Nepali Times
Politics as usual


For almost a month, Nepalis have been surveying the state of emergency from all conceivable sides. The swings between the euphoric repose of the present and recurring anxieties about the future have often been strenuous. Nevertheless, the people, worn out by six years of violence, vendetta and vituperation, are enduring the oscillations as a vital part of the process of national recuperation. Our leaders, however, took little time in discovering that it's politics as usual.

The ruling Nepali Congress is cavorting in the same gyrations of internal conflict. The faction in power takes justifiable pride in the army's advances against the Maoists insurgents in our own Tora Boras. The anti-government camp, although aware of the electoral benefits the entire party stands to gain in case the Maoists' political leadership regains control of the cockpit and decides to make a safe landing, doesn't want the prime minister to take all the credit. Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala has pledged his "full support" to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and the party's spokesman can't stop speaking about the "broad mandate" the government has been given to smoke out the rebels from their remote hideouts.

Ordinarily, such magnanimity on Koirala's part should have more than bolstered Deuba. It should have inspired humility in the prime minister, who appeared to relish his predecessor's tribulations at the hands of the combined opposition during the stalled winter session of parliament. But when key lieutenants of the Congress supremo like Sushil Koirala and Govinda Raj Joshi begin defining those terms of encouragement, they take on entirely different connotations. If Deuba feels he needs to keep his jumbo cabinet intact even under the state of emergency, it's because he's been reminded so often by party satraps also to read between the lines while executing the central committee's directives. Similar apprehensions lay behind the urgency with which the government is making changes in the bureaucracy and corporations.

Struggling to stretch out his own space, Ram Chandra Poudel steps in with the latest update on his one-man crusade for political renewal. The latest revelation from the nation's pre-eminent middle-of-the-roader is that he knew all along the prime minister's job was coming his way and all he had to do was stick with Koirala for a few more days. But Poudel tells us he had his inner eyes firmly set on the nation's interest. Granted, such altruism is rare in a career politician, especially one who invested so much in the deputy prime minister's post even after having served as the speaker of a precariously hung parliament. But you can't stop wondering how much more this man could have done for his country if he were a little more modest about his ability to make sacrifices.

Maintaining its illustrious tradition, the CPN-UML has chosen to sit on the fence. It's hard to say whether the main opposition party supports Deuba's recommendation to impose the emergency. If you're confident it doesn't, try to crack this one: what alternative would the courtiers at Balkhu Darbar have proposed? Actually, the shadow cabinet hasn't been keeping the people entirely in the dark. The UML has been warning the government not to take the opposition's support for granted when the emergency proclamation comes up for ratification in parliament. But it has also been suggesting that a government of national unity, complete with an equitable distribution of portfolios, might help Deuba not only get his two-thirds majority but also marginalise rivals within the ruling party.

To be fair, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party has maintained some consistency. The party is still pushing the "broad national consensus involving all parties and institutions" it enunciated two years ago.

Okay, no party can solve Nepal's problems alone. But you still can't understand whether the former panchas want their own ministries or are offering to do all they can from where they are. The Sadbhavana people are able to exude maturity because most of them had sensed a national emergency during the panchayat years, when the group was still in its incarnation of a parishad.

The smaller communist organisations are testing how far they can incorporate the teachings of the Great Helmsman in their cause without being branded terrorists. The tiniest parties are having the best time, especially with NTV carrying tight shots of the most obscure personalities solemnly contemplating the Nation's future.

You can castigate Deuba as much as you want for resorting to military action against the Maoists after all those grand promises of a negotiated settlement. But you can't accuse him of not having given peace a chance. For some reason, though, the prime minister isn't emphasising enough what could be his strongest claim to staying in office.

Meanwhile, on the battlefront, those risking their lives and limbs countering the insurgents have their minds on root causes. The military can disarm misguided youths this time, but they can't do the Politicians' job of rectifying the anomalies that spawned the dangerous sense of social alienation in which the Maoists thrived. The country doesn't need a constituent assembly to make those corrections. It doesn't even need a constitutional amendment. The objective of "obtaining to the Nepalese people justice social, political and economic, to be available long into the future" is enshrined in the second paragraph of the preamble to the constitution. Perhaps a palpable beginning would be to probe the causes and effects of the phenomenal economic prosperity of today's political class. But our leaders have launched a pre-emptive strike by warning how a prolonged state of emergency would be detrimental to multiparty democracy. Can anything stop politicians from doing what they're best at?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)