Saturday, December 09, 2006

Nepal's Road to Another New Constitution

Read Nischal Nath Pandey's article on NepalNews yesterday. He talked about the "Constitution Making Process in Nepal." It was generally a good piece of writing and I had to agree with Mr. Pandey on most of his tenets.

However, as far as the success or failure of the constitution goes, it's all about changing the mindset. We have heard the same SPA leaders say over and over again that the 1990 constitution was the best in the world. Now that same constitution is a failure. So the question is, did the constitution fail or did the politicians fail the constitution? And, if it is the latter, what guarantee do we have that the same politicians will not fail the new constitution?

Keshav Poudel had a nice piece, also on NepalNews (reprinted from Spotlight), about Nepal's Constitutional journeys.

It seems to me as if everyone is worried about Nepal, except Nepalis. The Indians are worried, the Americans are worried as are the Brits and the people at the UN. And all we do is ask those external players what we need to do. In such a scenario, what is there to convince us that the SPAM leadership will not use the new constitution as a means for them to deflect their prior mistakes and massive errors of judgment?

Constitution is just a piece of paper. What makes it work is an inherent belief in its spirit and fundamental values of good governance. The big questions is does SPAM know that. Their past actions make me believe that they don't care. However, for the sake of Nepal and the Nepali people, I hope that they have learned from the past.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The New Nepali National Anthem

राष्ट्रिय गान
सयौं थूंगा फूलका हामी, एउटै माला नेपाली
सार्वभौम भइ फैलिएका, मेची-महाकाली ।

प्रकृतिका कोटी-कोटी सम्पदाको आंचल
वीरहरुका रगतले, स्वतन्त्र र अटल ।

ज्ञानभूमि, शान्तिभूमि तराई, पहाड, हिमाल
अखण्ड यो प्यारो हाम्रो मातृभूमि नेपाल ।

बहुल जाति, भाषा, धर्म, संस्कृति छन् विशाल
अग्रगामी राष्ट्र हाम्रो, जय जय नेपाल ।
No matter what your political affiliations are, you have to agree with me on one thing. The new national anthem of Nepal is indeed a masterpiece. Within 46 words, the poet has successfully encompassed everything that Nepal is about – the history, the people and the geography.

Byakul Maila should be commended for producing this masterpiece. I have to admit that when I first heard about the new Nepali national anthem being selected, I took it as another politically motivated decision and the end product would be crappy. But kudos to the selection committee as well. This is a very well-balanced writing.

Many, including myself, will be sad to see Sriman Gambhir go. I don’t care much about the words, but the tune was good and was something I grew up humming. And when I think of the Nepali national anthem, that will probably always be the first tune that comes to mind. But part of that sadness is the paradigm that is set in my mind. If I step out of it and think openly, the current words are much more meaningful to us as Nepalis, than the previous ones. Nepal is definitely not about the king and monarchy alone. It is about Nepal and the Nepalis.

You have to appreciate something that deserves to be appreciated. The new Nepali national anthem has excellent wordings. It will be interesting to see what kind of melody and music will give it the final form. If the composer does as good a job as the poet, we have ourselves a great national anthem.

Updated - October, 2007: Not only does it read great, the evergreen Amber Gurung has done full justice to the musical composition as well. I personally think it was not necessary to repeat the first two lines, but it sounds great! See for yourself:

Saturday, November 25, 2006

All we are saying is give peace a chance

I am writing again after a long hiatus. Couldn’t keep on commenting about the current situation in Nepal. For whatever it is worth…

Alright, the peace accord is signed and Nepal is headed for a peaceful future. Good news. If indeed the Nepali people get what they want (which I assume is peace followed by prosperity) I will be as pleased and content as any other Nepali. But the big question is, will we get what we want?

Certain things provide reasons to be concerned about the eventual outcome of the peace deal. While those in charge are willing to forget the 13,000 lives that were lost during the insurgency, they seem to be extremely vigilant about the 23 lives lost during Jana Andolan II. Pardon me if I come across as naïve and clueless, but those numbers do not add up for me.

The SPA leaders are extremely vocal about the corrupt practices of the royal government. And they are perhaps right about certain corrupt practices. But we also hear about Govinda Raj Joshi and Khum Bahadur Khadka being given “clean chits” by the courts. And the same “parliamentarians” that were charged about impeaching judges remained mute about these acquittals.

