership has reverted back to a more nationalistic posture by wearing the official Nepali cap and daura-surwal over the tie-less shirts and baseball caps in official functions.

It is, however, facing death pains as it jettisons its old catechism from the 1950s of Nepal being a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country and tries to replace it with the reality of Nepal having already entered capitalism. This shift will now allow them to scoop away from the Kangress some of the latter’s village cadre base. What they have not been able to do, and which is where they will face serious challenges from the Maoist end of the political spectrum of re-thinking their political philosophy, is to figure out if Nepal is entering the stage of capitalism as a “Sahuji”, i.e. a master, or a “Bhariya”, i.e. a lowly paid and exploited porter. EhMaLey’s capitulating to the Bhariya model was apparent in the Mahakali Treaty almost two decades ago. Today the same two leaders responsible for that fiasco are battling for the party’s head honcho position.

The less words we waste about the former Panchas, the RPP and their Chand-Thapa fratricide, the better. Within the Maoists, however, the Cash-Dash battle has entered a new phase for the soul of the Left movement. The “working alliance” of five parties bearing the torch of Maoism is remarkable for the acrobatics of Prachanda who, like a trapeze artist that has lost the plot, is swinging between pro-Mughlani Baburam and anti-Mughlani Baidya, more like a circus clown than a seasoned acrobat maestro, much to the amusement of the mass audience below.

Behind Prachanda’s swing, as well as that of Nepal’s strangely silent Civil Society, is the fear of a Modified Mughlan that is aggressively practicing what may be called the “Toilet Paper Theory of Politics”. Those of us who do extensive field work in the hills know how dear a small bundle of toilet paper is that is secretly kept in the shirt pocket just next to the heart, unsure when such a trusty friend might come in need. However, once used, none of us would even dream of keeping it anywhere near our person. Such fate has been the pain of the jilted lover; the Loktantrick parties as well as the Loktantrick Civil Society are now practically silenced, ready to accept one thaan of a constitution, whichever well-funded INGO or the Mughlani Sahu may provide it.

What these worthies, who failed Democracy-1990 as well as Democracy-2006 and who have now been given a third chance by the all-forgiving Nepali public with CA-2, should have been doing is completing the architecture of a New Nepal. Unfortunately, their main concern has been to loot the exchequer. The “fifty million to each MP” in the current budget debates as well as the shameless revival of the “Pajero culture” of the 1990s for the fish and loaves of office is just one small indication of the total absence of political vision or morality with this Loktantrick lot. They claim that “80% of the constitution” is already complete (as they claimed with CA-1) and its birth is impending within coming November. What they hide, however, is the fact that the baby is ready to be born but its skull does not have a developed brain of what the new order should look like, nor does its rib-cage contain a heart that understands what the impossible-to-define federalism is all about.

What is frightening about the shameless effort to loot fifty million is less the amount and more the unassailable proof that these worthies have no idea what separation of powers between the executive and the legislator is all about. Spending fifty million is an executive act that legislators should not have a hand in at all. The bigger question is the inappropriateness of the Westminster model of representative democracy where legislators become executive ministers. We should have been debating these broad roles in the new constitution, the required checks and balances, as well as the structural failure of the 1959 and the 1990 orders and thus laid the foundation of a fresh new political morality. Expecting that level of seriousness from this lot has become a hopeless dream; hence the fear that Nepalis are beginning to express, which is that what we will get from them is “ek thangney sambidhan”, if anything at all.

Dipak Gyawali.JPG

Dipak Gyawali

Gyawali is Pragya (Academician) of the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and former minister of water resources.

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