Right to know
- The public deserves to know what goes on in negotiations behind closed doors and who the spoilers are
Mar 18, 2015-
The ruling and opposition parties are at a stalemate again. How many times has this occurred since the Rookmangud Katawal episode, when the Maoists began seriously engaging with the constitution-making process? Too many to count. Every time the ruling parties—the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML—and the opposition—the Maoists-Madhesis—sit face to face, something or the other happens that spoils the broth. Last time, it was KP Oli’s unsavory witticisms that riled the Maoists and the Madhesis. This time, the media reported that it was charka-charki, yelling and counter-yelling. But each time, the public feels baffled by the parties’ inability to take their negotiation to the utmost limit and pin down the absolute point of difference. The public doesn’t know who speaks what, who yells and who merely whispers, or what the fine points over which
the parties agree on and what the bones of contention are.
And the media is busy taking sides, rather than honestly reporting the proceedings, minute by minute, blow by blow. One lesson could be gleaned from how the India media recently reported on the confidential meeting of the Aam Aadmi Party’s National Executive Committee that expelled its founding leaders Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan from its Political Affairs Committee. It was because of this reporting that people learned that it was Arvind Kejriwal who was instrumental in ousting his competitors, Yadav and Bhushan. The reaction of the public, volunteers, and the media was swift and negative towards Kejriwal, many seeing in him the making of a tyrant. This frightened the Kejriwal coterie and forced them to soften their stance.
What goes on?
At this stage of an unending series of failures from the ruling and opposition parties to resolve their differences, it is clear that their leaders themselves cannot come to a resolution of their intractable differences. And the media would rather unleash its hounds on Baburam Bhattarai for his lectures, interviews, and bonhomie in India rather than pinpoint with evidence who the actual culprits are, other than Oli of course, who indulge in yelling and counter-yelling, insults, inflexible positions, etc. And what those inflexible positions are and the reasons for adopting such positions. The Nepali public deserves to know about the proceedings, like the direct broadcast of parliamentary and other proceedings in many countries, warts and all. This openness will enhance accountability and decrease behind-the-scenes and behind closed-door manipulations.
The other way to rein in such clandestine activities would be to have civil society leaders from both sides act as observers and ombudsmen. They would watch the proceedings and at the end of each meeting, summarise the proceedings and illustrate the point(s) of differences so that in the next meeting, the parties can begin from the remaining differences, rather than starting all over again and wasting time. Bhattarai reported that party leaders seldom discussed issues in the meetings of the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee. Most often, they simply hung out and whiled away the time of the meetings, chatting and, I suppose, drinking tea.
Even in the most recent meeting, which apparently failed, we don’t know exactly what transpired, other than yelling and counter-yelling, so much so that the opposition decided to take to the streets again rather than attend another meeting with the ruling parties.
Differences of position between the ruling parties and the opposition are inevitable, but what doesn’t make sense is why they have not been able to report to the public where exactly lies the non-negotiable core and how is it that the opposition gets so disheartened that it decides to take to the street? If that was the case, then what was the point in PM Sushil Koirala’s repeated call to the opposition to quit protesting and join the negotiating table? The people want to know the proceedings of the meetings and its failure in all their detail.
Where is debate?
In all this, it seems the media has failed to do its duty because it seems that it doesn’t want the culprits who take inflexible positions to be exposed. I have criticised the media before, especially the television media, for not staging nightly debates on the day’s print media news of national significance and political proceedings so that the public would know precisely what is going on among those they have elected to represent them, and whose real masters they are. The criticism applies to the issue of negotiations over federalism as over everything else.
Take any issue of the day—citizenship of children based on mother’s identity, Chure depredation, migrant workers’ plight abroad by their employers and at home by the manpower companies, identity-based federalism, judiciary, any issue. We see a spat of print op-eds and reports followed by solo interviews on television but no debate, no point-counterpoint between representatives of opposing sides negotiated by an anchor and commented on by reputed journalists. The absence of such debates creates a vacuum in which the public becomes the recipient of political leaders’ and the journalists’ largess in the form of bits and pieces rather than masters of the country’s politics. And as masters of the country’s politics, they deserve reporting from both the political parties and the country’s media about goings-on behind closed doors, inside Parliament—indeed, all branches of government, save classified information.
So, before any substantial progress materialises on the constitutional front, it has become absolutely essential that the proceedings of negotiations be open to the media’s direct broadcast/telecast or be
conducted under the observation of civil society leaders from both sides—and reported to the public. Otherwise, this endless circus of protest, negotiation, protest, election and protest, negotiation and so on will
continue forever, creating a poisonous atmosphere of hardened positions about identities among people, paving the way for ethnic strife.
Published: 19-03-2015 07:50