Curse of trilemma

May 31, 2017 01:00 AM Narayan Manandhar


Nepal’s trilemma is reflected in the concentration of all powers in our three major political parties

Nepal seems to be besieged by the curse of the trio. There is a saying in Newari Tin tika, maha bika, (‘an extreme misfortune happens with a trio’). This could be a height of madness but a retired palace secretary, in his memoir, had postulated the downfall of Nepal’s monarchy to an ominous trio—three princes getting married to three sisters from the same family. There are many interesting and equally intriguing trilemma we have been facing and it seems like we are obsessed with problems of three. 

The shape of the country may be rectangular but there are many triangular shaped mountains in Nepal. Even the geo-topography is, broadly, divided into three regions, namely, mountains, hills and Tarai plains. Administratively, the country is divided into five development regions, but what I see is that it is neatly packed into three: Eastern, Central and Western; we happened to have five simply because the last one is further divided into three—western, mid-western and far-western. Obviously, the country is landlocked but it is locked from three sides by India. Could this be mere coincidence? Let us dig further.

Our political fault lines follow this geo-topographic divide. The Janajatis dominate the mountains, the Bahuns/Chhetris dominate the Hills and the Madhesis dominate the Tarai plains. Each of these three groups comprises near one-third of total population. Janajatis represent ethnicity, Bahuns/Chhetris Hindu caste group and Madhesis regionalism. Caste, ethnicity and regionalism are the three factors underlying most political and social tensions in the country today. 

Trishul or trident is an important symbol in Hindu religion. It symbolizes three heavenly forces—Brahma (creator), Vishnu (protector) and Maheshwor (destroyer). It also symbolizes the three dimensions of time, namely, the past, the present and the future. For a devout Hindu, there exist three universes—the heaven, the earth and the hell. Weren’t we born into the world of trio-logy!

Added to the trilemma of geo-topography, demography and religion, we now have another trilemma in offing. This has to do with the rivalry between three branches of the state, namely, the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. We still have to wait where this triangular fight will lead us. 

Nepal’s trilemma is further reflected by the concentration of political power in three major parties: Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center). Currently, the Big Three hold 80 percent of the total (591) seats in parliament, with 35 percent going to Congress, 31 percent to UML and 14 percent to Maoists. The recently concluded first phase of local election, once again, proved that political power is concentrated in the Big Three. 

Directly or indirectly, the Big Three exert influence over each of the three branches of the state. The influence of Congress is most keenly felt on the executive, UML on the judiciary and the Maoist on the parliament. 

Currently, three ladies occupy the three top positions of the state and, interestingly, each has backing and blessing of one of the Big Three. There is simmering personality clashes between the three ladies. There is covert conflict between the President and the Speaker over the former’s delay in endorsing the appointment of the Parliament Secretary. 

The CJ impeachment motion and the court’s stay order against it have considerably cooled the relationship between the Speaker and the CJ. And now, as reported, the CJ’s dilly-dallying to administer oath of office to the newly appointed Chief of the CIAA could have spoiled relationship between two more ladies. Definitely, there is a woman behind every successful and unsuccessful man but let us not hope the converse is also true. By the way, ladies are supposed to be good at handling conflicts. 

Trilemmas also exist in all political parties, big or small. Within each party there are factions tilting towards left, right and center of the ideology. Congress has at least three big factions headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba, Ram Chandra Paudel and Krishna Sitaula. CPN-UML is virtually headed by the leadership of trio of KP Oli, Madhav Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal. In the Maoist Party, before its split, there were three factions headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Mohan Baidya and Baburam Bhattarai. Still, Dahal is far from exerting total control over the party. Dissenting voices can be heard, time and again, from Narayan Kaji Shrestha and others.

Even Madhesbadi political parties are not spared the curse of trilemma. The three protesting leaders—Upendra Yadav, Mahanta Thakur and Rajendra Mahato—continue to occupy political spotlight. A similar phenomenon can be observed in other smaller political parties. It is far easy to solve a dilemma—you have a clear winner and a loser—but trilemma poses a different layer of complexity. This is perhaps the reason why we are in such a deep political mess. 

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