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Decade of desultory dominion

By Maila Baje
It’s not hard to see why an intense sense of public despondency overshadows the 10-year anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) signed between the interim government led by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the erstwhile Maoist rebels.
In all fairness, the CPA did succeed in ending the decade-long Maoist rebellion and restoring peace in the country. Yet the signatories had committed themselves to broader socio-economic transformation for the durability of nationhood.
image0012The delayed promulgation of a new constitution has done little towards achieving those commitments. Nepal may have officially become a secular republic, but issues of the restoration of Hindu statehood and the monarchy have never really exited the realm of possibility. That’s because, for all the momentousness of People’s Movement II, Nepalis had not asked for doing away with the country’s monarchical and Hindu character.
When republicanism and secularism became realities, they did so without a smidgen of resistance on either count. Perhaps it is on account of those discrepancies that the dethroned king can keep asking with ever-greater credibility what the new leadership has really done for the country.
The Maoists, having at best attained ‘strategic parity’ with the state, entered the new political landscape with all the airs and egotisms of victors. Integration of a minuscule number of Maoist combatants into the national army was not what many of those lads and lasses on the frontlines had contemplated as victory. The voluntary retirement of the other ‘people’s warriors’ was, well, anything but voluntary in any sense of the term.
It was clear from the outset that the signatories spoke in platitudes for good reason. ‘New Nepal’ was a nebulous concept that contained enough nimbleness to take on its own life. It was impolitic to sound a discordant note – no matter how warranted – in the giddiness of the moment.
Restoration of sustainable peace, forward-looking state restructuring, effective transitional justice mechanisms and socio-economic transformation were high-minded objectives that sounded noble – but were little beyond that.
For far too long, leaders focused on the urgency of promulgating a new constitution. The first constituent assembly having failed in that task, the political establishment sought a technocratic artifice to prop up the legitimacy of the process. So when a constitution ample in form but absent in substance finally emerged, the collective refrain was the most predictable one: patience will eventually pay off.
The challenges inherent in institutionalizing federalism, republicanism, secularism and inclusiveness were no doubt compounded by the timorous tentativeness. Addressing them as a way of rooting out future conflict retained relevance but regressed in feasibility.
Over  time, victimhood became become a competitive undertaking, often with generous external subsidy and strategizing. New grievances are being created with such orderliness today that the old ones based on class, caste, region and gender seem tolerable.
When every group clings on so tenaciously to its own relative truths, reconciliation must be little more than a convenience attuned to the larger national inclination. Lamenting how Nepal lacks a statesman to steer the ship of state is political malpractice, especially when the people see a plethora of potentates having replaced an overarching palace.
There may be little comprehensiveness, peace or agreement around us. Yet, strangely enough, our ship continues stay afloat. And that is no mean achievement.

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