Aditya Man Shrestha

Nepal reminds strange facts of history. The world suffered from Second Great War for over seven years in the middle of the last century followed by cold war for over four decades. They were two separate phenomena in two different periods. Nepal today is, tragically and paradoxically, in the midst of both wars. There is the state of hot war between the insurgents and the state; and the state of cold war between the political parties and the state.

In the initial years of the cold war, US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles popularised the term, brinkmanship, which meant the world was on the verge of another war. Thank God, there was no great war since then. But the fear of another big war lingered on until the downfall of communism in the Eastern bloc and the break-up of the Soviet Union into several independent states. Brinkmanship in that sense created a fear psychosis but averted the real disaster incumbent on such hostilities.

We observe a similar semblance of brinkmanship coming to stay in our national context in the relationship between the state and the political parties. The month-long public agitation launched by the five political parties provided a kaleidoscope of slogans, real and apparent. They ranged from a moderate demand for restoration of state power to the political parties to the radical measure of establishment of republicanism. It was difficult to ascertain which one was for real and which one was a gimmick.

The dichotomy is due to the game of brinkmanship that the political leadership of the big parties could not help playing. They would like to see republicanism come given the troubles and threats they face from the palace. But they dare not say so for fear of starting a hard struggle and protracted war like that of the Maoists. The younger generation of workers has given a clear articulation to this sentiment that is difficult to emulate and, more difficult, to immediately accept, for the older generation of leaders. This uneasy situation of brinkmanship is a fact of life to the detriment of the people.

A similar state of brinkmanship exists in the palace. King Gyanendra is not acting the way his public pronouncements indicated in the recent past. He wants greater power without spelling it out. The role he wants to play is still nebulous. He is indeed in a position to declare war against democracy and political parties. But he has not done so. There is a lot of public suspense over this brinkmanship.

It is, thus, obvious that brinkmanship has kept the political parties at bay from going all-out for republicanism and prevented the King from keeping the political parties totally out from the sphere of governance. That is the way a showdown of a fight to finish has so long been avoided. The release of a group of demonstrators and withdrawal of the prohibitory orders have not made a big change in the standoffish relationship between them. Brinkmanship has undoubtedly proved to be a stumbling block to the unlikely reconciliation of their relationship, leading to perpetuation of uncertainty. The state of uncertainly is as much dangerous as a confrontation of a fight to finish. The only hope we can hold out is the repetition of the global situation in our context, converting the state of brinkmanship into a state of peace without waging a war. There are several ways to convert both the hot and cold wars into concrete peace. The best way is to stop playing with the negative sides of the political forces and exploiting the weaknesses of their adversaries.

Monarchy has some recognised merits of national symbolism and embodiment of prestige. The institution commands traditional respect and obeisance from the people. An elected head of state is shorn of it. At best, it may take too long to develop. Monarchy might, however, suffer, on the other hand, from the demerits of a sense of power possessiveness. That is how the current situation is perceived, giving rise to public agitation in Nepal for over a year. What is necessary is to develop it as a modern and moderate institution within the framework of democracy.

The parties too have the merits of being flexible, popular and representative. However, they are vulnerable to misuse of power and personal greediness. It is good to see how the people can own them with high hopes and disown them when the leaders are found faulting. The bitter experience of the last 12 years of democratic practice has at least demonstrated the high sense of discretion and maturity of the Nepalis. There could be an effective check on misuse of power not only by constant surveillance over their performance but also by enforcing basic de-concentration of power.

The Maoists too command some merits of their own. They have inculcated revolutionary zeal against injustice and inequality. Their demerits lie in their indulgence in violence and spreading a state of terror. Their strength can be most effective in bringing about social and economic reforms that are the key to lasting peace and security in the country. When demerits come into play we get a hot and cold war. If, instead, we bring their merits into play we are assured of peace and progress. We need a political framework that keeps the high dignity of monarchy intact and lets the representatives of the people run the government with the spirit and drive of the rebels. Shrestha is coordinator, Volunteer Mediators Group for Peace and Conflict Resolution