Nepali Times
Clauses 118 and 119

Autumn is here, and Nepali peasantry is taking a break from back-breaking work. Planting and weeding over, the golden terraces sway with a heavy harvest. The sun ripens next year's food. It is time to hang things out to dry, do some Dasain cleaning, and stock up for the winter ahead. It is time to celebrate, thank Mother Nature for a good harvest. It is also time to appease the gods with sacrifices.

No one in Nepal we have talked to remembers being less in a mood for Dasain than this year. The sacrifices so far have not been goats, they have been humans. At least 22 killed in the last week in Maoist violence. It does not matter who they were, what uniforms they wore. They were Nepalis, and Nepalis killed them.

As the high priests of politics bicker in Kathmandu, blood is spilt on the soil of our country. Our feckless civilian leaders can't get a handle on this conflict, that much is clear. Self-serving, inept, venal, narrow-minded, immersed in their internal intrigues, and incapable of grasping the seriousness of the crisis confronting the nation-that about sums up the track record of politicians on whom people have put their trust for the past 10 years. Even those who spout peace are playing politics with it.

Policemen are being killed by Maoists or vice versa. Innocent sons and daughters of Nepali peasants die. And the leaders on both sides? All that matters to them is power. While the killing fields of Dunai and Bhorletar reverberated with the thunder of pipe bombs and guns, politicians in the capital were jockeying shamelessly to ensure a position in the post-Dasain reshuffle. The Army was busy presenting excuses why it did not come to the aid of the police when they were being slaughtered ("we were not formally notified", "the bridge was destroyed"). And a bigger battle looms between the two Durbars over the destiny of this land.

One outcome of the blood-soaked week is that the debate is now narrowing down to the key issue of who controls the Royal Nepal Army. The Constitution has (probably deliberately) left it fuzzy. According to Clause 118, "His Majesty shall operate and use the Royal Nepal Army on the recommendation of the National Defence Council." Well and good. The Council is made up of three members-the Prime Minister, the Defence Minister and the Commander-in-Chief. Although Clause 118 clearly establishes civil superiority-and one would assume that the tax payers who pay for the upkeep of our praetorian guard should have a say in what it does-there are historical reasons for the army and palace to have a fondness for each other.

Clause 118 may make it look like the National Defence Council is all-powerful. But the very next Clause 119 states: "His Majesty is the Supreme Commander of the Royal Nepal Army." Then, almost as an afterthought, comes a second sub-clause: "His Majesty shall appoint the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Nepal Army on the recommendation of the Prime Minister." You can't get more ambiguous than that, and it is this vagueness that is coming to haunt us now.

So, the commander-in-chief is flummoxed. What is the chain of command: the king or the prime minister? The clue may actually lie in the third paragraph of the preamble to the Constitution which states that the purpose of the document is to: "...consolidate the Adult Franchise, the Parliamentary System of Government, Constitutional Monarchy and the System of Multi-Party Democracy..." Perhaps in that order of priority. The Head of State is a symbol of national unity, the Head of Government is responsible for safeguarding a "bond of unity on the basis of liberty and equality" But how can the Prime Minister be given such wide-ranging responsibility without commensurate powers? This is the reason for the growing tug-of-war between Narayanhiti Durbar and Singha Durbar.

For its part, the Army is aware of its awesome firepower and the generals say privately they don't want to be pushed into a civil war. The casualty rate is relatively low because the two sides are fighting with crude bombs and antiquated rifles. Given the disarray within the ruling party, the Army has a point when it says the civilians should first resolve their differences before calling for help. But no one has answered one crucial question. Whose side is the Army on?

Goddess Durga is worshipped during Dasain as a slayer of the demon, a symbol of evil that resides in each one of us. The creator has also endowed us all with the force to control that evil, with contemplation and an ability to understand our own inner strengths. From all of us here at Nepali Times, we join you in your Dasain prayers for peace and wellbeing in Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)