We have interviewed to political analyst Shrish S Rana on contemporary political issues. Excerpts of the interview as given below:
Q. How have you observed the present political situation?
A. It has been almost over a year since in my last interview with you I had said that the terai issue now would find it difficult to be resolved through constitutional amendment alone. I had also insisted that a new cycle of agitations would begin. I have been saying that the political process begun a decade ago in the name of constitution-drafting had defied the very fundaments of constitutionalism and the more we pursue this course the more this country will be enmeshed in a quagmire that will ultimately threaten its very existence. This I have been saying in your weekly since 2006 immediately after the so called ‘Jana-aandolan’. I am happy I am on record in your paper since you chose to interview me as an exception in a charged environment of exclusiveness bordering on persecution that prevails still in some sections of the ‘mainstream’ (read partisan) media and must thank you for that opportunity at that crucial moment in Nepali history when sane voices were deliberately drowned ostensibly in pursuance of a revolutionary new Nepal.
There are, as I see it, four possibilities. Firstly, The Congress, UML and the Maoists, together with the Terai parties will see the coming threats to their political monopoly and patch up their differences with compromises in the constitution amendment proposals, ram the election regulations through the legislature and the dates for elections to beat the deadline of February next year for the implementation of the new constitution promulgated last year. This may be logical but looks highly unlikely at the moment given the increasingly rigid and publicly contradictory standpoints of the tarai parties and the UML on the issue of the demarcation of the proposed federal states—unless, that is, our rulers are arm twisted to comply by our foreign overlords. Secondly, the version currently being toyed with, elections at any cost whether to the local or directly to the central level achievable through more amendments or through presidential decree. This will be designed to divert and stifle the growing public resentment and disenchantment and to field cadre to secure votes wooing the voter and prospective local workers through machinations of the use of their moneys, muscle and the media regardless what damage this will do to the state in its aftermath. The third option is to continue the various public postures and allow it to foment until the approaching deadline expires to make feasible yet another presidential decree as previously to extend the ‘transitional period’ and retain the monopoly of state in this manner as previously. You will notice that all the options mentioned do not preclude the eventuality of the streets being aroused which is the fourth option. Who will man the streets will determine the course of events. The country, as we all have experienced, is in a perennial agitation mode.
Q. Former King’s message on King Prithivi Narayan Shah’s birth anniversary indicates very gloomy picture of the nation. He has urged for unity among all the patriotic forces to fail foreign intervention. Do you also feel the same?
A. What has he said wrong? It is the widespread public concurrence on the state of affairs in the country as pointed out by a former head of state that has drowned the threats and insinuations which have emerged on part of the political establishment in response. The pointer at foreign intervention should itself shake the country towards a non-partisan national response. But our monopolists feel threatened that their stranglehold over the organized sector will be eroded and so their disparaging response.
The ‘foreign hand ‘in the agitation of 2006 is now all too public to be dismissed as political myth. Excessive foreign micro-management of Nepali affairs has reduced our political masters to subservient roles that are traded as charges and counter-charges by these competing monopolists themselves. Prithwi Narayan Shah’s ‘Yam between two boulders’ characterization of Nepal’s geo-political situation is being tested not merely by our political leaders but also by their political overlords who concluded for us that the feudal’s response to the expansion of colonialization in the vicinity was merely to expand his feudatory. In actual fact, our political response to globalization should have been to accommodate the chances that the numbers of boulders have increased complicating things further for the country.
Indeed, any sane assessment regarding Nepali capabilities should have been able to envisage the extent of foreign competition in Nepal in today’s strategically shrinking world. Moreover a united Nepali response to these perennial challenges should have been able to impress upon the neighborhood that competition in Nepal to the extent it is being goaded towards may impede and destroy Nepali peace and stability to the extent that it can threaten the very peace and stability of the region as a whole. I think I explained in one of your interviews that historical lessons must be drawn from how historically India and China retained their millennia-long dominance of the global economy without allowing competition to regress towards conflict.
At a ceremony marking National Unity Day, the organizers who had managed to lure a mainstream media crew approached me for a ‘byte’ for the crew to whom I acceded by asking them whether they could actually cover my response. Upon their assurance, I was filmed responding that the lay public should begin thinking as to why the long dead Prithwi Narayan Shah’s ‘ghost’ should haunt our current contractors so much as to deny widespread demands to remember him once a year when the reality is that we go to bed in Nepal and wake up in the country that he founded. Of course, the byte was never aired. But the public should be reminded of some things regarding the change a decade back. If what I heard is true, among the very first proposals for ‘new’ Nepal at a parliamentary committee meeting was one to change Nepal’s name altogether. I believe the proposal was struck off the record upon opposition by a patriotic legislator. Of course, what became more public was the discussion on change in the national flag, the very flag under which king Gyanendra called on all Nepalis to unite. But the thought that ideologies should be so interpreted as to render Nepali identity anathema to Nepali development should instill in us an understanding that the fundaments of what our politicians call modernism are certainly alarming. Imagine its effects on state when armies of cadre from their very juvenile stage are indoctrinated and fielded in the country with such faulty thinking. Our very identity as a nation at fault? What does the alternative mean?
