If you do not get it right the first time, it is very difficult to get it right at all. So said Menaka Guruswami, a young Delhi-based constitutional lawyer while commenting on the constitutional fiasco in Nepal. It appears that this young lawyer may be right. But if one looks back India has been a very lucky nation. If we not had the kind of larger than life people drafting our constitution, who had the vision to imagine what kind of India they wanted to bequeath and the sense of humour to overlook a few cartoons, we may never have had a Constitution. The present lot of political leaders inspire little confidence that they would have given us what we have; but perhaps we would never have reached so far anyway without this document. But back to Nepal.
This country of nearly 30 million is facing its biggest political crisis ever. It is bigger than the Rana Revolt, bigger than the assassination of King Birendra, the Maoist revolt that accounted for more that 16,000 killed, the Jan Andolan of 2006 and today, despite the Constituent Assembly elections of 2008, the country faces an existentialist threat to itself. In a way, the crisis today is because of these elections and the manoeuvrings and manipulations that have gone on ever since. Overvaulting ambitions of an essentially entrenched feudal polity, mutual suspicions of the players which have included regional and ethnic interests and diehard ideologues, have been the ingredients of a lethal cocktail and led to the present impasse.
Unable to come to an agreement on the kind of federal structure the country should have, unwilling to extend the life of the Constituent Assembly beyond May 27, 2012, the President dissolved the CA, announced that the PM, Babu Ram Bhattarai, would be the caretaker government who then announced that elections to a new Constituent Assembly would be on November 12, 2012. There seems to be no sense of the moment and of the possibility of making history, among those whom the people have entrusted with this task. This would only postpone the crisis further as the realities of today will not disappear by then.
Today, the writ of the government does not run beyond the doors of the Cabinet Office room. An impoverished country continues to be deprived of any economic benefits that might have accrued to its people as the country’s leaders continue their quarrels. The Bahun-Chhetri dominated Nepali Congress and the CPN(UML) have been reluctant federalists and trying to have a weak federation that is essentially controlled in Kathmandu. This has been the rock on which the ship of constitution building crashed this time and there is no guarantee this will not happen again.
The Maoists, the Madheshias of the Terai and the ethnic communities have been agitating; the Madhesias have been far more accommodating to the demands of the NC-UML and surrendered on the issue of including northern Sunsari, Morang Jhapa, Kanchanpur and Kailali as parts of the Madhesi belt. The Maoists scaled down their extreme demands and the Janjatis too compromised by accepting multiple names for the ten proposed provinces. But the NC-UML team would not budge. Inevitably, faced with chaos there will be quite a few who would begin to recall with fond nostalgia, the days of the Monarchy. A time may come when the Royal Nepal Army would have to take a view. Are Nepal’s politicians capable of rising to the occasion or would they prefer to squander great opportunities and wallow in their smallness? It could be latter, one fears.
An economically impoverished and politically unstable Nepal does not help the people of Nepal or India. A political vacuum in these times is doubly dangerous as it leaves the field open to inroads by various interests. A weak administration gives a free run to the Maoist cadres to operate on both sides of the India Nepal border that also weakens the counter insurgency grid. The need of the hour is for Nepal’s frontline political leaders to show largeness of heart, attune themselves to ground realities and accommodate other aspirations. That way they can hope to retain somewhat what they seek to retain in totality to the exclusion of others. Or risk losing everything and fade away into some punctuation mark in history.
This of course applies to all those who wield or pretend to wield power in South Asia.
The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)