SPAM Combo’s Zany Adventures in Blunderland

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The quaint world of SPAM ‘loktantrik’ governance was put on Full Monty last week for all and sundry to marvel at. It was reflected in umpteen interlocking developments on the ground as also in the glowing pearls of wisdom and glittering nuggets of political philosophy that spewed forth in refulgent glory from its leaderships’ ruddy lips.

For those who may have difficulty in putting it all together, allow me to do the honours and sketch the highlights of what may be termed the SPAM combo’s adventures in Blunderland – no less interesting, zany or instructive than those chronicled aeons ago by Lewis Carroll in his inimitable classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland!

Blunderland

Let us begin with Prime Minister Koirala’s out-of-the-blue outburst at Koirala Niwas in Biratnagar on 29 December telling a nonplussed assemblage of eager-beaver newsies that he was against the unlimited powers that have been accorded to the prime minister (naturally, by SPAM itself) in the interim constitution that was unveiled on the inauspicious day of Poush Ek, or 16 December.

In his own phraseology, reported by Himalayan Times, Koirala thundered: “These unlimited powers make the Prime Minister an autocrat. So, I’m not satisfied with this interim constitution – My dissatisfaction on this issue was the prime cause for delaying the promulgation of the interim constitution. However, it was inked by top leaders of the eight parties.”

Two particular aspects about that penetrating assessment by the prime minister are: one, that he himself signed the relevant document of behalf of his party; two, that despite that incandescent realisation it took him a full 13 days to make that mea culpa to the aam janata, now supposedly the real sovereign authority of this country.

From those two points, a few queries follow. Why did he, and the other seven party generalissimos, for instance, sign the document if it did not represent the distillation of the finest ideals of ‘loktantra” or the chimera of “total democracy”? Also, why has it taken so very long for the eight party bosses to put things right? After all, it was not only constitutionalists and politicos who had then figuratively cried out: holy murder.

If you’ll recall, even this commentator, in this space two weeks ago, pronounced as much, though he went on to add that the interim constitution, as it was sealed and signed by today’s octangular SPAM oligarchy, is designed, equally, to consolidate its monopoly on political power, in the name of the ‘loktantra’ Holy Grail – before the denizens of this land have an opportunity to pronounce judgment on such a cozy in-house arrangement. To revert to the Alice in Wonderland analogy, the unfettered powers ascribed to the prime minister is reminiscent of “cunning old Fury’s” bombast: “I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury.”

Against the above backdrop, what appeared as another slice of Carroll’s memorable tale was NC (D)’s Sher Bahadur Deuba expressing the incredible view that “the Prime Minister’s powers have been curtailed in the interim statute.” (Himalayan Times, 30 December.)

Note must also be taken, I believe, of UML stalwart Jhalnath Khanal’s startling disclosure to a gaggle of lawyers that “several points which were finalised at the meeting in Baluwatar were missing the next morning” – without specifying what exactly they were (yes, even in this age of assumed ‘loktantrik’ transparence in politics and governance).

Taken together with media reports, including in the Left-leaning Sanghu vernacular weekly, that four persons, speaking Hindi and English, had had unrestricted access to Baluwatar when the drafting of the interim was at a crucial stage, there is clearly much to wonder, even worry, about the direction this country constitution is taking and who, after all, are its real helmsmen.

Shouldn’t the advocates of ‘loktantra’ supposedly working overtime in the fashioning of a ‘new Nepal’ come clean on this and other serious lapses of national security and infringement of sovereignty that have wittingly or unwittingly been committed since they have taken charge of the affairs of state?

On another plane, shouldn’t the ‘international community’, the UN not excluded, take sombre note of the weird twists and turns that governance in Nepal has been taking particularly since the April mass movement?

In Sickness and in Health

Another bizarre tale hangs around the prime minister’s state of health, for long a subject of debate, speculation and open guess-work. If a report in the state-controlled Rising Nepal (1 January) is any guide, the geriatric prime minister is ‘perfectly fine.’ Yet, if that be the case, left unexplained is why, then, a spate of media reports, print and broadcast, reported out of Biratnagar on 31 December that his busy programme of activities for that day was abruptly cancelled.

In sum, those reports, sometimes quoting sister-in-law Nona Koirala sometimes aide Shekhar Koirala, indicated that he developed problems in his digestive and respiratory system for which he had to be kept on ventilator since the morning of that day.

A more explicit report (Kathmandu Post, 1 January) quoting an attending physician Dr Narayan Kumar disclosed that Koirala suffered from an attack of diarrhea. He also indicated that his patience’s blood had been dispatched to Dharan for tests, while others close to the premier stated that his illness was due “mainly” to cold.

