The contagion of foot in the mouth disease is spreading. Nepal's de facto premier Mohammad Mohsin last week warned a group of editors and publishers of leading newspapers in Kathmandu that an "authoritarian regime" was in store for Nepal if the current government failed to do what it was formed to do. Although the venerable editors and publishers gave the remark varying degrees of prominence in the next day's papers, the disinformation minister's remarks sent shockwaves that are still reverberating.
In interviews since, Minister Mohsin has appeared to retract a part of his statement, using the excuse that those who hold high office often resort to when there is an uproar: he accused the media of misquoting him.
What he said he meant by an "authoritarian regime" was that there was a risk of Maoist authoritarianism spreading in case his coalition of the willing is undermined. Even if that is true, Maoists already don't mind calling themselves 'totalitarian', so to refer to them as 'authoritarian' is giving them a certain degree of respectability the insurgents haven't even asked for.
Mohsin is echoing Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's conviction that the salvation of the present government lies in holding some kind of election at any cost. That cost may have to be paid by the people and not the politicians in Singha Darbar. Mohsin thinks there may be problems in getting the election machinery rolling and seems determined to make those problems a self-fulfilling prophecy. After all, his boss got sacked last time around because he couldn't hold polls. This time the strategy seems to be: to be seen to be trying one's best to organise polls.
The fault is not Mohsin's and Deuba's alone. King Gyanendra laid the groundwork for the present political predicament by saying in a television interview two years ago that he did not want to be an "active" monarch but a "creative" one. He went on to tell a gathering in Nepalganj in Feburary that the days were over when the monarchy is "seen but not heard.watching the people's difficulties but not addressing them and being a silent spectator to their tear-stained faces".
When royalspeak is about a certain kind of days being over, we must accept the statement at face value. But in the two years since October Fourth we have seen an era of revolving door governments, of nominated nobodies with neither real authority nor any apparatus for democratic answerability.
Minister Mohsin is an interesting example of a politician without popular base forced to survive in all kinds of extreme situations on the strength of his wits alone. He was one of the interpreters of the authoritarian ideology of the Panchayat, an experimental political system with the king as an active leader of the people. The experiment lasted over three decades before it collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. But apartchiks like Mohsin are yet to unlearn the mental habits of Panchayat which makes them run to the palace at the slightest hint of a crisis.
Mohsin must have realised by now that he is stuck with a thankless and dead-end job. And he can't mask the currrent anti-democratic drift by disingenuously warning of a lurking risk of authoritarianism. It takes enormous courage to look back with detachment and admit that you have spent all your life justifying the unjust. But there comes a time when all of us have to face the mirror and come to terms with our own fallibility. Mohammad Mohsin is an erudite man, and he must know that such a time has arrived.