We asked Shrish S. Rana his views on contemporary Nepali concerns. The results:
Q. Federalism and republicanism have already been institutionalized in the nation. Still you are dreaming for restoration of the 1990 constitution. Is it possible?
A. This is not a dream. It is a national need if the aberrations of today’s Nepali politics are to be mended. I am aware that these aberrations are so severe that the restoration of the 1990 constitution will alone not suffice. But the correction has to begin from there. The current excesses stem from the success of a national movement for the restoration of a constitutionally dissolved parliament. Violating all parliamentary norms and very fundamental constitutional obligations, our parliamentary leaders, at the prompting of external powers exerted their monopoly to junk the 1990 constitution prior to obtaining any popular constitutional sanction to do so on the pretext that the success of their movement alone allowed them that excess. This is a perversion that continues to allow them the excesses that still prevail.
The federalism and republicanism that you cite as institutionalized are mere examples of that excess. These cannot be white washed by the promulgation of the constitution or the two elections for the constituent assembly and the elections to the tiers of local and federal legislatures. They remain beyond the realms of constitutionalism. These merely encourage more impudent tampering of the supreme laws of the land for our new overlords at home and abroad to wreak their will over our population and our resources. Our leaders and their foreign patrons have been exposed no doubt, but our population must decide how to demonstrably break out of the stranglehold of the monopoly of money, media and muscle by way of which we are ruled for the moment. It is another matter that the leadership continues to uphold the farce as having been dictated by the reality of international politics in an increasingly globalized world. The irony is that this leadership has so exhausted international confidence by having so willingly compromised Nepali national interests in exchange for their highly parochial ones that the search for alternatives should already have begun. One must await the streets and the emergence of the leadership that will have to reunite the nation and assert national interests. Until then the effort to scuttle the nation through the prevailing parody will continue. The fact is that King Gyanendra remains, under article 27 of the 1990 constitution, the protector of the constitution of 1990 and the symbol of national unity.
Q. Now, the government holds the strength of two-thirds majority. Both former UML and Maoist Center, during the elections, had talked about the system having executive President. Now, Communist Party chairman Pushpakamal Dahal has started to talk about adopting this agenda through an amendment of the constitution. Is the presidential system good for a country like Nepal?
A. These are the same actors that played havoc with Nepali constitutionalism and democracy. The communists now have their two thirds in parliament and the ‘democrats’ who partnered this indulgence will remain guilty of helping engineer this majority. The engineering towards a presidential system was narrowly missed a decade ago when Girija Prasad Koirala, already the ‘acting’ head of state, allowed longevity in his health to prompt a change of commitment amidst the horse trading for the spoils for the Maoists to float Nepal’s oldest republican, Ram Raja Prasad Singh, to the presidency in a parliamentary system from whence Ram Baran Yadav, a Congress MP from Tarai, emerged as a consensus president. Pushpa Kamal Dahal continued to remain the ‘poster president’ in the elections for the constituent assembly even after that. This is meaningful. The effort to dismantle the state remains. I see no impediment in preventing K.P. Oli the same design in the current farce. I also cannot but notice that prime minister Oli, just as Girija did for his longevity, now goes for his health treatment outside South Asia.
The two thirds, in itself is proof of the farce. Where in the world does a democracy have a coalition in government conducting elections which has a partner in government contesting the elections in coalition with the opposition party? This is as big a mockery of democracy as a member of a coalition in the treasury bench switching over to the opposition amidst a parliament discussing the treasury bill that the partner does not disown? Scores of such impudent indulgence in three decades of recent parliamentary history have already rendered the parliamentary exercise redundant and highly unproductive. Demands for another form of government are very convenient escapes for our unproductive monopolists. This perverted effort at self-preservation fuelled the change of this decade and will continue to fuel further changes until they are successfully displaced since they will remain unproductive as they are not here to serve national interest.
