Missing statesmen


James Freeman Clarke, the 19th century American theologian, said that a politician thinks of the next election but a statesman of the next generation. Let me add something in the Nepal context: a stuntman thinks only of the next stunt and not of the whole show. The citizenry of Nepal are desperately searching for a statesman among their leaders. Sadly, there isn’t a single statesman in sight; rather several stuntmen capable of exceptional tricks have emerged. These stuntmen think only of next political ploy, not of next election, and definitely not of the next generation.

Missing Statesmen

Missing Statesmen

The recent adventures in the Constituent Assembly can qualify our politicians as stuntmen. If one group was good at breaking chairs, hurling microphones and screaming at the top of their voice, the other group outsmarted them by arraying more than 600 marshals in the CA, more than CA members. Allegedly, these marshals had come straight from the barracks. If that is true, it would be only the second time that the army was used against elected representatives after King Mahendra’s misadventure in 1962. Indeed, a daredevil stunt, but it could get even more daring if tomorrow someone more adventurous than Nembang gets to be CA Chair.

Another endless stunt is being executed by home minister Bamdev Gautam by his flip-flop with Dr CK Raut. One moment, he is caught and the next he is set free. Thanks to Gautam, Raut, who was struggling to assemble even a dozen souls, can now easily amass thousands. However, the best stuntman is proving to be KP Oli. His verbal aerobatics are legendry. Recently, he stunned everyone by an inventive rendition when he asked Madheshis who make more than one third of national population to go to UP and Bihar in search of federal provinces.

He also loves to invoke animals. He considers the Maoists, the biggest party in the previous CA, as ‘monkeys’ and his UML affiliates as ‘tigers’. He is audacious to throw an open challenge that if anyone provokes UML, there will be unthinkable consequences. Bravo! Isn’t that exactly what everyone expected from the man who instead of sitting in the opposition—as expected from the second largest party—allied with the NC to form the government in the guise of easing constitution-drafting?
On a serious note, CPN-UML has a questionable past. In 1980, when a momentum was built for a multiparty system through referendum, the UML hobnobbed with the king to continue the partyless panchayat regime. In 1994, when the 884 MW Arun III hydro project was nearly sealed, UML wrote to World Bank to cancel funding. Then in 1998, when the country was preparing to sign Mahakali Treaty to address energy crisis and facilitate irrigation, UML created havoc in parliament. Just recently, when the government and Asian Development Bank (ADB) finalized a consultant to formally launch a power project in Tanahu, the UML Energy Minister cancelled the process.

Now, even as there is still some scope for dialogue to forge consensus on new constitution, UML has decided to humiliate Madheshis, corner Maoists, disturb communal harmony and polarize the polity. However, in due course and on every occasion, UML has had to eat the humble pie. If not in 1980, Nepal got a multiparty system in 1990. If not in 1994, Nepal had a Power Development Agreement (PDA) for ARUN III in 2004; also, the Pancheshwor Multipurpose Project (PMP) to develop the Mahakali River has been resurrected. Needless to say, Minister Radha Gyawali had to backtrack on her decision on consultant selection for Tanahu power project. UML finds itself on the wrong side of the history on every critical juncture. Is the UML unable to see things in perspective or is it deliberately pushing the country toward instability, regression and chaos? There is an archaic expression; “Communism thrives when people are deprived.” Perhaps there are still a few takers of this in our country.

At this stage, I remember Girija Prasad Koirala. Despite a hundred flaws in his brand of politics, he had the guts to pull out Maoists from jungle; to launch the historical April Revolution to dislodge autocratic monarchy; to revive the Parliament and induct the Maoists; to invite UNMIN and put PLA fighters in cantonments; to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and formalize ceasefire, and above all, to successfully hold first CA elections. Also, when Madheshis, Janajatis and Tharus came out to protest, he demonstrated flexibility and streamlined discords by ensuring federalism, inclusion and proportional representation in Interim Constitution. These were all statesmen-like feats.

But what happened immediately after was another example of ‘stuntmanship’. After hitting an electoral jackpot, Prachanda made a backflip and going against his own words, refused to let Koirala be the President. And Prachanda is paying for it to this day.

After the failure of the first CA, it was expected that our politicians would learn something. Regrettably, the would-be statesmen have been reborn as stuntmen. It is common sense that the objective of a new constitution is to develop a legal framework to stabilize politics; create conditions for ethnic, communal and political coexistence; institutionalize a system for legitimate governments; institute affirmative action for marginalized and historically discriminated communities; and integrate all social groups and forces into a common vision of the Nepali nation-state.

That can be ensured only if the reasons behind Maoist insurgency, Madhesh revolt and Janjati and Tharu dissatisfaction are established and remedial measures charted in new constitution. If the stunts of our politicians continue, I fear, the country will be pushed back to early 1990s, reviving the danger of conflict all over again.

One shouldn’t forget; no constitution has ever survived without delivering on expectations of all the people. A constitution catered to whims of specific leaders, parties or ethnicities will create another source of conflict. Nepal has already had six constitutions; it doesn’t need one more for the heck of it. Durable consensus rather than numerical strength is the basis of peace and stability. For that, we need a statesman, not a stuntman.

The author is Executive President, Nepal Democracy Foundation (NDF)

jnishaant@gmail.com -

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