Even as this essay was being penned focusing on the post-earthquake dereliction of duty by the Loktantrick ruling class, a political quake was triggered last Monday night by four party oligarchs announcing a 16-point deal between themselves and without taking even their senior party structure into confidence, let alone the Constituent Assembly. They said (very revealingly) that it was “the first political decision they have taken by themselves since the 12-point Delhi deal of November 2005” which now clears the way, so they claim, to writing the elusive “constitution to end all constitutions”.
Many are skeptical: have we not heard all this hype before, and have we not heard the inevitable dog-ate-my-homework excuses afterwards? Will the magic number of eight provinces miraculously solve the many thorny issues behind the half-baked concept of federalism that Nepal’s organic composition finds allergic and cannot assimilate? The True Believers– Vaidya’s Dash and Chand’s Gas Maoists who were the real ideological and martial force behind the Maoist movement, as well as the Janajati and Madheshi folks – don’t seem to buy that. The promise that the oligarchs will now see the constitution written within a month – having failed to do that these last seven years even as they now defer the real thorny issues of naming, bordering and determining the rights and duties behind federalism to an unnamed “expert committee” and as yet-to-be-conceived federal provinces – sounds as if the Tricksters of Loktantra hold deep self-hypnotized convictions that they can fool all the people all the time.
And all this is happening in the aftermath of the Great Earthquake disasterthat lays bare the fatal shortcomings of this political class and the dispensation they run (the oligarchy in Nepali is referred to as mathadhish-tantra). Stories of blatant corruption and utter lack of any moral responsibility among the leadership continues to pour in like the body count figures in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. It has further tainted many of the powerful figures in the current dispensation. The finance and housing ministers are now referred to in the vernacular media as karkatpata (corrugated sheet) and tripaal (tarpaulin) mantris in the face of the irregularities their ministries and underlings have engaged in and for which they have yet to show any sign of ethical discomfort, let alone take any action.
Disturbing reports from quake-hit districts indicate that the home minister has no qualms in nominating his party henchmen as key chief district officers and in having them hijack relief material sent by friends and relatives to be distributed only by his party’s cadres. Few things can be so morally revolting as seeing the goodwill of the compassionate being forcibly distributed under a particular party’s flag and label! Even well-known international agencies have been tainted: the inedible food supplied by the World Food Program and distributed by the Red Cross (with some European officials of these bodies smuggling drugs along with the relief material and others openly engaging in religious proselytizing) damages the credibility of the entire international community.
Against this unsavory background, two ambitious tasks are planned by the Loktantrick masters of New Nepal: the proposed June 25 Donor’s meet and the constitution writing by early July. While the latter has many unanswered questions to be faced that we shall discuss further below, the former attempt exhibits both arrogance and a naiveté of the rulers of New Nepal. All major development partners of Nepal as well as governments of both India and China have already said they are more than willing to help Nepal recover from the devastation, but just tell us, they say, what it is that you want us to do? This dispensation has no clear idea except to be seen as saying: just tell us how much money you will give us and then we will make our budget accordingly. Given the level of corruption with the Peace Trust Fund – with the suspension of the Public Procurement Act and handing out cash in jute bags to the Maoists (and keeping some for the givers as well to invest in high rises burgeoning in Nepali urban landscape!), – major Western donors are leery of giving this dispensation any cash they can spend away like merry widows. Why call a public donors’ meet when much behind-the-scene economic diplomacy is first required to re-build any kind of trust? Are the rulers of New Nepal so arrogant and cut off from reality that they think they are simply entitled to unquestioned and unlimited help from external powers just because, well, they happen to be Loktantricksters?
They also seem to have put friends at great unease by publicly announcing that they intend to invite Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping to this donors’ meet. These leaders have between them almost a third of humanity to take care of; their schedules are fixed months if not years in advance; nothing in Nepal is such a hotline emergency (except the incompetence its political class) that they should leave everything for a Nepal donors’ meeting; and neither of them have any technocratic leanings that they should sit with bureaucrats of the Bretton Woods system that they don’t trust and to counter which they have already initiated an Asian and BRICS banks. Modi is always very political in his approach and he has already scored very high on that count by the alacrity of his help in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Xi is a master geo-political strategist who has made his points quietly and deftly. In light of the LipuLekh/Kalapani scandal engulfing Nepali right now (where the primary blame goes to Nepali ruling Loktantrick political class who signed the infamous Mahakali Treaty in 1995 and ignored this problem for two following decades thus sending both the Indian and Chinese the message that they really don’t care), what geostrategic purpose would it serve Xi to travel to Nepal?
Against this miasmic context of distrust, corruption and incompetence, the four party oligarchs announced their 16-point deal to fast-track constitution writing. What is a “fast track”? In normal engineering, there is no such thing: just because you announce a fast track, bulldozers don’t run faster, cranes don’t lift heavier loads and a hole that requires two labourers to dig because of cramped space cannot be dug quicker by putting twenty in that hole for quicker results. It essentially means bypassing and short-circuiting rules of fair play and regulations that assure a broader by-in. It means the people at large will not be consulted and will have little voice in its crafting; reflections, questions and debate will be curtailed; thorny issues of how to demarcate and name federal units, let alone deciding what rights these units will have and what duties they come with, will be deferred to some other nebulous time in the future; and the contradictions born out of the 12-point Delhi Deal will continue to fester at the grassroots.
Why did the four oligarchs agree to it? It seems Sushil Koirala will get to promulgate some kind of a constitution, howsoever a useless document it may be, before he is unseated; Oli will get to be prime minister maybe as early as next month; and Prachanda with Gachhedar, effectively out of power in the second CA, will get to taste some spoils of office in an “all-party” government that should follow. And what did they sacrifice to achieve such lofty goals? Nepali Kangress gave up insisting on “pluralism”,wilting before the Left in general and Prachandain particular who have never accepted political pluralism in society and believe in eventually imposing a one-party Marxist rule; EhMaLey, potato party ever ready to mix with any vegetable or meat dish, really did not give up any cherished belief because they had none; Prachanda gave up the idea of an executive president he hoped to be as well as any pretense that the advocates of one-party communist rule believed or advocated any form of genuine federalism; and Gachhedar gave up his alliance with ethnic groups. We are back to the 1990 constitution minus its nationalist and cultural element.
Will it work? To borrow from Bill Clinton, it depends on how and what “work” works. A hint can be had if one sees how the vociferous civil society of 2005 does not now “work” and how it has been muzzled by its own partisanship and loss of integrity. But something new will “work” and it may not be what many Nepalis are going to like.