Nepali Times
Emergency surgery

It has been nearly two weeks since the prime minister resigned and till press time no replacement has been found. The country limps along, trailing blood.

A visitor to Nepal this week asked: who is in charge of your country? We were stumped for an answer. The king seized power one-and-half years ago, we explained, and he has been working through a list of recycled politicos. Every morning, we read another list of luminaries the king met the previous day. There seems to be no sense of urgency to find a successor prime minister. So far, we have done without a legislature, without local bodies, without an elected executive and without a government. Wonder what else we can do without?

Meanwhile, the Maoists make full use of this confusion, bringing the entire country to a halt for weeks on end with blockades and forced strikes. The people have reached the limit of what they can endure. It is time to end this uncertainty, and rush the country into emergency surgery.

The king and the parties seem to agree that the first order of business is to set up a multiparty interim government (they just disagree on who should do the setting up) that commands the stature to negotiate with the Maoists and persuade them to take part in future polls.

Even for longterm rehabilitation, there is scant disagreement on the kind of polity we need. For a multiethnic, multireligious and polyphonic country like ours, there is really no other way than political pluralism that provides representation to the diversity. The mechanics of implementing pluralism is also clear: a federal structure built on genuinely decentralised governance.

It is in all our self-interests to support democracy at the local and national levels. There is no pluralism without democracy, and there is no democracy without participation. It may sound like a clich?, but participation is also needed to make democracy deliver development. In fact, we had seen that link very clearly in the mid-1990s as grassroots democracy empowered people across Nepal to demand basic services from their elected representatives.

No matter how rousing their rhetoric, neither a dictatorship of the right nor totalitarianism of the left can ensure a system inclusive enough to lift us out of poverty and war. Only by giving a voice and visibility to the marginalised and left-out and by including them in representative decision-making will we be able to craft a polity that addresses the inequities that are at the root of the conflict.

There is a consensus on most of what we have said above. The disagreement is only about who should be in charge to see it through. But even on that, the answer is plain: the people should be in charge. Not an autocratic elite, not the military, not the extremists, not demagogues.

Let's use a scalpel, not an axe.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)