On the other hand, the two thirds is a handy tool to tell the countrymen and the external actors that the un-productivity of yesteryears is over now that a stable government is insured. This is a manner of admitting that the previous years were unproductive and that this was on account of the ‘crises’ in politics provoked by the change that can only now be managed through a stable government. Before the change, though, we were being told that the un-productivity prior to the change was on account of the birth pangs that democracy must face. It is irrevocable that the parliamentary system’s birth pangs ultimately delivered the Maoists and their republic and that the decade long crisis convulsions must now yield to a presidential system in order to preserve the monopoly. There must be something wrong with a constitution that must continue to suit the politician and their external supporters. The design, after all, is to dismantle the state.
Q. The present constitution has given stress on socialism and leaders from both NC and the ruling party are defining socialism. In fact, what is socialism? Has the present politics been guided by socialism?
A. Please don’t ask me to go through what would certainly be an exhaustive exercise on remunerating over socialist treaties here. Suffice it to state that socialism had merits enough to give the West a human face and compulsion to statecraft even in countries which refuse to acknowledge this. I would have felt very comfortable had our populist leaders and their cadre, so proficient in Marx, Lenin and Mao, been equally conversant in the socialist themes so recurrent in our own texts much before the West even ventured into the realms of political and economic thoughts.
If the purpose of state is the good of the population, I do not see how this can be achieved without the population’s interests in mind—as distinct, that is, from that of our political overlords’. Since national interest must serve the population’s interests in order for the nation to survive and deliver, statecraft must also have to do with increasing the population’s means to serve itself. Distributing state largesse to the population is one thing. For the state to be allowed a chance to afford this largesse has to do with statecraft as well. It is in the latter realms that our politicians have been failing us threatening the state. It is through the former that they gain their votes. Government can promise but need not deliver even when they disable the state’s production and delivery machineries. They and their voting mechanism need merely be propped by external interests.
The late Dr. Upendra Devkota laid claim to the UML program for the state to directly help single mothers, elders and widows. I am aware that the long dissolved Rashtriya Janata Parishad had in its lone election manifesto a program for the state to directly disburse funds to local elected units of government. Both were not in the UML manifesto when they announced these programs from their first minority government. So much for originality. In any case we have still to be given a convincing argument on how state earnings will serve the burgeoning government largesse presumably accounted to socialism. We are not discussing hardtack economics because government has merely assumed a role as brokers, middlemen and commission agents to external producers for whom Nepal’s thirty million population is a preserved market. This explains the gradual erosion of our domestic production capacity. How can this be socialism at work? Whether in or out of a constitution is mere semantics when so much, after all, must hinge on performance. Whether ‘democrat’ or ‘communists’, both have failed the state.
Q. Prime Minister K. P. Oli visited Delhi and Beijing. How have you evaluated these recent foreign visits?
A. I have been reading, listening and seeing so much analysis on Oli’s trip to India and China that I am bewildered how analysis on foreign policy can be considered so distinct of national politics to make separate analysis possible. The same can also be said of the profuse analyses on Nepali domestic politics where we recognize that foreign interests or interest prevails over our domestic politics. This makes the whole exercise of analysis merely redundant. This has come to a stage when we cannot but view our politicians as foreign proxies and the foreign elements need merely grant Nepal a factor in their dealings with other nations.
One advice by a diplomat to a senior Nepali citizen sums the situation well. The foreign diplomat told the Nepali to look after his national interests just as he, the diplomat, would look after his nation’s. Diplomacy will not wait for Nepal and relations between and among nations will cease to factor Nepal’s interests when we don’t serve our own. Prime Minister Oli cannot be politically immune from the temptations of developing countries to gain politically from claims of foreign policy achievement. That so much criticism should be poured on him for having visited India first merely reflects India’s loosing popularity in Nepal. But Oli is still a South Asian and, although a third of our country’s territory falls behind the Himalaya and is thus a part of the Tibetan plateau, Nepal is a South Asian country. His trip there may lay claims to having normalized Nepal-India ties. However, I would wager that his contribution to what he claims as betterment is abysmally small since his politics has contributed to India virtually defining what is our national interest. Somehow, this could not but help being reflected in Indian prime Minister Modi’s trip here, both in the manner of his visit and Indian conduct here concerned with his trip; Sushma Swaraj, et al. Well wishers of India in Nepal who would be alarmed at the growing popular disenchantment at Indian micro-management in the country would have to assert the need for corrections in Delhi the lack of which is jeopardizing the region itself. But are we capable of demanding such corrections from India? Oli is certainly not. This has been so visibly demonstrated by the visits.
