Nepal is well and truly in transition with its unmanageable politics, unpredictable leaders and their unintelligible intentions. The most important political agreements take place behind closed doors.
There is severe trust deficit everywhere. Although one can always blame the transition for the mess we are in right now, a glance from a different vantage point would give us an unusual view of the whole platform.
From the autocratic Rana regime to the oppressive Panchayat, the tyrannical monarchy, corrupt multi-party democracy and the ‘half-hatched’ federal democratic republic, Nepal’s history has seen a sea of changes in the leadership but absolutely no change in the equation between people and the leaders.
Even after immense turmoil and seemingly binding changes, the same leadership pattern has been repeated. In the past, the revolutions under the banner of equality just established another set of leaders and system by overthrowing the old ones. It has been nothing but a mere power transition from one set of leaders to the other; never a social transition or movement of common people to upper echelons.
Political churning has only been about a change of leaders, never in the way they think and act. The current political scenario of Nepal provides yet another compelling example of power transition. Now that the CA has been dissolved, and we do not have any representative body, a caretaker government runs the country, implying that a cabinet exists simply to keep the state afloat and the prime minister is just a lame duck. This clearly leaves us without any power-wielding leader; the president says his hands are tied by the constitution and thus, he is helpless.
Making matters worse, local elections haven’t taken place for over a decade, rendering local authorities toothless. Moreover, surging crime rates, impunity and corruption are further adding to the nation’s woes. The recent shooting of a Supreme Court justice in broad daylight clearly expounds where our country stands.
With a fumbling centre and toothless local authorities, Nepal as a state has become immensely vulnerable. Different groups with vested interests have come to a point where they could challenge the whole state and its institutions. For instance, even if there were personal issues involved in the Justice Bam case, it is still worth questioning how a bunch of ruffians dared to attack a high-profile civil serviceman. The attack is not merely on an individual but is an attack on the whole institution of judiciary. Power has been devolved to many small groups with vested interests and a handful of selfish political giants rendering the government a feeble entity. Nepal has become a quasi-state.
At a time when Nepal is not even a fully functioning state with a large section of population still living under a dollar a day, constitution promulgation has become an obsession of political leaders and the urban-dwelling chattering class. When a significant part of the population reels below the poverty line and without basic needs, the top crust of the political establishment is seemingly busy drafting a constitution.
The obsession has been imposed on the public in such a way that everything else has become secondary. But, as a matter of fact, such obsession imposed on the people and the importance attached to the constitution is just another ‘constructed reality’ engineered by the leaders to avert people’s attention from the country’s real picture.
Is the constitution worth so much attention when the country has many more grave issues to address? A constitution is something that gives the country a direction. However, a constitution is worth having only when human beings live as citizens of a country. When a mass of the population is not even in a position to claim their citizenship as Nepalis, how can constitution promulgation be thought so critical and a panacea to all problems?
Even if the constitution is promulgated, the political leadership will then get busy amending it and some other exigency will be brought forth to once again put people’s everyday needs and concerns on the backburner. Further, the constitution is sure to have loopholes that will be exploited by the politically privileged sections. Any constitution promulgated while a large segment of the population is sidelined can hardly be fruitful.
The current obsession with constitution promulgation is just another gimmick to distract the masses from seeing the real problems of the country and forcing them to fantasize about a never-never land.
When many Nepalis live without electricity, safe drinking water, adequate security and law and order and health services, the political leadership is busy making the code to regulate those very Nepalis.
When we are not even dignified human beings in our own country, how can anyone decide for us? The constitution will not be of any importance to a great section of the Nepali population until they climb to the point where they are permitted to have standards of comparison which would make them aware of their oppression. The upgrading of the section at the bottom of the pyramid should precede the constitution promulgation.
It is high time we looked into the fundamentals first. Merely a well-written constitution will not have a trickle-down effect. Hence, a functional constitution can be promulgated only when the public is at least in a position to take a firm stand and pick among many confusing arrangements.
The exigency of the hour is to go back to the base and give it some strong founding bricks. It is important to opt not for a leadership change, but a change in leaders’ attitude and act. Constitution promulgation at this juncture is a misplaced priority that has been fed to the gullible and deprived masses. The rudimentary problems of the bigger and silent chunk of population at the bottom of the socio-economic and political ladder warrant greater attention and discourse.
Constitution promulgation failed simply because we started building a house without a solid base and we will continue to fail if we do not build a base and reinforce it time and again.
The author is pursuing his Masters degree at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University