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Between self-congratulation and smugness

By Maila Baje
image002The Dashain-Tihar interregnum will no doubt produce sustained streams of self-congratulation over the positivity powering the national psyche in the aftermath of the staggered local elections.
The three-phase polling for village and municipal entities, conducted by two governments representing the same ruling coalition, was a significant achievement. Cabinet expansions, administrative transfers and other knotty interventions in between – regardless of whether they actually violated the Election Commission code of conduct – have not tarnished public faith in the democratic exercise and its aftermath.
The principal protagonists have largely accepted the popular verdict, vowing to learn the right lessons, and are preparing themselves for crucial provincial and national elections. As established tangible preconditions for the full implementation of the new Constitution, the country – the leaders and the led alike – will need to proceed with utmost judiciousness and solemnity.
Once that milestone has been crossed, however, the concept of ‘implementation of the constitution’ will have acquired a new sense and significance. From a destination, that juncture will have become a point of departure in a persistent process of alertness and application.
Ensuring concord and coherence in structural and operational spheres among the local, provincial and central governments will be something new to us. So would the imperative of sensibly allocating power and resources, simultaneously managing the purse and expectations. Forgoing the naming of provinces and determining their capitals in the interest of holding elections made sense as an act of political maturity. Those very imperatives have the potential to assume far less pacified dimensions. In all this, Nepalis will have to learn by doing.
More portentously, mismanagement, corruption, favoritism and the other banes blighting our modern polity – and systems around the world – will acquire renewed focus. Perceptions of foreign meddling – pronounced at the most sanguine of times – would exacerbate the challenges of those governing as well as the governed.
Should the going get inordinately rough, it won’t matter whether foreign powers are really conspiring to perpetuate conflict among our diverse ethnicities, cultures, languages, religions – and yes, political ideologies. Nepal’s precarious geo-strategic position and more than a century and a half of a hemmed-in mentality provide enough combustion.
No one will uncover incontrovertible evidence of plots to tear apart the country because no one will demand it. When perceptions flow along a reality-like narrative, prophecy can easily become self-fulfilling.
Fortunately, the flaws naysayers like yours truly have identified in the Constitution ever since its promulgation have not been able to stop our political momentum. Yet our own experience has taught us how ambiguities and uncertainties can emerge when we least expect them. Worse, they can be contrived with little exertion, given the right political circumstances. The amalgamation of the personal and political is a double-edged sword. If it can be a sign of abiding commitment, it can also be a catalyst for convulsion.
In the prevailing celebratory mood, it is tempting to dismiss such warnings as irrelevant or, worse, revolting. But the complexities defining life in general today are bound to deepen intricacies on both sides of the political contract.
Today’s constitutional clarity can revert to elusiveness so easily because of the abstraction national stability, prosperity, unity and similar concepts have become.  Amid all-round fluidity, the road from self-congratulation to smugness can only be a slippery one.

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