19-25 September 2014 #725

Politics in a vacuume

When identity, respect, recognition of injustices past are mixed with politics, it is best to tread carefully

The sight of the country’s prime minister on a mobile phone publicly beseeching the leader of an outcast political party to come for negotiations sums up the current state of affairs in Nepal. Prime Minister Koirala and top political leaders waited in vain on Tuesday morning for Mohan Baidya of the CPN-M to join an all-party roundtable meeting on the constitution that the renegade comrade himself had requested.

Perhaps it was never Baidya’s intention to attend, he may have just been seeking attention by ridiculing the rest of the state apparatus. Perhaps it was just tokenism on the government's part. But speculation is rife that the wily UCPN(M) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal had a hand in convincing his erstwhile party colleague to keep away to  maintain the pressure on the ruling NC-UML combine to agree to his version of new constitution.

It’s a bit rich for someone who suffered such ignominious defeat in last year’s elections to cherry-pick. But Dahal is a sore loser and wants to remain germane, he may also need Baidya to counter the Baburam faction of his own party.

But what is more ludicrous than Dahal’s shenanigans is that the ruling parties and the opposition have to bend over backwards to accommodate someone who led a boycott of elections and tried to sabotage it with terrorist attacks last year. Baidya’s band of Dash Maoists is not even registered with the Election Commission, it has no presence in the Constituent Assembly, and they still have the blood of the children maimed in the 18 November 2013 bomb attacks on their hands.

The only reason Comrade Baidya is being given such importance is that he has blackmailed everyone with his capacity to repeat the mayhem. The man is fighting a rearguard action to disprove his increasing irrelevance. If he continues on this course he will not even be judged  harshly by history, he will be just a footnote as Chairman Dahal’s sidekick.

With such waffling, the constitution-writing process is once more struggling with deadlines. Forthcoming Dasain-Tihar-Chhat-SAARC Summit are looming distractions. There is the Dialogue Committee deadline, which has been extended by a month for its convener Baburam Bhattarai to smoothen the differences over federalism. We are still debating whether a coalition with a clear two-thirds majority in the Constituent Assembly should push through with its version of federalism, or whether there should be consensus.

An all-party consensus would be ideal, of course, but failing that the NC-UML should show that they have what it takes to push it to a vote. Otherwise, what are elections for? What is the CA for if you are going to decide on the constitution behind closed doors, or in hastily-organised  roundtables that are boycotted?

Sensing that matters are coming to a head on federalism, some Madhesi radicals have seen an opening to up the ante by openly talking about separatism. One of them was arrested this week in Biratnagar and booked under the Public Offence Act. Demand for secession has resonance in a week of the Scottish referendum, and separatists are trying to cash in the vacuume left by a conservative Kathmandu establishment that is reluctant to devolve power, by Madhesi leaders who have badly let down their constituents, and even by the Indian establishment which once championed a single Madhes province in the Tarai.

By detaining CK Raut for organising a rally in support of a separate state, Kathmandu has turned a splittist few knew  into a celebrity. Human rights activists rightly called for his imemdiate release, but exposed their double-standards by remaining selectively silent on other cases of abuse.

The separate state otherwise violence doctrine doesn't have support in the Tarai, and it is seriously counterproductive to Madhesi aspirations for genuine autonomy through federalism. The abusive language on social media has hardened positions in the hills by tarring all Madhesis as separatists at a critical time in constitution-writing. The Madhesi people and leaders know they themselves will be the biggest losers if the region is forced to fend for itself. The Madhes needs autonomy, not amputation.

When identity, respect, recognition of injustices past are mixed with politics, it is best to tread carefully, and address root causes of grievances. 

Read also:

Extreme at both ends, Anurag Acharya

Dahal’s dilemma

Missing another deadline, Damakant Jayshi

Sore losers, Trishna Rana

Post-mortem of a defeat, Muma Ram Khanal

Reckless federification, Editorial

Madhesisation, Trib Tharu

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