June 14, 2009
During the last month, there has been something unsettlingly familiar about the swift shifts of Nepal’s political winds.
The Maoists pulled the plug on their own government after only eight months in power. The second strongest party in Nepal, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) – UML, stepped in to form a coalition government with Madhav Kumar Nepal as its new Prime Minister. The Prime Minister named Bijay Kumar Gachhadar (of the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum – MPRF- party) as Deputy Prime Minister. Immediately after, the notion of a coalition was thrown into question: Upendra Yadav, Chairman of Madhesi People’s Rights Forum – the fourth strongest party in Nepal -- expelled the new Deputy Prime Minister Gachhadar from the party and withdrew MPRF support of the new government. The new Prime Minister also appointed two controversial figures for plum cabinet positions: Sujata Koirala (Nepal Congress party) as Foreign Minister and Kul Bahadur Khadka as the security advisor.
In the meantime, an endless succession of strikes plagued the nation. An underground Hindu fundamentalist army blew up the Catholic Church in Kathmandu, killing three and injuring many others. Acts of violence perpetrated by parties against other parties proliferated. A long-bitter border dispute between India and Nepal found new oxygen fanned by the shrill anti-India rhetoric of Maoist leaders Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai, who blamed India for destabilizing their administration -- just as Delhi police announced that Lashkar-e-Taiba, (the terrorist organization responsible for the November 2008 bombing of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai) had run a logistical hub that funneled dozens of jihadists through Nepal, thus renewing the debate of the dangers of a porous border, wherever and if ever that disputed border locks in on a concise demarcation.
For the last four dismal weeks it’s been hard to know which way to look. One sandstorm after another. The residual effect is not only to lose sight – sight of what Nepal’s main goals are – but also to blur the memory of Nepal’s major achievement of having conducted the 2008 elections.
And in the meantime, the most important role the Constituent Assembly has to play – to pen a new constitution by the May 28, 2010 deadline – is no closer to a working reality than when the recent Maoist regime fudged this prime obligation.
The overall impact is corrosive, both in terms of the peace process and the general morale of the people. Analysts are beginning to ask: Have we returned to the 1990s, when there was a different government annually, which accomplished little beyond each successive ruling power succeeding in feathering its personal nest? A ten-year insurgency rose out of that cynical and selfish brand of government. It’s mind numbing to think that -- after all the effort put into the 2006 peace accord and the morale-boosting 2008 elections – the political parties are now simply drifting back to the reprehensible habits of the 1990s “me-first” politics.
A few days ago, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR) voiced its concern that “the growing number of acts of violence by political parties and affiliated groups, and subsequent threats of retaliation, could threaten the peace process.” But who cares what the OHCHR has to say? Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has said that OHCHR´s role has become ineffective since it is more focused on politics than human rights violations. OHCHR will be gone by this autumn. Nepal has categorically turned down the OHCHR´s request to extend its term by three years.
Perhaps the country doesn’t require outside perspectives.
But the personal mirrors of Nepal’s politicians – from Prachanda, who blew a wonderful opportunity for rectification, to G.P. Koirala, whose dictatorial and dynastic bullying make a mockery of his professed love for democracy – their mirrors don’t seem to be providing much wisdom these days, and certainly no clarity.
Where does this leave the people of Nepal? Ashamed of their politicians, who can’t tear themselves away from their own reflections? Beginning to wonder if the future they envisioned when they walked to the polling booths last year was nothing more than an elaborate sandcastle peddled by the powerbrokers? Beginning to wonder if their participation in a “New Nepal” was not worth the hike to the next village?