Doubtless, more will be known about the prime minister’s state of health by and by. At the time of penning this column, however, it may be mentioned that his senior party colleague Ram Chandra Poudel, speaking at a Kathmandu forum, admitted that Koirala’s “age factor” had played a prominent role in all-party meetings, in the drafting of the interim constitution and in the cabinet (Himalayan Times, 29 December.)

Incidentally, like Deuba, he too, did not consider that the interim constitution rendered the prime minister too-powerful. As he put it, making the prime minister powerful was the need of the hour. All of which makes for strange reading, particularly in the light of Koirala’s own admission, a day later, that the interim statute made the prime minister an autocrat!

Could it be that, as this analyst had in fact indicated two weeks ago, the would-be inheritors of Koirala’s prime ministerial mantle, including Deuba and Poudel, were actively in favour of according such powers, as they saw themselves as possible beneficiaries given the prime minister’s fragile health, his advanced age and frequent bouts of ill-health?

Search for Scapegoats

Another Alice in Wonderland parallel in the contemporary political landscape are reminders of the “sentence first, verdict afterwards” craziness that Carroll depicted so well in his classic work. The very same attitude comes across in Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula’s reckless charge that “regressive forces” were behind the mayhem of Nepalgunj’s two-day of rioting last week. In his view, it was part of a conspiracy to foil the CA poll.

His political boss’ take on the issue was markedly different. Indeed, commenting on it in Biratngar Prime Minister Koirala stated merely that it was “an eye-opener”, that it could put the nation’s existence in jeopardy (Himalayan Times, 29 December), and that it should not allow “regressive forces to raise their heads” (Rising Nepal, 29 December).

Even more significant was Koirala’s implicit criticism of the Sadbhavana Party (Anandi) which had called for a Terai bandh which led to the spiral of events that triggered the riots. Thus, when asked whether it was due to the actions of a political party that is a constituent of the SPA government, Koirala, carefully measuring his words, said: “Please do not ask this question at the moment. I do not want to blame anyone.”

However, one does not have to be a professional soothsayer to assert that the “blame” for the riots and other equally unpleasant events elsewhere, including clashes between the people of the hills and the Terai, lies squarely embedded in the politics of communalism, ethnicity and separatism that SPA have so energetically embraced, perhaps to ensure that the Maoists, the original proponents of the concept of autonomous ethnic regions and related issues, do not singly benefit that grouping at the time of the polls.

Surely, the “regressive forces” – today’s convenient whipping boy – cannot be responsible for the continuing clashes elsewhere in the Terai between the hill and plains people, for the tension and ill-will now evident between the JMTT and the Maoists as well as that between Hindus and Muslims in the Nepalgunj area.

The government must clamp shut or come forward with irrefutable evidence, preferably independently established, of responsibility before making such a transparent move to divert attention from its own failings by accusing “regressive elements.” Such charges will, simply, not fly anymore.

For whatever its worth, American Ambassador James F Moriarty asked about such charges, on return from a Christmas break in America, disclaimed its credibility merely saying that he was sorry that such developments had taken place.

Business as Usual

Meanwhile, the merry-go-around of conflicting words and assurances between the Maoists and the SPA government continues to whirl full speed. A brilliant example of the same is to be found not only in continuing Maoists activities of extortion, work stoppage, and intimidation but also in its opposition to the redeployment of police posts, a must if CA polls are to be held.

In fact, even as Prime Minister Koirala was telling reporters in Biratnagar that Prachanda had agreed, in a telephone conversation with him, that police posts that had been closed down could be re-opened, at least five policemen were injured when Maoists beat up unarmed policemen at a recently restored police post in Nawalparasi (Kathmandu Post, 30 December.)

Even more significant perhaps was the statement put out by Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara the following day countering Koirala’s claim that an agreement had been reached with the Maoist supremo on re-establishing police posts displaced during the insurgency. Mahara told Kantipur TV point blank that no such agreement had been reached with Koirala. ( Kathmandu Post, 31 December.)

From the above account, is it inaccurate to claim that the SPAM combo continues to lurch unsteadily and dangerously into Blunderland as the nation heads into 2007 and, hopefully, peaceful and fair elections for the CA?

M. R. Josse is a writer on Nepal and the author of Nepal: Politics of Statemate, Confusion and Uncertainty and Nepali Politics 2002-03: Gotterdammerung, The Twilight of the Gods.