The spoils of peace
- The idea of all the parties working as a team can hardly be the basis of a democratic culture
Nov 5, 2015-The fact that we still do not have a full government in place three weeks after Prime Minister KP Oli took over says a lot about the state of Nepal. Granted that Oli was busy celebrating Dashain, and thereafter involved in the intra- and inter-party machinations required to ensure the election of close ally, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, to the high office of the country’s president. But apart from emerging to issue statements such as the meaningless directive to civil servants to work eight hours a day, Oli has been surprisingly quiet since he became prime minister.
The burden of his new responsibility seems to have quietened a man, who, as journalist Yubaraj Ghimire put it, uses ‘adage and rustic wisdom, and an acerbic tongue, to great effect’. As prime minister, Oli seems to have realised that the (im)memorable quips for which he became in equal parts popular and a subject of ridicule, are of little help in running a country as complex as Nepal. If we had expected a more energetic chief executive after the departure of the reticent Sushil Koirala, we have yet to receive any indication that we will not be disappointed.The Tarai is still smouldering and the half-hearted attempt to end the crisis through dialogue has remained a non-starter. Normal life has become impossible with the acute shortage of fuel and the situation has become so bad that government ministers have even stopped pretending that they are doing anything proactive about it. All Oli and his team seem to be doing is waiting for India to relent, either out of kindness or shame. Not the best way to begin a prime ministerial tenure but that was what the man seemed desperate to get himself into.
The Veep and the Speaker
It is not only Oli who has been going around dispensing largesse. Prachanda managed to get a ranking officer in the erstwhile People’s Liberation Army (and who also happens to be the wife of a trusted lieutenant) elected as Speaker of the Legislature-Parliament. (Perhaps with the new constitution and the adoption of the Westminster system it is time to get rid of this ideological neologism and begin calling our legislative body simply a Parliament.) Another close lieutenant managed to wrangle the post of Vice-President, with, as was reported in the media, Prachanda even threatening to walk out of the governing alliance should his wish be thwarted.
When Onsari Gharti Magar and Nanda Kishore/Bahadur Pun attacked the police station in Holeri to initiate the ‘People’s War’ back on the 13th of February 1996, little would they have dreamt of one day occupying such august positions. After all, they were no more than foot soldiers in an insurgency that had been planned by leaders who certainly were not going to muck about in the battlefield.
By sheer virtue of their commitment and military exploits, they rose through the ranks to carve a place for themselves in the party and could no longer be ignored.
Be that as it may, given that Gharti Magar and Pun are both from Rolpa and also belong to the same ethnicity their elevation into posts of such prominence does not feel quite all right though. Now that we have formally instituted the federal system which, by definition, would call for adequate representation of the different provinces, and also considering the amount of debate and discussion we have had over the issue of inclusion—with the Maoists themselves a strong proponent of both—this choice was somewhat unfortunate.
The least we can say of Prachanda is that he has made an attempt to repay the huge debt he owes the fighters who propelled him to such prominence. Better for them as well as the thousands others would have been to ‘fulfil the dreams of the martyrs’, as the Maoists used to be so fond of declaring. But that takes us into a terrain Prachanda proved himself quite incapable of navigating.
The supreme authority
As someone alliterated, we now have a government consisting of the Ma-Le, the Mashal-e and the Mandal-e in reference to the Panchayat-era antecedents of the
three main coalition partners in the government. Even for a country that has seen all manners of permutations and combinations in government formation, this is a first. With such a variance in pedigree and orientation, it will be interesting to see what kind of common minimum programme it comes up with beyond the trite banalities about the need to root out corruption, provide good governance, etc, etc.
Equally interesting to see is how the ‘high-level political coordination committee’, chaired by none other than Prachanda himself, will function. For it forces co-existence among the many disparate political forces standing behind the current government which could easily make it non-functional and even more so if the plan is to bring in other parties as well into its fold. We have seen that experiment at the local level with the ill-fated all-party mechanisms. To resurrect a model that has failed so dismally and to attempt to try it out at the national level makes one wonder if our leaders never learn from past experience.
Ours is a parliamentary system after all and one of the hallmarks of such a polity is a loyal opposition—one that does not undercut the political system just because it is no longer in power but also does its best to alert the citizenry about any shortcomings of the government. The idea of all the parties working as a team, without any in the watchdog function, can hardly be the basis for the institution of democratic culture. Perhaps because it is a concept they have had to learn and adapt to, the government led by those who started out as Ma-Le, Mashal-e and Mandal-e find nothing amiss in such an arrangement.
Published: 05-11-2015 08:40