The China visit on the other hand only served to underscore this. Regardless of the inevitable government claims and the profuse criticism one is subjected to, an item in an Indian paper that stated that the Xi-Modi trilateral concerns were adhered to by the Chinese in course of the Oli visit must set us thinking. What is the Chinese viewpoint on Nepali national interest vis a vis their own? What is the Indian viewpoint on Nepali interests vis a vis the Chinese? And, so, one cannot but question whether Oli was a factor in the trip at all. One positive outcome, if that Indian assessment is true, is that China has a Nepali concern that our northern neighbor is now willing to take up with India. This public assertion through an Indian source is a change. It is for the better since China would rationally not tolerate the vulnerabilities demonstrated by Nepali politics in the current strategically tense international environs. This would mean a definite and directional correction in the Indian micro-management of Nepali politics which has contributed to Nepali destabilization. I would just venture to hope that this would also mean the re-stabilization of Nepal by a politics that is in pursuit of dependable Nepali national interests. It is only then that Nepal can rightfully contribute its share in the conduct of bilateral, trilateral multilateral or regional or international relations.
Q. Our national economy seems passing through a very crucial phase as our exports are very nominal whereas imports are very much alarming. Experts say the ratio is 6: 94 i.e. we are exporting six rupees worth products whereas importing 96 rupees worth products. No sign has been seen on improvement in our present economic trend. Will such a trend bring economic prosperity about which Oli is talking?
A. Just as foreign policy is merely an extension of domestic politics, so is the economy its product. How can economy thrive when politics is detrimental to the state? It is not for nothing that we suddenly discover that the promised Chinese built train will bring in Chinese goods but will carry nothing on return and the new passes and road links they make possible up north will only help lopsided local trade. I am sure the Chinese know these too, but I am sure they would not have built the pioneering Kodari road at time when political opposition was even more intense. Government approach on the Kodari road is itself demonstrated by the dismal budget allotment it had set aside for its repairs until the Indian blockade hastened further moneys by time of which the Chinese had relocated its Khasa population which had actually emerged because of the Kodari trade.
A system that fails to secure promised earthquake relief funds because of its unaccountable behaviour with such disbursed funds can hardly attract private funds when local businessmen fail to see benefits in investing in the country. A system that organizationally rewards a politics which deliberately destroys painstakingly endeavored precious development infrastructure can hardly convince investments from entering the country with the lure of profit. There is this thing about tourism and water resources so conveniently and repeatedly flourished as areas for concentrated business investments and national earnings. But a lone immigration department under a Home Ministry which later allowed for a Department of Tourism was seen as more innovative in serving tourism interests than a spanking new tourism ministry and a development board as well. The travails of a very hard fought for Royal Nepal Airlines that brought Nepal tourists direct from Japan in the East to London in the West and its current route, performance and fleet status as Nepal Airlines tells a poor story not only on the politics of commission cultures but also the calculated destruction of the strategic priority of civil aviation in land-locked, mountainous Nepal. It is the same on hydel resources; the latest demonstration is that in the Arun project for which the terms granted an Indian government owned company could easily have been picked up by willing Nepali investors. And we are talking of economic development. No, for us, economic development will be asked to mean an increase in the number of vehicles with number plates not in the Nepali alphabets and numbers and in colors foreign to us. These can be masked as products of the commission culture but their designs are nefarious since they are so peculiarly similar to the ones across the border down south.
To conceive that at this stage we are attempting a rewrite of our treaty with India should baffle any foreign policy expert who has assessed our current political capabilities well. Why am I not surprised if discussions at the eminent persons meet delving on the treaty should broach the topic of Indian citizens being given the same rights as Nepali citizens in Nepal if floated by Indian participants?
Of course, nothing else having had to serve us well, we are now talking of agricultural development after having destroyed agricultural production and denuded the agricultural population with a politics that encourages the violation of sparse affordable security and now, the tampering of agricultural land types. We are virtually an open market for imports with no safeguards for national production where even the display of capital investment is vulnerable to political poaching. I am sorry, under Oli or not, this politics must go if we truly want economic development. But I am not the economist.