Nepali Times
Here And There
Constancy in change



THE NEW COURT: Singha Darbar may be getting more acessible physically, but it has a long way to go.

Last week, the compelling sight of the interim legislature being sworn-in obscured one rather important fact. Nepal is now deeper than ever in constitutional never-never land.

To me, there doesn't even seem to be a government, as such. Of course, the interim constitution has empowered the prime minister with a level of authority that would have pleased Saddam Hussein, but where is the rest of the governing apparatus? The last cabinet was empowered by the previous parliament. This one is to be appointed by the PM. Has it been? If so, when?

I'm afraid the legal limbo is worse than that. Even if we accept that somehow, seamlessly, the last council of ministers is still in charge, along with His Political Highness the PM, is anyone actually governing this country? For government is about more than simply calling oneself a minister and being ferried around town in a shiny vehicle with a flag fluttering up front.

Governing means leading, forging consensus, finding creative ways to deal with largely unexpected challenges. It means providing inspiration to a people increasingly left out as a new court based at Singha Darbar and political party headquarters takes over from Narayanhiti. The people launched Jana Andolan II to stake their claim to government, not for a re-division of the spoils of power between discredited old actors and scary new ones. They did it for real change, for economic and social justice, for jobs, healthcare, and security.

The various agreements between Maoists and political parties have certainly changed the face of government here. Grey jacketed young women and a few representatives of civil society now sit in parliament. But in public, little else is changing. Ministers-whether legally empowered or not-seldom seem to do anything about their ministries. Or at least, anything public.

Take water. It's clear that our new court is well and truly behind the idea of developing Nepal's vast water and hydropower potential, even the comrades. We've been here before. It's patently necessary. Yet all the \'new\' players seem oblivious to the need for public debate, hearings, discussions, consensus building, and agreement before vital natural resources are exploited. India needs Nepali water and power, that's for sure. Nepal needs the cash and jobs that would come from sensibly developing them. But who's at the controls? If deals are afoot and big plans being hatched, why the secrecy?

Then there's inclusion. The much-heralded interim constitution doesn't seem to have a lot of friends outside of Singha Darbar's private meeting rooms. Janajati groups are burning it, women are unhappy, and parts of the tarai are in flames.

Yes, this is all to be expected as long-suppressed grievances boil over in the new atmosphere of freedom. But modern politics is supposed to be about dealing with grievance, providing ways-federalism, for example-for people to feel part of their own government. Either the interim constitution doesn't do that, or no one involved in drafting it has bothered to explain its less obvious strong points to the excluded people.

Nepal has once again produced something unique: a combination of legal limbo and political vacuum. A powerful prime minister is a scary thought. One who forsakes public leadership and openness as the country seethes with impatience is even worse. It's time for the media, civil society, business, lawyers, professionals, and others to issue marching orders to the Eight-Party Court.

Get governing, or else. Make it legal, or else. Or else what? How about Jana Andolan III.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)