The general mood of everyone political has been to shift all the blame of Nepal’s misfortunes to the king and monarchy. Is that really true? Now I don’t mean that the king was guiltless. His idiotic steps messed up things really bad and hurt the very institution that he set about strengthening. But how are we to believe that simply doing away with the king and kingship will get Nepal heading in the right direction? When people like Narahari Acharya claim that monarchy is the greatest obstacle to peace, do they seriously believe that monarchy was responsible for 13,000 deaths?

Are the politicians talking about a republican setup in Nepal after thorough analysis or only as a means to deflect all the blame to the weakest party in the current situation? Are they out to kill the beast or simply cornering a cat? To say that they have no hand in what Nepal went through during the last 15 years is grossly disrespecting the rights, sentiments and dignity of the Nepali people. So, while the SPA politicians bask in the glorious role as peacemakers they should also spend time thinking about the best course of action.

I, for one, believe that the situation in Nepal is still volatile albeit a lot less than a few months ago. Therefore we cannot afford to fan the chaos by blindly removing a power source from the equation. If the politicians do what they are supposed to, then the institution of monarchy will automatically be rendered redundant. In fact, had the SPA leaders done their jobs right in the post 1990 Nepal, the redundancy would probably start to become obviously by now.

Hence, instead of wasting time in witch hunting and creating more chaos, people like Madhav Kumar Nepal and other SPA leaders should spend more time democratizing their own parties, weeding out corrupt leaders, and think about ways to make Democracy II more successful. If the soon-to-be-elected Constituent Assembly decides to get rid of monarchy altogether, so be it. But the need of the hour now is to ensure that the Constituent Assembly elections are free and fair, and that people get to vote with their free will without any intimidation from any sides.

Long live Nepal. May peace prevail…

Friday, June 09, 2006

Of People and Politicians

"Will of the people" is a very common term these days. Everything that the SPA is doing is supposedly according to the people's wishes. In fact the SPA is so enamored with acting as per the "aspirations of the people" that they are ignoring the long term impact of their actions.

A strong democratic system has to have three well grounded pillars—the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. As the final interpreter of the constitution, the judiciary is perhaps the most important part of any democratic system. It is vitally important that this important arm is independent and is run by highly competent judges.

Another concept in democracy is the separation of powers. The three branches of government cannot be mashed together in the name of national consensus or "people's aspirations." The concept of separation of powers is an important check and balance against any branch becoming too radical and abusing its authorities.

The SPA apparently has a myopic view about the fundamental tenets of democracy. By mandating the judges take their oaths in the parliament, they are not only blatantly disregarding democratic principles, but also giving an impression of "be all, do all."

What kind of precedent does these kinds of hasty decisions set? Have the SPA parliamentarians thought about the long-term? Or are they so busy fulfilling people's aspirations that they don't have time to reflect on their past mistakes and work towards not repeating them in the future?

And this whole idea of people's will seems to be more and more of a rhetoric than a clear mandate. Who knows for sure what the people want? I have said it before—in a democratic system, the voice of the people is heard through the ballots. These SPA members elected nine years ago hardly represent the people. And to be taking such radical steps in the name of people's wishes is sheer lunacy.

But again, it is right for us to expect good things from the same people who have failed us in the past? Leaders have to earn trust which is their mandate to work for the people. But if they work to make themselves supreme, where do the people stand?

Monday, May 22, 2006

On the HoR Proclamation

The House of Representatives in Nepal passed a “historic” proclamation last week. Time will tell how historic it is, but for now it has to be seen as a major decision.

The King’s Blunders
In a famous Hindi movie, the merciless villain Gabbar Sing reminds hapless villagers that only one person can save them from his wrath—khud Gabbar (Gabbar himself)! In the April uprising of Nepal, only one person was ultimately responsible for the massive decline in popularity of the Nepali monarchy—the monarch himself.

The king surrounded himself with bad people and paid the price. All this while he was constantly talking about “swachha chhabi.” Even when he took over direct rule, many Nepalis were willing to give him a chance. People were sick and tired of violence and constant abuse of the system by everyone. No matter what his intentions were (and whether he had any good intentions is now questionable), king Gyanendra’s utmost priority should have been to project an image of reform and a system of governance based on accountability, integrity and strong democratic norms. It’s hard to imagine that a team with people like Kamal Thapa, Jagat Gauchan, Sharad Chandra Shah and Niranjan Thapa, would ever give that impression.

