Nepali Times Asian Paints
State Of The State
A division of the spoils


Head honchos of the reigning coalition have been squabbling over the nomination of a new governor for the Nepal Rastra Bank for well over a week. Such unnecessary politicking over a routine appointment is trivial and pointless.

After all, the governor's job description entails implementing the wishes of the World Bank and the IMF without asking questions. Any Bijay, Bimal or Binod can take over from Tilak Rawal and it won't make any difference at all.

The unseemly tussle between the premier and his deputy is also inconsequential. Once the phone rings from Narayanhiti, they will have to appoint that nominee. In fact, this is equally applicable to all other appointments likely to be made by the Constitutional Appointments Council as well. The executive authority granted by the king to his council of ministers doesn't include the power to choose high officials.

The public bickering proves the old adage about political contest being nastiest when the stakes are lowest. Other than some pork barrel benefits, neither Deuba's letter-head party nor Bharat Mohan Adhikari's reformed communists will gain anything by pushing their choice as a successor to an exemplary non-performer at the Rastra Bank.

In places where a new appointee can make some difference-justices of the Supreme Court including its chief or the chairperson of the Public Service Commission-they will have to go along with the wishes of the palace bureaucracy.

The five different forces present in the de jure government at Singha Darbar differ on almost every political, administrative or economic issue of any significance. Consequently, they end up kowtowing to the diktat of the de facto rulers behind the curtain. To a certain extent, the present government is a textbook example of 'consociational arrangements' prescribed by donor community for developing countries. Theoretically, consociational institutions are supposed to cement highly divided societies to help the growth of democratic polity. In actual practice, such arrangements tend to induce meddling of the Invisible Hand of the lending community to the detriment of democracy.

Politics, by its very definition, is the management of differences over issues of common concern. In any functioning democracy, institutions are designed to handle these differences. Most are amicably settled at the executive level, some end up in courts, while the most vital issues are decided by the legislature. Very few political questions necessitate the use of coercive arm of a democratic state.

Hence, any attempt to eliminate those who don't agree is either authoritarian or totalitarian. Repression, or the fear of repression, is a way to create uniformity of views. Unanimity on vital issues of political economy has been the most conspicuous aspect of Nepali politics. To please the donors, almost every political party, barring the Maoists, have sworn by neo-liberal economics in the post-1990 status quo. Such a policy of creating uniformity drove the marginalised towards the violent politics of Maoists.

After October Fourth splintered the badly fractured polity even further, each political player tried to outdo the other in pleasing donors. Diplomats have further intensified their campaign of creating unity between 'constitutional forces'. These ended up justifying the Maoist claim that the international community is intent on prolonging the status quo. Donors have therefore ended up giving back-handed legitimacy to the armed insurgents. Political parties, whether in the government or in the streets, do not even figure in the power-games being played by the militia and military.

Once excluded from the agenda-setting role that the parties are meant to play, they have no other option but to engage themselves in the game of pulling each other's plates. In the ensuing confusion, outsiders often end up appropriating the lion's share in the name of resolving the conflict.

The recent wrangling over appointments to public posts is merely a symptom of the deeper disease of a depoliticised government. If the affliction spreads, it is sure to result in total anarchy or totalitarianism. In the history of politics, wrangles over the spoils of office have seldom been settled amicably. The right way to handle such challenges is still the way of democracy with rule of law and a system of checks and balances to moderate claims and neutralise the possibility of excesses.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)