In the past three years, we have got used to saying that our nation is at the crossroads. Even though that metaphor has become threadbare, at no time has it been more true than today.
Parliament is dissolved, elections are six months away, an emergency is re-imposed and barely three hours later 170 Nepalis are killed in the latest bloodbath. We don't quite have a constitutional crisis yet, but that is academic. We will get to the constitutional crossroads in November.
Even if some sort of elections are held, what can we expect when candidates will not be able to travel beyond the district headquarters? What kind of representatives will be elected when many local leaders from parliamentary parties have either already been killed, or hounded out of their constituencies? Our democratic polity and our freedoms will be in serious danger. Isn't this exactly what the far-left and far-right wanted all along?
Extremists of all hues carry much of the blame for this mess. But it was the moral bankruptcy of our democratically elected leaders, the pettiness of their concerns, and their short time-horizons that fed the furnaces of rebellion. The inability of rival cronies in the Nepali Congress to get along has ruined not just a once-strong political party committed to the ideals of social democracy, but also imperiled the nation.
It is futile now to go into the blame game. The Nepali Congress is its own worst enemy. With a party like that, who needs an opposition? Ever since the 1999 elections in which it won a majority in parliament, the Nepali Congress has been busy trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. How can a party that can't even run itself rescue this fractious nation from the throes of crisis?
Egged on by envy and ambition, Girija Prasad Koirala pushed Sher Bahadur Deuba against the wall and, true to his name, the Sher reacted like a cornered cat. He damned the consequences and dissolved parliament, effectively buying himself six more months in office. The two are now getting into serious name-calling: Deuba, rather unimaginatively, has called Girija a "terrorist", while Girija says Deuba is
a junta "chieftain".
The upshot of all this is that we are preparing for an election during a state of national emergency and a raging insurgency. This is like getting a couple of foxes to guard the chicken coop. The current crisis of human rights abuses by both sides are sure to get much worse when election campaigning takes place at a time of suspended civil liberties.
But let us hope that by some Pashupatinath-engineered miracle, relatively free and fair elections can be held. An independent, technocrat-led, multi-partisan caretaker government is a prime necessity. There is no need to shed tears over the dissolution of Deuba's jumbo cabinet which only fattened itself at tax-payers' expense.
Nepal's democracy had been functioning most effectively at the grassroots, and it may have been more important at this point to hold the delayed local elections rather than national ones. But at least elections will bring politics back to centre-stage of national life. In fact, 13 November can be a referendum and an election for a constituent assembly rolled in one. (Maobadis, please note.) If civil society is active, there is no reason why this can't be converted into an issue-based poll on exactly the demands of the Maoists.
Our guess is that if the fear is removed, Nepalis will overwhelmingly come out and vote. And it will be a vote for democracy. But if in November we allow democracy's Humpty Dumpty to fall, then all the king's horses and all king's men may not be able to put it back together again.