Nepali Times
The impossible triangle

It has become a clich? these days to say that the present power struggle in Nepal is between three forces: the king, the parliamentary parties and the Maoists. In a sense it is indeed a three-way tug-o-war that has reached a triangular stalemate: none of the three are making much headway, they are just wearing each other down, no one is prepared to give an inch.

However, there is a fourth force that the other three have forgotten all about: the people. It is, after all, the people who won sovereign rights in the 1990 constitution and who were assured that they henceforth commanded their own destiny.

It was working well, despite concerns about the politics of patronage, intimidation by incumbents and the heavy hand of the local elite at the ballot box. The people at least had a choice. At the grassroots, there was closer scrutiny of the performance of elected representatives, who were forced to be good managers and provide services honestly and efficiently. If they couldn't, they got voted out the next time around. It was really a case of the survival of the most competent.

At the national level, things were slightly more complicated. The leadership was preoccupied with personal or party welfare-winning power and keeping it. This demanded an ability to be selfish and corrupt so one could amass the resources while in power to buy oneself back into power once out of it. Pretty soon, they were all raking it in like there was no tomorrow.

The safeguard mechanisms of our adolescent democracy took time to kick in. Still, parliamentary committees were largely non-partisan in investigating misuse of power. 'Pajero' became a pejorative, and the word 'Lauda' entered the Nepali language as something synonymous with scandal.

Sadly, these high-profile scams eclipsed the real rot within and made a jaded public even more distrustful of the parties. The leaders were so busy fighting each other they didn't notice the house was on fire. Even as the flames licked the windows, they were arguing about who got to sleep in the master bedroom. Despite their current alliance, we don't see any major shift in their style of functioning.

When the Maoists launched their people's war eight years ago, they raised arms against a duly elected government. It was a rotten government, but we were in the process of figuring out how to make it work. The Maoists' quick-fix solution and the state's knee-jerk reaction have now devastated the country. As for the palace, its actions have now made republicanism the slogan of streets-not just of the Maoists.

Nepalis don't trust any of the three powers who invoke their name. This is not about the king, the parties or the armed rebels anymore. It is about the fourth force and whether the people of Nepal will tolerate this ill-treatment and cruelty for much longer.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)