Nepali Times
Guest Column
The jury is out


There has been much debate and public activism of late on President Ram Baran Yadav's action of overturning Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's decision to fire the Nepal Army chief and appoint a replacement. Curiously, the constitutionality of the prime minister's action has come under less stringent scrutiny as it is cloaked under the seemingly populist slogan of "civilian supremacy".

The Supreme Court will soon decide if the president's actions were constitutional. The case could also be taken to the CA, which has the power to even impeach the president. But his detractors have no patience or use for such constitutional and democratic remedies. They have already pronounced him guilty through a self-serving interpretation of the constitution backed up by street pressure and intimidation.

Lost in the hype is the constitutionality of the decision taken by a coalition government during a cabinet meeting boycotted by over half its ministers and objected to by all coalition partners.

Is it not the constitutional duty of the president then to take account of the views conveyed to him in writing by 18 political parties representing the majority of the membership of the CA? And shouldn't the prime minister have responded to the president's constitutionally valid request to reconsider his decision, having failed to secure a consensus support for his action as required by the interim constitution?

It is ironic that the one political party that has not renounced violence, that keeps a private army of its own, and that still subscribes to an ideology of "power comes from the barrel of the gun", claims to stand for "civilian supremacy". All other political parties with a much longer and consistent record of following democratic norms are castigated as supporting militarisation, and being feudal, reactionary, anti-people, lackeys of foreigners.

No political party in Nepal currently matches the paramilitary youth organisation and other fraternal groups aligned with the Maoists in terms of their capacity to organise demonstrations, agitation, intimidation and even "physical action" which means killing and maiming opponents.

The Maoist cause has been greatly aided by a group of supposedly "neutral" civil society leaders, some of whom had played an important role at the time of the 2006 people's movement, but who seem to have aligned themselves (perhaps inadvertently) with the Maoists since then.

The one-sided vitriol coming from some members of this civil society cohort is breathtaking and reminiscent of Stalin's hired propagandists. A well-known and thoroughly partisan leftist writer known for his poison-pen activism characterises Ram Baran Yadav as "an evil president who is tempted by greed for power, and is desperately seeking a crown and a throne". No one with an iota of objectivity would characterise Yadav, a humble son of a farmer and a life-long democrat, in such hyperbolic terms.

There is something deeply disturbing about civil society members not even granting the benefit of doubt to a president with a life-long record of commitment to norms of democracy, while granting carte blanche credibility to unilateral decisions of a party that waged a violent insurgency against parliamentary democracy.

This is not to blindly defend the Nepal Army or its chief. There are many documented cases of unprofessional behaviour, human rights abuses and impunity perpetrated by the army in the past. But the Maoist army is no less guilty of its own brutalities, forced recruitment, including that of minors, and other violations of human rights and impunity.

One can speculate about the president's intentions, but the Maoist intention to infiltrate the army, destabilise other independent institutions and to capture state power need no speculation. The official pronouncement of the recent Maoist party convention in Kharipati, Dahal's video-taped message to his party cadres in January 2008, and a consistent pattern of follow-up actions ever since, are all there in the public domain.

Yet, it is the humble and decent Ram Baran Yadav, circumscribed by the decorum of his office, and mindful of his constitutional duties, who is being portrayed as the villain. Yadav possibly helped prevent a major national disaster by his difficult but thoughtful decision not to lend constitutional legitimacy to a seemingly unconstitutional and unilateral act of the ruling political party on 3 May.

Yadav demonstrates one quality rarely found in his self-serving detractors: he has been a consistent champion of what he believes to be in the best interest of Nepal as a nation. The Supreme Court and history of Nepal will judge whether he was a hero or a villain.

Kul Chandra Gautam is the former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF

This is an updated version of the opinion piece that first appeared in Republica.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)