16-22 May 2014 #707

Getting away with murder

‘He who defends a thief may be a bigger thief himself.’

There was a lot of optimism after the announcement of the result of the November election that the new coalition led by democratic parties would write a constitution of the people, by the people and for the people.

By throwing out the incumbent partnership of the Maoist and Madhesi parties, voters had sent a clear message that they were against their divisive ethnic and territorial politics. The election could, in fact, be seen as a referendum on the main issue on which the two blocs differed: what kind of federalism the country should have. The Maoists campaigned strongly for eight or more single identity-based federal provinces, while their Madhesi allies had a single Madhes province as their main plank. When the results came out, activists and politicians who backed ethnic politics questioned its validity and split hairs between ‘mandate’ and ‘opinion’.

The NC and UML, on the other hand, paid reluctant lip service to federalism during the campaign but were decisively against future provinces being named after particular ethnic groups. The Hindu-right RPP-Nepal, of course, was against federalism, secularism, republicanism and just about everything else.

Five months after the elections, the public mood is one of growing dismay. The Maoist opposition doesn’t seem to realise that it lost the election, and still wants to govern by consensus. The UML has its own internal scores to settle. And an octogenarian freedom fighter who is now prime minister seems incapable of stopping a right shift of his once social-democratic party.

Given their belief in the end justifying the means, it’s not surprising that the Maoists would want to stoke divisive ethnic politics. The Madhesi parties have predictably tried to cover up their own governance failure and disunity by selling the vision of an utopian autonomous province after which they promise everything will be hunky-dory.

However, it is with the Nepali Congress that we are most dissappointed. Here is a party that was supposed to stand up for democracy, human rights, freedom and pluralism. It was supposed to be the party of the people, for the welfare state, for socialism with a human face.

By strongly backing the Truth and Reconciliation Bill, Congressites like Minister of Law Narahari Acharya and second-man Ram Chandra Poudel went against everything their party has ever stood for. They proved themselves to be even more callous than army generals, police chiefs and guerrilla commanders towards the relatives of the victims of the conflict, many of them their own party activists.

People who treat universal values of justice and truth as dispensable irritants cannot write a democratic constitution that guarantees the rule of law. Last month, the NC stood silent as the Maoists hounded human rights activists who tried to raise their voice on behalf of the relatives of the victims. There is an old proverb: ‘He who defends a thief may be a bigger thief himself.’

It seems foregone conclusion that the results of the Indian elections when they are announced on Friday will represent a shift to the right in the region. Due to India’s gravitational pull, this is sure to tug Nepal’s political spectrum to the right as well. The Hindu-right RPP-N thinks it can benefit from this shift, and influence the constitution-writing process.

However, whatever the regional political trend, our own election result should not be an excuse for triumphalism among an exclusionist elite who think Nepal can continue to be centrally governed. The new constitution must be a document that reflects an evolved egalitarian polity.

By backing amnesty for wartime excesses the NC has not just subverted its own ideology, it has also sent the message that it backs impunity. When you allow people to get away with murder, you are telling them they can get away with breaking a lot of other laws as well.

Read also:

Maoists for multi-identity federalism

We, the people, EDITORIAL

“Federalism not necessary”

Federalism by any other name, EDITORIAL

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