Disputes galore: Undisputed question of national identity

Yesterday’s election in 58 municipalities is by far the most disputed poll in 58 years of electoral history of Nepal. It will go down in history perhaps as the weirdest exercise in Nepal’s democracy. What kind of poll is it that the autocrats are pressing and the democrats are rejecting; the government cheering and the people jeering? How come there are not enough people to contest the vacant seats? Why the candidates have to be huddled up by security forces as if they are criminals? Are they different from the anti-poll agitators taken into custody? Security was provided to the candidates as promised but they were denied an opportunity to go to the people. What a craze for withdrawing candidature from the contest under family or friends’ pressure! When we have difficulties in understanding the official madness for the polls, the future generation will certainly be at a loss to comprehend it in its true perspective.

Historians will have to explain the disputed polls in the broader context of greater national disputes of the day. The dispute over elections, albeit of local level, is the direct reflection of the larger disputes on many issues, including the highest political institution. It is, in fact, a shadow fighting between the diehard supporters and opponents of the King. The result of the polls is of no consequence. It is just a rehearsal of the bigger showdown ahead of us. Irrespective of its outcome, the royalist confrontation with the anti-royalist forces is bound to intensify. What is important is to underline the fact that monarchy, which was the least disputed before 2002, has made itself the most disputed institution of Nepal. Will the King be able to steer the raging controversy to a smooth landing? That is the key question staring at him. The municipal poll is indeed the initial stake on his roadmap. It is nothing but a lost and bizarre game.

What is more regrettable is that all the national institutions worth the name are under dispute. The political parties are suffering from marginalisation and agitation fever because of their own wrongdoings while in power. However, they have no longer anything to lose while on the roads. They are actually one step away from losing their existence. Until this Constitution remains, the political parties cannot be dismissed. But once the Constitution is thrown out, most likely under the royal dispensation, the parties can be banned as in the past.

The Maoists are also an equally disputed force, no matter how much power they are able to wield with the strength of the gun. They have resorted to the means of violence that they themselves do not justify in absolute terms. Instead, they express their helplessness in continuing violence under political and situational compulsions. The problem is that the people cannot look toward them as their redeemer.

It is the 1990 Constitution that should have resolved all political disputes. But, instead it has become the main butt of controversy. The irony is that the King who was not satisfied with the amount of power it has vested on him appears as its biggest supporter. The parties who were the most ardent supporters of the Constitution have turned its biggest opponents.

The Maoists were opposed to it all through. It is, therefore, out of question to look up to the Constitution for the resolution of the present crisis in Nepal.

Even the most undisputed institution of the state, the army, is no exception. The army says it is just obeying the orders of the government. To that extent, it stands unchallenged. But should it be loyal to the King personally or to the state alone is no longer an irrelevant question. Senator Leahy of the US is hammering this issue time and again. There is yet another aspect of debate on the role of the army. Has it not overstretched itself in civilian affairs going beyond its basic duty of safeguarding the state? That is the moot question the Indian ambassador, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, raised and justified, on this basis, the moratorium on arms supply to Nepal.

Among three branches of the government, the executive is by far the most controversial. The legislature is no longer existent. Even in its absence, it is caught in a sharp debate whether it should be revived or not. The last outpost of undisputed hope is the judiciary. But that too is not above criticism. The Supreme Court has come under criticism of the government as well as the political parties, lawyers and civil society. It means it no longer commands the respect that constitutes its strength, especially in a democratic system. Even the constitutional bodies dealing with corruption like the CIAA and RCCC are not immune to public dispute.

The only item left undisputed so long is the existence of Nepal and the identity of the Nepalis. How long will they remain so is the most worrying but plausible question. Can a small country survive in perpetual dispute? That is the question finally emerging from the disputes galore in our country.

Shrestha is co-coordinator, Volunteers

Mediators Group for Peace