State of the nation The inevitable is happening

Aditya Man Shrestha

We are bogged down in the choice of a prime minister as if the prime minister is the most important factor in our national life. If it were so, the choice of Lokendra Bahadur Chand as prime minister in 2002 and of Surya Bahadur Thapa in 2003 would have solved the crisis we are in. Individually they had their good track records as prime ministers several times in the past. It is the unusual political and constitutional realities that proved them failures in the present mission. All they did was to prolong the status quo of a situation created by the inevitable royal takeover in October 2002. The basic status of the constitution since then has not changed. It means the kingpin continues to hinge on the Article 127 empowering the King in practice, if not in principle, to make a choice of a prime minister.

Having a free choice in appointing a prime minister should normally be construed as a matter of pleasure and privilege for the King. It is even claimed that it is something he cherished and got this choice after meticulous efforts. But it is not proving as salubrious a task as it appears. What looked so easy in this respect after the royal takeover in 2002 has turned out to be fairly difficult under the new developments. No matter how difficult it might be and how long time it will take, the problem of a prime minister cannot and should not detract the national anxiety over the Maoist problem and the need to address it on a priority basis.

The series of consultations the King held with the political leaders in groups and individually looked like an inevitable exercise in finding out an agreeable solution to get out of this impasse. But they so long turned out fruitless. The royal conversations with more than 300 prominent citizens at Gokarna looked like a sincere effort to gather public opinion. The purpose with which it was organised might be right but the methodology was wrong. To address in few sentences the serious problems of the country was humanly not possible nor is it plausible for the King to pay serious attention to them.

The interest and emphasis the palace demonstrated on public relations is correct but the way it was pursued was unprofessional, to say the least. Intention behind the Gokarna planning might be good but the action is not effective in fulfilling the objective in mind. If there were serious motivation to elicit opinions to address the national problems, the size of the crowd was too big and the duration of time available was too short and thus they were inappropriate. If it were meant to be yet another public-relations gimmick, it was highly successful. If it were to prop up the constructive role of monarchy, the exercise was too weak. But if it were to highlight the role a constitutional monarchy, it was irrelevant. Forming a new government is, in fact, no great deal. It can instantly be done by the King. However, finding a prime minister is definitely a great deal. It is because there is no parliament to elect one. It is further aggravated because the people are in no position to elect a parliament. So it is the King, and the King alone, who can appoint a prime minister thanks to Article 127 of the constitution.

What is holding the King, then, from deciding on a prime minister and the cabinet is not difficult to understand. The choice is pretty clear. One is to go by the agitating five-party version and appoint their nominee as the prime minister. That would be tantamount to conceding to the pressure they have built up by their movement over two months. Another is to appoint anyone of his personal choice and follow the previous patterns of selection of a prime minister. There is no doubt that the King would prefer the last one to the first choice. But, again, that will leave the whole situation where it was with the war and the agitation unabated.

While the delay in the formation of a new government will further harden the attitude of the political parties, it is bound to lead to some inevitable results. What is that? That is a situation in which you have no government when you need it the most. It is a time when Nepal needs a strong government to deal with not only the state of war but also the ravages of war. There are reports of mass abduction in hundreds and thousands, dislocation of villagers from their hearth and starvation spreading in the conflict-ridden mountains. Unfortunately what we are observing today is a caretaker government for three weeks that can take care of nothing.

The inevitable is coming. But what is that? That is, for sure, something unpleasant and unsavoury. What could it be? People are in suspense. They are worried. The upcoming protest programmes calling for closure of industries, commerce, educational institutions, and transportation and tourism agencies are staring us with all kinds of forebodings. Public life is up for disruption and is feared to come to a halt.

As if the man-made agitations are not enough to punish the Nepalis, the nature in the shape of pre-monsoon downpour and forthcoming seasonal rains is lending a helping hand to make it worse by destroying the highways with the regular supply lines severely hampered. The people of Kathmandu Valley are getting particularly disturbed by the inevitable hardship in carrying out their daily life in the coming days. The psychological fear the people are living in today is dangerous for any sensible ruler.Shrestha is co-coordinator, Volunteer Mediators Group for Peace