When the Maoists began their 'people's war', Nepal had a system of governance in which:
. Rulers were selected through fairly open, fiercely competitive, largely peaceful and regularly, rather too regularly, held elections,
. Independence of different organs of state-executive, legislative, judiciary and regulatory-was ensured through a system of check and balance,
. Provision and protection of freedom, social justice, human rights, security and national progress was possible, at least theoretically, under the rule of law,
. A vibrant press was exercising its freedom with a vengeance,
. Civil society had begun to assert itself and
. Donors were influencing government decisions from the shadows.
Fast-forward seven years later to the present when everything has turned topsy -turvy. The government now consists of royal nominees. Apart from the judiciary, all other organs of the state have become interdependent. The rule of law has almost ceased to exist-a major general of the army is responsible for the security of the Valley.
The imposition of a state of emergency in the country by Sher Bahadur Deuba forced the press to adopt self-censorship. After October Fourth, there is perpetual emergency in the country. The media has internalised the cautious approach. Civil society survives by championing the cause of those engaged in subverting the rule of law. These days, envoys of diplomatic missions freely condemn the political activities of mainstream parties and openly condone every repressive act of the state.
If the Maoists' violent campaign was to dismantle the democratic set-up in the country, they have succeeded spectacularly. It has undermined the nation's independence, freedom of its people and strength of the state.
Throughout all this, the Maoists have consistently received a good, and not just fair, press despite their acts of violence and terror. The criticism of political parties dominates the public domain, but the condemnation of heinous killing by insurgents is either muted or oblique. In the Machiavellian doctrine, the major objective of any war is the destruction of the enemy's will and ability to resist, and the Maoists have proved adept at psywar.
Civil society's clamour, that the government meet the main demand of the Maoists and opt for the formation of a constituent assembly, is no less astounding. There is no evidence to believe that the insurgents will stop at a constituent assembly and discard their primary motive of establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat just to please the Valley's chattering classes.
It's an axiom of political psychology that no insurgency ever ends at the achievement of any rebel group's primary demands. Violent politics is like an addictive drug where ever larger doses are needed to satisfy the stimulation. Only an administration of shock therapy, followed by rehabilitation, can cure those addicted to the politics of violence.
Recently, the Royal Nepali Army lost two of its best and brightest officers. One of them was Colonel Basnet who came from an illustrious family of loyal warriors for well over 10 generations. This is a loss that is sure to invite massive retaliation. The Maoists' coming military debacle may not be swift, but it is inevitable.
But even if the Maoist militia is shocked into submission it will not be possible to enlist all of them in the service of the government. A large number of them will need to be engaged by mainstream parties in peaceful politics. It's for this reason that parties need to be strengthened even as efforts are underway to increase the effectiveness of the armed forces. There is no hierarchy of priorities in the challenges facing Nepali polity.
The war on insurgency needs to be fought on several fronts, each one of them as important as any other, all of them on the same horizontal plane. Nepali media's penchant for nit-picking politicos while insurgents literally get away with murder is also not all that strange. Taking on armed groups that have no respect for rule of law and zero tolerance for criticism is fraught with mortal dangers. The intellectuals' wariness to discuss the dangers of the Maoist takeover of the country can also be explained-it has been reared in the hothouse of Panchayat years when conformism carried high rewards while dissent was severally punished.
Years of clinging on to others has made the Nepali intelligentsia so spineless that it's completely bereft of the ability to conduct any kind of political discourse without external support, material as well as intellectual. Most baffling is the attitude of powerful envoys, who are supposed to know better.
There is no way the current political imbroglio in Nepal can be disentangled without putting mainstream parties back at the centre. At the end of the day only democracy legitimises the use of force. Even the occupation force in Iraq has to justify itself by claiming that it will be a harbinger of popular rule. Diplomatic missions in Kathmandu and the top brass in Bhadrakali would do well to engage in some quick rethinking. Only peaceful parliamentary politics will restore peace.
Dead clauses of the constitution aren't as meaningless as they appear. Those cold letters are all that separate legitimate claimants of political power from usurpers of the left and right.