The Proclamation
There isn’t much room to disagree with some of the tenets of the proclamation. However, there is no mention of issues (i.e. corruption and lack of strong democratic norms) that are equally, if not more, responsible for plunging Nepal into the current state of mess. As it is worded, the proclamation gives the impression that it was the king who is at fault for everything. Is that really the case? Are the politicians unwilling to take responsibility for anything? Like I have said over and over again, the king’s moves would be extremely unlikely, if not outright impossible, had the leaders succeeded in garnering the support and trust of the general population.

Another issue that is untimely and unnecessary under the present context is turning Nepal into a secular state. Not once did I see people on the streets demanding secular Nepal. People were mostly upset about the lack of progress on the peace front seemingly declining everyday situation in Nepal. Is Hinduism to be blamed for Nepal’s crisis? Why the issue of secularism before corruption? Did the people march on the streets asking for a secular Nepal?

Besides, isn’t Nepal status as a nation an issue that is decided by all Nepalis rather than by a parliament that is defunct for all practical purposes? After all the last elections were held over eight years ago, and the ground realities are much different now.

The army is said to be freed from the king’s clutches. This is fine on paper. But politicizing the army and making it run on the whim of the defense minister or other politicians will be death wish for Nepalis. After all the army is the only obstacle to stop a full-fledged takeover of Nepal by the Maoists.

And, in the absence of context, what is the law of our land? Since when did parliament become bigger than the constitution? Remember, this is an opportune time to start from a fresh slate. What happens now could have long term repercussions. The politicians should be mindful of not setting precedence that will hurt the building of democratic culture in Nepal. Things need to be done the right way, not in a haste that reeks awfully like a locomotive fueled by vendetta rummaging through the political scenario.

If this proclamation is challenged at the Supreme Court, what is the court expected to look at? Is it appropriate for laws to nullify the constitution? Isn’t it the other way round? And the way parliamentarians are going around threatening judges of impeachment should they go against the people will, what direction are we heading towards? Isn’t an independent and strong judiciary a fundamental requirement of lively democracy?

Learn your Lessons
So far everything appears to have been driven by the Maoist agenda. What has the government received in return? Are the Maoists willing to stop their extortion spree that has become more rampant in the weeks since parliament was restored?

A big debate is going on about the suppression of the people’s movement which saw 22 people lose their lives. However, there seems to be no talk about the 13,000 dead directly as a result of the Maoist rebellion. Is this kind of double standard going to be the norm now?

Lots of mistakes have been made, especially since the 1990 popular movement, that has stifled the growth of a vibrant democratic system in Nepal. The need now is to sift through those mistakes and figure out ways of not repeating them. Acting in haste to quell immediate voices of decent is not as important as starting to build a deep-rooted democratic culture that is self-sustained and immune to attack from any person or institution that is driven by personal agendas.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Election or Consensus?

This whole issue of consensus just drives me nuts. On one hand, we talk about democracy and democratic culture, institutions etc. etc. And on the other hand we always seem to be bogged down by this whole idea of “consensus decision.”

Now don’t get me wrong. Consensus is not necessarily a bad thing. Understanding and accounting for everyone’s voices is important. But in a democracy, the voice of the ballot is far stronger than the voice of consent. And when we are consistently pursuing consensus, we lose the vibrancy and active participation that democracy guarantees.

I won’t even talk about the pre-2001 days when consensus was used as a means to postpone serious discussions rather than to genuinely arrive at a unified decision.

Let’s take the election of the speaker for instance. The seven party alliance apparently tried very hard to make Subash Nemwang the “consensus choice.” Fine. But that effort simply delayed Nemwang’s assumption of office. With the Nepali Congress and the UML supposedly behind Nemwang, why not simply have an election and elect him? If nobody decides to run against him, then fine, he’s the unanimous selection.

We’ve seen a similar culture within party-politics where the leaders are so bent on presenting a “consensus candidate” that what the party members really want is usually suppressed under the opinions of “senior” leaders.

Democracy is based on the electorate choosing their representatives—no matter how big or small the destination is—parliament, city council, school board etc. There should be a consensus on only one issue and that is the election schedule. And if there is only one candidate, so be it. We have an unopposed winner!

