Our Loktantrick Fathers, who art in the CA, hallowed be thy names. Thy Republic has come but give us this day our electricity and this year our constitution. Amen.
Thus have Nepalis been praying for almost seven years now but there is little sign of the Heavens parting, a beam of light shining forth and a deep voice booming, “Behold!” Instead, the big parties have been doing what big parties have proved so good at over the last decade: procrastination, promises and peddling their power of patronagein the meanwhile. All signs indicate that their schedule has been compromised, and that the constitution will not be made within the year that the big parties promised. Nor will they hold local elections that they promised.
After all, “The Kangress and UML leaders said they have a five years’ mandate so why hurry to do that?”said the Cash Maoist Supremo recently, adding: “The heavens will not fall if the constitution is not made [by the date we promised it would be].” It was a particularly unfortunate choice of words, for a Nepali folklore saying has it that a puny bird Hutityaun once boasted that it was holding up sky, giving the clear impression that the Our Loktantrick Fathers are no less than the Hutityaun.
These worthies used to blame the King for being “nirankush”, i.e. one without a hook of control, or in short an autocrat. Now the oligarchs of this dispensation, despite their labeling themselves as democratic by definition and default, have shown in practice that it is they who are “nirankush”, able to misinterpret the interim constitution any way they please and behave as they wish. A demonstrative example has been the power trade treaty saga. As per Article 156 of the interim constitution in force currently but trampled to tatters by the big Loktantrick parties (and world for word the same as Article 126 in the 1990 constitution suspended by its very drafters!), any resource sharing treaty should be passed by the parliament, by a two-thirds majority if it is of a long-term, comprehensive and serious matter, or by a simple majority if not so.
It continues to be the most democratic provision in the annals of our multiple constitutions that requires democratic consensus and control over our rulers, preventing them from trading national interests for party and personal benefits. It is being violated with the just recently signed Power Trade Agreement. Girija Koirala similarly attempted to bypass the parliament with the Tanakpur treaty in 1991 and the Supreme Court had to step in to force him to face the parliament. However, when he did try to do so, his attempt was sabotaged by his party supremo Ganesh Man Singh and his infamous “letter bomb”. Its sad consequence for the Kangresswas the resulting deep fractures within the party that continues to this day.
The UML, when it came to power in 1995 for a short 9-month government, attempted to salvage the situation through a technically flawed back-peddling by designing a “package deal” that put the entire Mahakali basin and its proper development in jeopardy. The Mahakali treaty did pass the parliament in 1996 with a two-thirds majority but because it ignored critical and justifiable objections, the treaty has been unenforceable and in limbo these last seventeen years. India does not have such a democratic provision in its constitution, and the reasons have to do with the fact that its approach to resource “sharing” with its neighbours is defined by its historic role as the successor state of the British Raj and its colonial mind-set of resource capture. Even though water and electricity are state subjects under the Indian constitution, in practice the External Affairs Ministry hold effective (and fairly secretive) veto power on resource sharing issues with neighbours.
One major reason the Mahakali treaty has been in limbo is not because of Nepal’s armed conflict and political instability: actually the treaty has been one of main the reasons for the political distrust between the parliamentary parties and the ensuing Maoist insurgency (their 40-point declaration called for its abrogation). Any attempt to act in furthering the Pancheshwar high dam development under this treaty first needs the treaty’s revision and passage by a two-third majority of Nepal’s parliament. The treaty itself says it would be revised in ten years or earlier, and given that the items mentioned in the treatyand the notes exchanged with it have been violated, such a review all the more imperative.
Furthermore, rather than finding honest and open ways to address the contentious issues in the treaty, attempts have been made to bypass and debase its letter and spirit (and parliamentary approval), including with the recently signed Power Trade Agreement. The first task is to define what constitutes “long-term, comprehensive and serious matter” and what does not. An attempt was made in May 2003 to do so by developing nine trigger criteria, but the subsequent pusillanimity of Loktantrick party leaders, and their innate incapacity to understand the strategic nature of water resources, has not seen that effort move further. It will, however, not go away; and without its honest resolution, all future attempts to develop transboundary hydro projects will end up in the impasse of conflicting interpretations and the political deadlock they will create.
There are two contentious issues currently: Power Trade Agreement (PTA) and Power Development Agreement (PDA). The former was actually signed in 1997 but the pusillanimity of Loktantrick leaders prevented its passage in the then parliament and it fell into limbo. Its provisions were revived by Nepal in the 2010 version sent to India, which the latter insultingly ignored for three years and instead sent a totally different power development agreement in line with the East India Company/Bhutani model. It led to civil society uproar in Nepal and prevented Mr Modi from triumphantly initialing it during his landmark visit a month ago. India has now agreed to sign the Nepali version with modifications, representing a shift in Indian polity – the assertion of India’s political class over its Babudom. It, however, remains to be seen what new tricks of bureaucratic sabotage the Babus can come up with, as they have done successfully in the past with the Gujral Doctrine.
On the Nepali side, while one logic argues that the PTA and the PDA will help with the purported surplus of run-of-river electricity in Nepal by 2017 IF all the supposed projects come on line, there are sufficient grounds to argue that, given the fourteen hours of power cuts in the Nepali system (which represents a major market in itself), there is no real surplus to export for Nepal and no surplus in chronically deficit Indian system to sell to Nepal either. The political economic thrust pushing for this treaty has not been the real interests of Nepali consumers but that of Indian power developers who have acquired many of the “jhola ma khola” licenses to Nepali sites through the backdoor. Our Loktantrick Fathers have either been blind to this reality, which is doubtful as they are smart politicos, or more probably been complicit in commission deals with the contractors. There is after all, big money at stake, and the totally unnecessary perks to be given to the Indian developers in the form of tax and VAT waivers and grants, point suspiciously towards the latter.
The main problem is primarily on the Nepali side with a total absence of strategic thinking on this issue, a concern that was much more in vogue during the Panchayat days. Even Norway, while developing its hydropower post World War II, did it for “nation-building” not for export and industry building outside of its borders. Is our hydropower to be developed to provide strategic advantage to our industries and help stem the flow of our youth as abandoned proletariats to the Gulf and elsewhere or is it to be developed merely to provide the government coffers some revenue to feed the likes of the current CA with salaries and perks? At issue is Nepal’s development future, whether it is that of an independent and self-reliant country or a neo-colony exporting its raw material and keeping a parasitic political class (sadly calling themselves socialists and communists) in power? This is where the grand failure of Loktantra lies.