Q. Even after such a miserable state of the nation, general public have remained silent. Why don’t they come to the streets to protest the leaders?
A. The answer to your question needs a bit of elaboration so please bear with me. You will recall that for over four decades now my published writings on Nepali politics have touched upon the faults of excessive emphasis on the much espoused theory that political parties manifest democracy. I was happy the other day to discover a Fukuyama lecture on You Tube on development and democracy where the author refrained from including elections but instead used the word accountability among his requirements for democracy. I came across a query the other day put by an author in a book who responded to one of my seminar papers blaming the state of Nepali affairs on the political parties with a statement tantamount to equating democracy with political parties. In these days when political scientists including Larry Diamond and even contemporary American columnists such as Fareed Zakaria have now begun conceding the existence of ‘illiberal‘ democracies, is it now possible to conceive of the existence of illiberal political parties? By now people like me have developed a thick skin regarding charges that I represent the regressive, reactionary element in the country. But to my knowledge, it is the right to organize politically that manifests the political party and not the political party that manifests democracy. Reservations regarding the conduct of the political party were voiced two centuries before king Mahendra of Nepal by none less than that icon of democracy George Washington of the United States of America in his public treaties upon leaving his office of the president of the United States of America. Recall that the American war of independence was prompted only after excessive partisan concerns of British parliamentarians denied the American colonials their demands: ‘no taxation without representation’. Also pertinent in that article would be Washington’s foresight regarding partisan manipulations of the world powers at time of his fledgling state. The British, Spain and the French all had powerful presence and interests in his continent.
As for Nepal, those of my age and much younger as well have been spelled out the ills of political parties in the country by none less than king Mahendra and the discarded Panchayat thought. Organized onslaught by organized political leaders against that Mahendra thought ultimately toppled the Panchayat system. One enduring tag that helped serve the defeat was the charge that the Panchayat merely manifested Mahendra’s limitless ambitions for power. Karl Deutsche among others, however, in defining the political man, concede top ambition to the politician in the pyramid of political man. Mahendra was merely a king . I am merely stating that our politicians base their political strength on organizations that derive their political legitimacy on the strength of their organizations and not on the state. How these organizations receive their legitimacy in the state is based on the democratic constitution of democracies which vary from state to state on the commonly accepted democratic right of the people to organize.
How our political organizations organize is key to the future of our country and its democracy. Had they paid due cognizance to Mahendra’s critique of the functioning of political parties in this country after some thirty years of subterranean machinations as banned political parties, they could have limited the current damage to the state and its democracy. They have, instead, very politically at that, chosen to take advantage of their victory over the ‘partyless’ panchayat by paying no heed to the fact that 1960 and the presence of three decades of partylessness was as much on account of national experience of a decade of post-1950 party politics.
The politics of organization since 1990 swept aside all reservations put forth by the partyless Panchayat and began a deliberate process of politicizing sectors whose independence from politics was vital for the health of the state. The charges of partisan sharing of professional positions that are only now being more frequently voiced was begun since then. The theory of independent administration under the rule of law was crushed from the very outset by tampering in the civil service and the security organs. Even the judiciary was not left sacrosanct as a result of which the current judicial appointments have invited even more controversy. If you recall, I resigned as executive chairman of the Gorkhapatra Corporation some two months after the reintroduction of the new dispensation with a statement that such organized political conduct would compromise professional management. It is not for nothing that most government sector organizations have collapsed or are close to collapse given the political dabbling. The fact is that professionalism has been so sacrificed to politics as to ensure that our monopolists have a say and that the people are dependent on their goodwill in every mundane matter from the provision of services to everything else. This all-pervasive presence among the public has actually served to antagonize the public further because of the poor performance that has been exposed all round. It is political for the monopolists to retain their monopoly by excluding the alternatives. But the end effect has been a seething public antagonism that can be suppressed no longer. When it bursts, it will. One can only hope that it will not contribute to the detriment of state.
Q. You have been predicting that the present system cannot function; therefore, the 1990 constitution has to be restored as soon as possible to rescue this country. Is it possible?
A. There is this AP news byte still locatable in You Tube which pictures a victorious crowd at Girija Koirala’s residence upon king Gyanendra acceding to the demands of the coalition that led the agitation in 2006. There is Sher Bahadur Deuba speaking to the press, a western member of the diplomatic community speaks. The byte ends at my place where I say that it is now upto the coalition to protect the constitution since the king failed in his attempt to do so and that he can only do what is in the constitution.
