For about two years now, this writer has been following Nepali politics with great focus. The reasons were apparent - changes in Nepal in 2008 were tumultuous. A shift from monarchy to becoming a republic is an earth shattering event, not just because of the symbolism of "people's power", but what it could exactly translate onto the "ground". By replacing a figure who is at the fountain-head of feudal power, the very enterprise of feudal power is threatened and that goes without saying. The expectation therefore was that the conversion of Nepal as a republic, would let loose a new social revolution and a newer circulation of elites at the minimum and a progress toward economic reform and change, through the unleashing of productive forces at a maximum. And that was much required in a region - parts of northern and eastern India that lagged in social mobility, in economic terms to the rest of the world.
In the interim, we thought, the political forces representing various constituents in Nepal would manage to work out a reasonably argued out Constitution in a democratically elected Constituent Assembly and that would lay the stones for the upheaval of Nepal from a backward, nearly dependent and poor country into a nation with tremendous potential for social and economic change.
All that expectations of then, are now in hindsight, romanticist naiveté. Nepal's political class and yes, it includes the far more committed Nepali Maoists, had in the past two years, turned on a show of Realpolitik that reduced all their political work to mere politicking. Two governments have come and gone and a third is in the works. Both failed adventures of coalitions - the first led by the Maoists was relatively better than the insipid and disparate coalition led by the UML - were clearly lacking in one specific aspect - an all-encompassing focus on the need of the hour, i.e. consensus in Constitution building. Far from learning lessons, Realpolitik took a even more stark form the past three weeks, as yet another attempt at a consensus government failed; followed by two rounds of elections for the post of prime minister, neither yielding a winner.
Getting into details would be a numbing exercise of whodun-what-kind-of-stupidity. Prashant Jha's recent article in the Nepalitimes explains it better
. To cut a long story short, the Madhesi parties refused to support any candidate from the big three - the UML, Maoists and the NC. The UML candidate Jhalanath Khanal managed a simple majority, but couldn't get 2/3rds support, which was the minimum to be attained for his detractors within his party and hence he couldn't stake claim to the post despite support from the Maoists. The Maoists' candidate Prachanda could not manage to get support from anywhere else, even as the party chairman insisted on his candidacy despite knowledge of the fact that senior leader Baburam Bhattarai enjoyed greater support from other parties. And so, nothing came of weeks of deliberation after the Constituent Assembly was itself extended for a year through a last minute consensus born out of expediency.
Essentially, Nepal's politicians should be ashamed of themselves. They were thrown up into the cauldron of debates and discussions in an elected august assembly by a people who showed remarkable maturity and poise in throwing away vestiges of longstanding monarchy. But the various party leaders reduced themselves into games for power akin to royal intrigue.
60% and more of the Nepali CA avowedly belong to parties professing policies and politics of the Left. Yet internal bickering and unchanged attitudes have made it impossible for the UML and the Maoists to work in unison. The Nepali Congress in its past had suffered under monarchy and always wished to build a democratic socialist state out of Nepal. Today the party is beholden to petty politicians professing values of the hard right and personal interest.
Amid all this is the not so invisible hand of the Indian bureaucrat, short sighted and limited in thinking to keep India's engagement close to suzerainty of the past.
All is still not lost. One shift from maximalist positions among the various parties could see the victory of progressivism and a movement ahead for the better. The Maoists, for example, could commit to the demand of integration of its PLA into the armed forces by quoting a reasonable number. They could nominate an acceptable person for the post of prime minister, the scholarly "united front tactician" Baburam Bhattarai for example. And they could still manage to retain organisational aims by doing so. The UML could decide instantly to respect the mandate of the people and admit that it is only the No 3 in the elected political hierarchy. It could stay true to its leftist moorings by offering conditional support to the Maoists based on a common minimum programme. After all, there should not be much of a divide between the two leftist forces on this regard beyond minor differences. And the Nepali Congress could either accept the logic of numbers and play the role of a responsible opposition or it could join hands in a consensus government content with the fact that many of its leaders have been given important posts both in the CA and in the government. And the Madhesi parties could also offer conditional support to the Maoists, with whom they share a more closer outlook on federalism.