Nepali Times
Politics as usual


The silver lining in the dark clouds that shroud the country today is that despite the enormous crisis that has befallen us, our democratic institutions have survived. They are rickety, but they were like that even before this tragedy struck. The royal successions have taken place in an orderly and legal fashion which in itself is surprising considering the fact that no one could have foreseen a massacre of this magnitude when the rules of succession were made. The army is in the barracks. The prime minister is in a shaky position, but what's so new about that? It is the democratic space provided by the 1990 constitution that appears to have provided us the flexibility and the elasticity to deal with this crisis.

However, at any time during this transition things could have gone seriously wrong. And we are not out of the woods yet. Although individual political leaders showed sobriety, the same can not be said of opportunistic political parties.
The royal massacre has eclipsed the crisis that this nation was in. It may take some effort to remember just how bad things had got before 1 June. Here is a brief recap of the past two years:

May-June 1999: General elections, septuagenarian Krishna Prasad Bhattarai elected Prime Minister. He initiates a commission to try to hold dialogue with the Maoists before he is toppled.

March 2000: Fellow-septuagenarian Girija Prasad Koirala pulls the rug from under Bhattarai's feet. NC rebels paralyse the party and government. But they fail in two attempts to topple Koirala both as prime minister and party president.
December 2000: Fringe Maoist students force schools to shut down and five million children stay home, and hotels shut down for a day. Nepalis riot over what a remark a Bollywood actor never made.

January 2001: Koirala is re-elected NC president and the UML-which apparently was hoping that NC dissidents would get rid of him-steps into the fray. Winter session of Parliament is paralysed.

April-May 2001: UML takes its protests to the streets, attempts to prevent the prime minister from commuting to work. Koirala remains unable to rally his party. Maoists pull off the bloodiest massacres of police-more than 100 killed in a week. King Birendra reluctantly approves the government's "hearts and minds" programme involving the Royal Nepal Army to provide security for development. Army chief is sceptical about mobilising troops without all-party support. Prime Minister nearly resigns twice, but changes his mind both times.

While the parties bickered, and the country shut down incessantly due to strikes and bandhs the people were getting fed up. But many had faith that at least there was the constitutional monarchy. Now, even that is gone. 'This was the only stable institution left and it is badly hurt and weak," one prominent political analyst told us. "It is said a nation's resilience is tested in times of crisis, here's one staring at us right in the face."

That may be, but the message doesn't seem to have filtered to the political parties who see this as a juicy opportunity to capitalise on the crisis. None of the political parties have begun serious discussion among themselves or with others on how to move on from here. The prime minister is said to have begun one-on-one meetings with different party leaders, but on Wednesday there was no sign that the talks were getting anywhere. Politicians seemed unaware of what they should do-and still are. The monarchy is still recovering from the shock. The only party with a sense of existence are the Maoists, who analysts say are doing their best to cash in on the sense of uncertainty.

The main opposition party had a chance to take a leadership role and steer the nation out of the crisis by lending its credibility to the investigation team, but squandered the opportunity on a legal technicality. "Madhav Nepal missed the call of history, responsibility that country had given him, and it will impact badly on him badly personally and also his party," says Shridhar Khatri, who teaches political science at Tribhuvan University. "He could have asked the questions that needed to be asked to make the report credible." It is clear that althoiugh Nepal had agreed, his comrades in the Standing Committee got cold feet.

UML stalwart Raghuji Pant says it is business as usual at the UML's Balkhu secretariat. "Our demand for the Prime Minister's resignation is still valid," he said. "We've not discussed how to present ourselves in the next parliamentary session." The Marxist-Leninists (ML) showed more maturity, forming a three-member team to interact with other parties and strategise on ways to ride the crisis. "As a national party we feel that government and opposition should work together, take the initiative and do what needs to be, we can only support them," says Sahana Pradhan, ML chairperson. "The uncertainty cannot be allowed to continue."
The most cynical opportunists have been the small communist factions who have decided that they must strike while the iron is hot and use the crisis to bring down the government. Samyukta Jana Morcha's Lila Mani Poudel, was first to organise a rally at Patan Durbar Square on 8 June and publicly denounce the possibility that Dipendra could have pulled the trigger. Poudel echoed the Maoist reasoning that King Birendra's "liberal" politics was reason for his murder.

Comrade-in-arms in the communist alliance, Narayan Man Bijukchhe, of the Nepal Workers and Peasant's Party (NWPP), has also reached similar conclusions. Bijukchhe, told us the killing was a "conspiracy" by foreign hands, adding that "his logic defies that Dipendra was the killer". Though both Poudel and Bijukchhe fear that nationhood is threatened, they don't seem have solutions about how to minimise this threat or whether by pursuing the conspiracy theory they do not destabilise the nation further.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)