Up, down, round and round

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By Maila Baje

It looks like Ram Chandra Poudel has really had it with Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The Nepali Congress vice-president has almost begun attributing the nation’s precarious plight to the sordid mental faculties of Dahal, or something like that.

At a personal level, Poudel probably resents Dahal for having blocked what he considered his easy ascent to the premiership a couple of years ago. Over a dozen rounds of balloting in the last constituent assembly to succeed Jhal Nath Khanal, Poudel diligently soldiered on against the Maoist chairman.

When another Maoist got that job, Poudel described his valiant stand as one that saved the democratic process. But deep down, he probably is still convulsed by bouts of politicianitis: an obsession with how he could have done things better than Baburam Bhattarai and how the country lost out.

Dahal, for his part, has become increasing acerbic in holding Poudel responsible for the current deadlock. The Maoist chairman obviously ranks the Nepali Congress VP, although a decade older, as his most formidable rival in that party going head. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala had entered his twilight even before entering Singha Darbar.

Sher Bahadur Deuba has the ‘doubly incompetent’ tag around him that his rivals will ensure outlasts the monarchy. With the Koirala clan embroiled in a bitter succession struggle, Poudel boasts a formidable record in the party that the country might want to test in the premiership.

For now, the bone of contention is the 1990 Constitution. Dahal has accused Poudel of conspiring to reinstate that document. Poudel has fought back, saying he never meant restoring the status quo ante.

The 1990-2006 system did not fail, the Nepali Congress VP explained in a recent newspaper interview. “If we are still trying to produce a constitution written by leaders, even after having elected representatives for that explicit purpose, then what’s so bad about the 1990 statute?” Let’s just remove the monarchy, add federalism and inclusiveness and everybody go home.

Now, Poudel knows that even if every party inside the assembly amended the 1990 Constitution to the point where it would be the founding document of a one-party Maoist state, it would still not be acceptable to Dahal.

The Nepali Congress VP thinks he stands on strong ground. His party abandoned its demand for a constituent assembly for a good reason in the late 1950s. B.P. Koirala calculated that even if King Mahendra got the constitution he liked, he certainly would not get the parliament he wanted. B.P. was correct – up to a point. But, then, geopolitics was not his strong suit. The mercury had barely begun falling on the Cold War thermometer. It would take years of incarceration and exile for Nepal’s first democratically elected prime minister to figure out what really hit him on that cold winter mid-morning in 1960.

For political convenience, Poudel still has to hold King Mahendra solely responsible for the demise of Nepal’s first experiment with democracy. But he recognizes the staying power of geopolitics. In the grand scheme of things, what Nepal and Nepalis desire may not conform to what our two powerful neighbors and others beyond want us to have. During their insurgency, the Maoists promised too many things to too many constituencies without recognizing that core reality. If the ex-rebels are struggling to keep at least some of those promises, then that’s their problem.

So here goes the Nepali Congress again: It is actively participating in the constituent assembly because it believes in the democratic process. If that process fails, you can’t blame the party because it was the first to come out with the Pandora’s Box Theory of Constitutionalism. Dahal, then, would find himself in the ranks of Kings Mahendra and Gyanendra.

If the Maoists, somehow recognizing reality as well as their responsibility to history, give accede to a consensus document, it will have been so because the Nepali Congress exercised excruciating moral pressure. And if that document were to fail, the Nepali Congress would just mount the next struggle for democracy.

Source: People’s Review Weekly