Shying away from elections can very well mean ignoring the will of the people, be it the general population, party cadres, or any given group. Consent is good only up to a certain point. Serious issues require serious steps and there no action more serious or inclusive than an election.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Democracy is not Merely a Brand

The post-1990 democratic era saw the raping of democracy by the very people who were trusted by Nepalis to establish a transparent democratic system in Nepal. These netas left no stones unturned to cling to power and abuse their power.

When it came to benefiting from a certain move, they did not even hesitate to involve the palace in decisions where the king had no constitutional role. Case in point—the house dissolution recommendation of Manmohan Adhikari and the ensuing squabbles.

In any case, on February 1, 2005, king Gyanendra became the latest attacker to the constitution. But what we must not forget is that had the netas done their jobs right, the king would not have the guts to mess with democracy and the constitution.

Did the king make a mistake? Certainly!

Is the king and the institution of monarchy solely responsible for the mess Nepal is in right now? Absolutely not! He's played his part and the latest mess is probably all because of his doings, but in no way is the king solely responsible for what Nepal has gone through in the last decade and a half.

So what is my point?

My point is that we have not heard a single word of remorse or self evaluation from the leaders, who are currently too busy deflecting all the blame to the king and the palace. Like I said, yes, the palace is at fault, but shouldn't the citizens of Nepal have the opportunity to be reassured by the netas that what went on between 1990 and 2004 will not happen again?

What we don’t want is the politicians committing blunders with mid- to long-term repercussions, all in the haste of “providing an outlet to the current crises facing the nation.”

At the very list, the politicians should clearly and concisely answer the following three questions:
  1. What plans do they have to ensure transparent governance based on meritocracy, integrity and accountability?
  2. How do they propose to ensure that the planned constituent assembly elections will be fair and be conducted without any threats or “civil-actions” by the Maoists?
  3. What will happen to the leaders who engaged in massive corruptions while they were members of the post-1990 governments?

Debate along these lines are crucial to allay the concerns of those Nepalis who are suffering from the JJAPKC syndrome (jun jogi aaye pani kaanai chireko). We should not forget that the post-1990 experimentation with democracy failed because of lack of vision and planning necessary to build strong institutions. We should not be making the same mistakes again and simply hope that the brand “democracy” will take care of everything.

This is our country and we should help change it. As Gandhi once said, “the spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.”

Monday, April 17, 2006

Chronicles of Misfortunes

Let’s go back to 1990. A massive wave of people marching on the streets compelled King Birendra to relinquish absolute power and give way to democracy.

All throughout the people’s movement of that year, and a few months into the interim government’s time we heard a great deal about how evil and corrupt the pancheys, mandaleys and royalists were. People were really fed up with the system, and deservedly so.

So guess how many people from the Panchayat days were punished or faced jail time after the re-emergence of democracy in Nepal? 0, zero, zilch, nada. Why? Well the leaders would make you believe that they were showing their magnanimous sides—forgive and forget. Or, they would give you the laharo tanda paharo (domino effect) theory and refuse to dwell on the issue.

Yet, we kept hearing the new politicians blame the old ones for all the misfortunes and difficulties facing Nepal.

The primary reasons that people wanted to get rid of Panchayat—corruption, nepotism, non-transparent governance and lack of meritocracy—all went on as if nothing had changed. Even the concept of freedom was murky at most times. Newly emerging free press of Nepal reported that more people were killed by the state during the first tenure of Girija Prasad Koirala than during the entire Panchayat rule.

Yes, people did get a chance to elect their “representatives,” who shamelessly played games with politics and took the voters for granted. The very MPs who rented out their Land Cruisers and Pajeros to third parties pretended to investigate the misuse of parliamentary benefits. Who received what ministerial portfolio appeared more important than chalking up strategies to steer Nepal towards the path of renewed progress and prosperity. RNAC was milked like a Holstein cow.

Was Panchayat really as bad as it was purported to be? Absolutely. But the democratic leaders were no better. Years spent in jail became a far more important qualification than academic credentials or experiential competence. By the middle of Mr. Koirala’s first tenure people were saying yo bhanda ta panchayat nai ramro (panchayat was better than this). Were they right? Probably not, but it was a clear testament of how the democratic leaders were failing the common people.

Does it appear that I am beating dead horses? Yes, but it is for a reason.