MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
With the fall of the monarchy, the institution passed into oblivion. Its premises at Bahadur Bhaban were appropriated by the Election Commission.
However, the north-west wing remained unoccupied for quite a while. Equipped with a lift and designed for comfort, it was once used by the king to relax. Listening to non-stop flattery must have been exhausting. This is the space that has now been allotted to the vice president.
The three-room suite is luxuriously appointed. The interim constitution says that the vice president is empowered to do everything the president does, but only in his absence. Pramananda Jha waits uneasily in his daura suruwal in his opulent office as he tries to figure out the relevance of his office to himself.
It is conspicuously empty. There are no papers on his desk. The phone rarely rings. The assistants outside try without success to look busy.
Jha says he finds it disconcerting that his motorcade disturbs the flow of traffic when he commutes between home and office. His security detail doesn't allow him to offer a lift to neighbours walking home in the rain. Contrary to the media image of an unrepentant and haughty individual, the VP shows conviction and enthusiasm for the sovereignty, integrity and independence of the federal democratic republic of Nepal. He wants to do something, to be useful and keep himself busy, but doesn't know how to go about it.
There are basically three models for the functions of a deputy head of state, but none of them seem to fit an office that has been designed more for form than necessity.
In the US, where the president is an elected monarch for the term of his office, the VP has to keep himself occupied by representing his boss at the funeral ceremonies of foreign dignitaries. In executive presidencies, he is expected to wait out, watch out and then fade away leaving no footprints.
In a parliamentary system, the president replaces the constitutional monarch. The VP, however, functions as an important component of the legislature. In India, he chairs the upper house and fulfils an important role in moderating charged debates between the ruling party and the opposition.
The third model is a hybrid where vice presidents are allowed by their bosses to observe activities of the executive, record legislative actions and function as the repository of a non-partisan knowledge base to resolve contentious issues.
In this form, the secretariat of the VP has to be extremely competent and committed. Jha probably has such a model in mind when he says that he could do with political, economic and constitutional advisers.
He may have committed an error of judgement in blindly implementing the language agenda of his party during the oath-taking ceremony, but he appears to be a man on the mend who may help mould history.
The new prime minister will probably find that here is a person perhaps more amenable to change than the president.
But whatever the system, he has no role except what the government of the day sets for the post. That's a limitation Jha will have to live with.