The art of claiming success and shifting the blame for failure is the staple of politics. With the demise of the Constituent Assembly without writing the constitution in four years, the art has reached its crescendo in Nepal.
It happens everywhere. For instance, President George Bush cut taxes for the wealthy, fought two wars on debt, pushed the US into a deep recession, and presided over the unprecedented expansion of government, and still got rewarded with reelection. President Barack Obama inherited all that mess from Bush, but Bush’s Republican Party is shifting the blame from their man to Obama. Who knows, the American people could very well punish humble Obama for Bush’s bravado and mistakes, denying him the second term, come November this year.
The blame game has come in fast and furious in Nepal. Half an hour before the assembly dissolution at midnight of May 27, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, a Maoist ideologue, accused the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML for failing to agree on federalism while announcing fresh elections scheduled for November 22, 2012. His party boss, Prachanda, echoed his words the following day.
On the other hand, NC and UML castigated the Maoists for breaking the package agreement on federalism, the system of government and the constitutional court; letting the assembly dissolve; and announcing fresh elections unconstitutionally. Leaving the other issues aside, the call for fresh elections, while absolutely necessary, was indeed made unconstitutionally. There is no provision in the Interim Constitution for calling new elections for the Constituent Assembly.
While leaders from other political parties have not publicly hauled the Madheshi Morcha over the coal, they privately blame the Morcha for becoming a deal breaker. They say, after the Hill Janajatis agreed to creating states carrying ethnic and non-ethnic names dashed together, only the Morcha’s insistence on “One Madhesh one Pradesh” stood between the new constitution and no constitution.
How do the ordinary people see it? They are disgusted with politicians of all stripes in general and senior leaders from the big parties/political groups in particular. Never before have Nepali politicians dipped so low in public perception.
Facebook is full of pictures of senior leaders garlanded with dirty shoes. Some pictures show these leaders in situations that are beyond the pale of decency. Online blogs and discussion forums are full of vitriol as well. In one of the decent comments, someone wrote that the CA members must be forced to pay back the nine billion rupees they have taken as their salaries and allowances in the last four years.
Nepalis are particularly enraged with the Big Three—the Maoists, the Nepali Congress and the UML—and the Madheshi Morcha for haggling constantly over power rather than focusing on the constitution.
In an opinion poll in e-kantipur.com, 62 percent blamed the Maoists for the assembly’s failure to promulgate a constitution, followed by the NC at 20 percent, UML by 10 percent and the Madheshi Morch by 8 percent, as of the morning on May 29, 2012. Although this e-poll does not represent the ordinary people living in far-flung parts of Nepal with no access to the internet, it does show how people living in urban areas view the fiasco.
Constituent Assembly members have their own axe to grind with the senior leaders of the Big Three and the Morcha for hijacking the negotiations on key issues like federalism and the system of government from the assembly’s floor to Singh Durbar, Baluwatar, five star hotels, and even private homes of senior leaders. On 27 May, they chanted slogans against the leaders at the assembly for keeping them out of the negotiations and allowing the assembly to die without a constitution.
The NC and the UML believe that the Maoists have created this situation because they have never walked away from their goal of capturing the state and imposing their dictatorial will on Nepal. If you go by Prachanda’s Shaktikhor video speech of January 2, 2008, in which he describes his strategy to capture the state by fooling other political parties, you realize that the Maoists are meticulously pursuing their goal even today. And the whole saga of the constituent assembly, from its rise to fall, seems like coming straight from their old strategy book.
In the video, Prachanda says, the Maoists would block the elections for the constituent assembly until they are in a position to win, and the NC would not let them happen until it would feel secure to carry. They would integrate their combatants into the army and turn the army around in their favor. They would use the street and the constituent assembly to achieve the goal of proletariat dictatorship.
For whatever reasons, the NC allowed the CA elections to go forward and let the Maoist become the largest party. Only recently, Prachanda quoted a NC leaders telling him that it was not the combatants that were integrated into the army but the army was merged with the combatants. When the CA did not give what they wanted, the Maoists prompted its cadres and its supporters in other parties to force the assembly die.
According to newspapers, Devendra Paudel, Prime Minister Bhattarai’s adviser, hinted that the prime minister was mulling over the CA’s election days before the assembly expired. If that is true, then it is clear that the assembly met its ugly fate without accomplishing its obligation, not because of the evolving circumstances, but because the Maoists created circumstances to evolve as they did, so they could go one step further to realize their ultimate goal.
To this extent, the Maoists were successful in their strategy. They have driven a wedge between the Hill Aryans on one side and the Madheshi Aryans and Hill and Terai Janajatis on the other by falsely promising ethnic states and autonomy. Which communist regime in the world has respected and defended the human rights and fundamental freedoms of minorities? Communist leaders promise autonomy to minorities to capture power but, once in power, they deprive all citizens of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
PM Bhattarai has, by calling the next election without consulting the president, created a casus belli with the president, who told the prime minister through a press release that his government was only a caretaker one. The Maoists are likely to make this and the reinstatement of General Rukmangad Katuwal, fired by Prachanda, rallying cries all the way to the next election. While November 22 may or may not survive as the election day through intense negotiations for the next government, a fresh mandate is inevitable.
Political parties are already eying the next election with their own calculations and expectations. Because the people have been so polarized on the issue of federalism, the election outcome could be totally unexpected and some of those who are now elated about the next election could come to grief.
Bhattarai and Prachanda have already called on people to give their party a two-thirds majority to write the constitution that meets their goal. The Maoists will try to win ethnic votes on the card of ethnic states and use their money and muscle—YCL and former combatants—to extract support from the majority groups. But they are unlikely to gain the same strength in the next election as in the previous one.
The Maoists may expand their support this time among Hill Janajatis who favor ethnic federalism, if Janajati parties do not emerge strongly. But they will lose the votes of those in the hills and Terai who support non-ethnic federalism to the NC and the UML. In the Terai, the Madheshi parties may collectively acquire more strength, thanks to their demand for Madheshi states and Indian money and influence. Now other parties also have their muscles in their youth organizations. The only relatively secure support base for the Maoists could be the Hill Dalits.
Predicting political outcomes so in advance of the election is more difficult than predicting weather. But the bottom line is this: Whichever party proves its dexterity in using the art of claiming success and shifting the blame for the CA fiasco could come out winner.