My first day as minister at office witnessed a host of journalists poking their microphones at me asking me how I felt. I drew considerable criticism for having said I was sad since the king had wished that there was an elected minister in my place as per the constitution.
I would ask your readers to review the events at that time and actually consider that it was by no means a takeover. It was, instead a ‘handover’ by the organizations in parliament whose internal and external squabbles tied the constitution into knots for the king to unravel at the request of an elected government. Indeed, time upon time the king is on record calling publicly for the parliamentary forces to provide a unified parliamentary option. One can perhaps go back in history to comprehend why prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba who had failed to conduct elections for which he had dissolved parliament did not resign on his own but instead asked the king to extend his tenure as prime minister. There is this precedence in the Nepali Congress that charged Matrika Koirala for handing over democracy to the palace by resigning his office. But why did the parliament fail to arrive at a consensus given the disarray they put the constitution to? Nobody is asking this question. How would the monarch have distanced himself constitutionally from handpicking any individual for Deuba’s job. None less than Tanka Prasad Acharya, if memory serves me right was dismissed from office with the same charge of inability to conduct elections for which he was nominated. At that time, moreover, there was no parliament whether sitting or dissolved. I believe that the king incurred the wrath of not only homegrown democrats but also the international community for not handpicking a prime minister from parliament among whom there were, as everyone knows, several willing and ready claimants. Just as resignations have their utility in democracy, so does an-all party government at times of constitutional crisis. Instead, I would ask all to recollect, that the king’s repeated call for such was nothing less than publicly ridiculed. Surprisingly, such an all party government could be engineered in New Delhi and, later could also include the rebelling Maoists.
Of course, the king failed. He was made to fail by the very stakeholders of the constitution that he was being asked to protect. This is how I see it.
Ample grounds had been prepared for his failure as latter day disclosures verily assert. The king had merely insisted that the constitutional process would have to takeover through elections from the bottom levels upwards for which he had asked for a time bound period to which his government immediately set about. Why was he made to fail when a consensus could be achieved in New Delhi, that should be the key question? And we now suddenly discover that our politics has been outsourced and there is this foreign hand in every other development in the country?
So the king used his constitutional powers and reinstituted the duly dissolved parliament and, as per the presumed consensus in the dissolved parliament, appointed Girija Koirala as prime minister who swore by the constitution of 1990. Then began the series of violations of that constitution, not amendments but violations. By these actions, the political parties in parliament clearly stated that they were above the constitution, so whither constitutionalism?
Thence on, actions that have emerged in the name of constitution making have depended whole and solely on a degree of consensus and cooperation among and between our political parties the absence of which brought the 1990 constitution to a standstill in the very first place. I would deem this wishful thinking since this is not in keeping with the behavior of our leadership. Politics, as democracy, is behavioral. Impudence has and will be the norm unless constitutionalism is not restored to the country.
Perhaps more dangerous is the fact that, in the name of a modern constitution our impudent politicians are very calculatedly tampering with national structures. If, after 1990, these very politicians functioned to make partisan gains by systematically cannibalizing our painfully built economic structures, the process of dismantling the state has been furthered after the 2006 agitation by touching upon vital structures of state focusing on its identities. The process itself is suspect.
The 1990 constitution does not prevent the accommodation of preferential and progressive representation. It is the overly centralized political parties and their individual- centric leadership behavior that has been and will continue to be the impediment. There is no provision for the remedy of such political behavior in the new constitution nor in the interim one and so we may expect the impudence to continue even after the constitution that is currently under a state of crisis is supposedly put to active use.
As for how the 1990 constitution can be brought back, it is time that sane minds assert. I recall a tweet by a politician in a blog that carried my interview with you in 2006 where he asked whether this was a joke, what of the 17000 lives that the change cost? He asked. In actual fact, this is not going back constitutionally. It is proceeding with constitutional development from the point where it was abruptly impeded. When where we are heading is disaster it is wise to retreat.
Actually, our politicians should have done some homework on how the agenda for a constituent assembly emerged in Nepali politics and from whence, looked around and saw the actual consequences in the neighborhood on the basis of which politicians in the late 1950s agreed on an alternative which paved the peaceful way to a constitution and elections in 1959. The same took place in 1990. How unheard of agenda and unseen games are being played out once the constituent assembly idea was taken up again should itself jerk the country to a new awareness as to the mounting national threats. The idea is to restore in actuality the constitutional process. It would be wise for the political sector to admit the mistakes, forgive one another and revert to the 1990 constitution and make it accommodate national demands constitutionally thus. Or else, our politicians will continue to make impudent moves, blame their inadequacies on the constitution and proceed with the dismantling of the state structures until Nepal and the rest of the international community may find the state withering away.