Vendetta, Appeasement, Confusion And Infighting
Combustible Mix Of Vendetta, Appeasement, Confusion And Infighting
By M.R. Josse
Commenting on the national political scenario in this space last week, this observer concluded that the difficult phase of governance was just beginning. That prediction I regret to say has proved to be prescient.
Indeed, a week later, the political scene is not only murkier than ever. All things considered, it now appears to be a combustible mélange of volatile elements of vendetta, appeasement, confusion and infighting. In short, the nation is perhaps at the most critical, even explosive, stage of her political history in living memory.
The government's and the House of Representatives' mood of political vendetta has been made crystal clear and is best epitomized in the arrests of five former ministers, two of whom have filed petitions at the Supreme Court challenging the legality of their detention under the Public Security Act 2049 BS. Not surprisingly perhaps, these selective arrests have invited speculation as to why other ministers, including former members of SPA constituents, have been spared.
It has also been writ in large characters in the suspension of the heads of the police, the armed police and the national intelligence agency, along with the recommendation from the SPA-appointed commission that the COAS of the Royal Nepal Army too be dismissed.
That, it will be recalled, came atop the recall of virtually the entire roster of Nepal's ambassadors and dismissals of scores of others who held important public positions within the country, mainly because of their appointment by the former regime.
No wonder, then, that there is a sense of gloom and doom among large sections of the non-partisan public, including among those who expected the dawn of a new, fairer and more enlightened era.
That staffers of some Ministries including Shital Niwas are now reportedly clamouring for instant dismissals of former senior officials is also symptomatic of the present frenzied atmosphere of revenge. If this becomes the trend, the entire bureaucracy may grind to a halt, thereby creating even more serious problems for the new rulers.
Incidentally, it has been further epitomized by the Finance Minister's recent "white paper" which attempts to slander sections of the media. In the hurry to do so, it has been revealed that another section of the media had received considerable amounts of public monies, if not in the immediate past.
Meanwhile, the G.P. Koirala-led government seems to be on appeasement auto-pilot vis-à-vis the Maoists. Thus, while Maoists are being released en masse all over the country, the government and its media are seemingly determined to downsize the Army, change its nomenclature, and, in general, play ducks and drakes with its hallowed traditions, including those having to do with promotions, merit, performance, retirement, chain of command and so forth.
It hardly requires a Karl von Clausewitz to realise where such a short sighted policy will lead the Army to and what its impact on the comparative strengths of the Army and the Maoist's militia will be. In short, if carried out in the manner in which some sections of the media have been reporting/advocating it, that would mean the virtual collapse of the only organised force capable of resisting a Maoist take-over.
It could also mean the outright politicization of the Army, vertical splits and, even more dangerously, the breakup along ethnic and other such fault lines. Who knows, it might promote war-lord-ism? I have in the past questioned the wisdom of taking such an anti-Army stance. Here, I wish only to reiterate it, with even greater urgency.
I say so, among other reasons, because at the time of writing, credible reports are coming in of the Maoists' recruitment drive. Is this the most propitious moment for destroying a national institution that has not only played a crucial role in the unification of the country and its consolidation through difficult times but also promoted the nation's image particularly through participation in a whole plethora of UN peace keeping operations around the world?
While on the subject, what must not go unnoted is that among the very first target of the Koirala-led government is the Army's order of two Chinese aircraft which have reportedly now been cancelled, in addition to that of two MI-16 Russian helicopters.
While it is easy to understand why China and Russia have indirectly been targeted, how sensible is it to jeopardise Nepal's relations with two countries that have stood by her at difficult times? Is it this government's policy, then, to downgrade relations with China and Russia, and perhaps even Pakistan? If so, let that be stated openly and allow the public to judge its merit.
In any case, the government's transparent policy of appeasement contrasts, let it not go unnoted, with the Maoists open demand for 50 percent of the national budget to – in Prachanda's words – "the people in remote areas and to fulfill the basic needs of the PLA." Notably, the Maoist supremo has threatened that, otherwise, "we remain compelled to collect taxes through our government" ( Kathmandu Post, 16 May, 2006).
The only saving grace, as of this writing, is that Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister K.P. Oli has reacted strongly against such activities by the Maoists. Speaking at a public forum in Kathmandu 15 May Oli urged the Maoists to create a conducive atmosphere for dialogue and peace by stopping all activities that adversely impact the peace process.
In addition to jogging along the vendetta and appeasement tracks, the powers that be seem – to an outside observer, at least – to be totally confused about what they are seeking and how they intend to go about it. As indicated last week, there is still ambiguity about whether the 1990 Constitution is alive or not.
That it may be barely alive has, incidentally, been acknowledged by the newly appointed Attorney General Yagya Murti Banjade who has been reported to have said the reinstated House of Representatives can go beyond the existing Constitution. (Himalayan Times, 16 May 2006.)
If that report is, indeed, accurate, it would underline that it is alive, although there may be sections that the new rulers wish to knock off as irrelevant or inconvenient in today's heated political clime.
Besides, the very same lack of clarity comes across is the reportage about the impending "House is Supreme" declaration which, seemingly, has hit some obstacles given that it was not, as announced in sections of the press earlier, made public on Monday.
While, at this stage, one does not know what exactly stood in the way of its proclamation on that date, I would, as a layman, argue that such a unilateral arrogation of powers might not only hit legal obstacles but, indeed, could be considered against the lofty aim of achieving a state of "total democracy".
Besides, if the present House, reinstated through a mass demonstration of force and not through the ballot box, were to declare itself "supreme" are we then to assume that it could, in theory if not in practice, continue in perpetuity as none could challenge its decision(s)?
Furthermore, how would that be interpreted by the Maoists whose goodwill the government/House is so eager to secure? In other words, how would the Maoists' demand for the House's dissolution stand vis-à-vis the "House is Supreme" declaration? If it is "supreme, why should it be dissolved?
Finally, we have the familiar spectacle of infighting experienced, for example, in the bitter wrangling and delay over the choice for Speaker of the House which, ultimately, went to UML's Subash Nemwang rather than to NC (D)'s Chitralekha Yadav.
There is, then, the all-too-visible delay in the formation of a fully composed Council of Ministers: as of now, there is still only a rump cabinet of seven members. From press and other reports it would appear that horse-trading and backroom dealing are the order of the day – naturally, behind the scenes.
Added to such woes is that sectarian demand and populist rhetoric have begun to take its toll. An indication of the same came, for example, in the form of a demonstration against the Prime Ministers' Office by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities Joint Struggle Committee demanding that that House declare Nepal a secular state – right away, even ahead of what an elected constituent assembly might decide at a later date.
It hardly requires the wisdom of Solomon to visualise what might happen if such a demand is catered to – without first seeking a much wider mandate such as that of a constituent assembly or a referendum: there would be counter-demonstrations, perhaps even violence, by groups opposed to the idea of transforming Nepal into a secular state.
To sum up, the overall prognosis is not assuring anyway one looks at the sombre national political situation today.