"Beating ideological extremists in their own game requires a common sense approach and kindled vision of hope”, says Nissim Dahan, a life time anti-extremism innovator in the Middle East. Nepal’s opposition parties need to take a leaf out of his book.
For Dahan, advocating for radical measures of race, religion and ethnicity beyond the norm in politics is the simplest definition of extremism. It is quite analogous to Nepal’s context where the undercurrents of chaotic politics are steered by radical agendas, invariably fragmenting the above-current actors. Revolutionary slogans cloaked under ‘identity’ easily ignite public sentiments during movements. But failure to distinguish the thin line between fanaticism and revolution neither recognizes Nepal’s socio-political reality nor represents the popular opinion.
Pursuit of radical politics is a declared goal of the presently ruling political parties led by UCPN (Maoist), making extremism the order of the day. Unstable governance, the dismal absence of elected local bodies for well over a decade combined now with premeditated collision of ethnic turntable have been the key operational tools of this coalition.
Similar strand of thought in the opposition spectrum hinders formation of a locus around which a strong coalition can be built. Conflicting interests of the constituencies the opposition parties represent drive them apart. To make matters worse, the government applies divisive tactics by quickly spreading imputations and labels through its well-oiled propaganda machine. Its policy seems to be working for the time being since the opposition is held back at two poles: the NC-UML coalition and broader Madhesi Front, preventing an alliance. Newly formed CPN-Maoist and Madhes Socialist Party are exploring connecting lines and keeping their options open on issues.
But gradual accumulation of disappointment combined with the government’s misplaced assertiveness will finally force the opposition to come together. Instead of waiting to react to the government’s political moves, taking an initiative to further their own agenda would have served their cause better.
Slow-thinking and lack of strategic mindset on part of the NC-UML leadership stops them from taking such risks. To succeed, they must get rid of their own hypocrisies first, ensuring ways to hand over the baton to fresh blood if necessary.
A stronger opposition will be instrumental in preserving democratic and competitive political order. The cameras around Shital Niwas have caught general opposition impulses, finding their common points of interest for immediate action. Roadmap to constitution, however, calls for a solution that reaches beyond the empty talk of consensus; it could rather start with a common minimum program or a collective white paper, leading to a long-term alliance.
Balance of power post CA dissolution remains unchanged even as the tremors of the state of flux are tangible. Ruling Maoists set the agendas during the CA’s heydays. Democrats shrank in the quagmire of reactive politics. Maoist party was busy devising long-term strategies, floating slogans of expediency for the appeasement of dominant regional sections. Democrats got suffocated with very little breathing space and were thus barely able to recalibrate themselves.
Now that the fallen opposition parties have ample time and space to rise up, to shrug the dust off before setting out to don the gloves, they are likely to find themselves in a more comfortable position than they could imagine. The economy is in tatters and the stalemate will worsen, for which Prime Minister Bhattarai will primarily be held accountable. Unstoppable meltdown in the ruling coalition, first with Mohan Baidya parting ways, followed by Sharat Singh Bhandari and now the information minister having been disowned by the majority of his own party, gives the prime minister’s coalition a fractured look. The longer he remains in power, the more he will isolate himself.
NC-UML-Upendra-Baidya-Bhandari alliance should then reach out to villages from where the actual power emanates. At the moment, their feverish impatience to enter Singha Durbar must be immediately corrected; this is the ultimate common sense approach. Slogan of substituting Baburam Bhattarai at the helm will further widen the space for opposition parties.
The roads to villages, however, are bumpy. The ruling Maoist coalition has laid the ambush of ‘single ethnicity federalism’ in the steep paths to the hills. The landmines of ‘anti-federal’ and many other adjectives are hidden under the dusty Madhes roads. But they cannot deter the opposition parties from establishing connection with the people.
The political agendas, bloodied in the CA’s murder, are being washed up in the monsoon squabbles. They will come out crystal clear in a few weeks without much change. The ruling coalition, bidding to emerge decisive one more time, has made its intention clear on three things. First, it would like to materialize a ‘pro-single ethnicity’ alliance and continues to build on from where it left on May 27, pulling some cross-party extremists across the board. Second, in plan B, it would like to reinstate the CA for a long term to regain its controlling and for which it has put the gun on the shoulders of some naïve NC and UML ex-lawmakers. And third, it aims at setting all agendas quickly before the fluid political scenario caused by CA’s absence stabilizes.
The roadmap to constitution calls for a solution beyond empty talk of consensus. It could begin with a common minimum program between parties or joint white paper.
The opposition parties then have ammunitions to respond and broaden the outreach of their alliance, if they want. As the ruling coalition shrivels to extreme appeasement, the silent majority is looking up to the opposition to see how the issues of democracy and governance would be addressed. Clarity on the type of inclusive federalism, local elections and social unity are the long-term basics to hit on. Nepali society is largely moderate and liberal where middle-ground politics finds higher acceptability over the extreme one. The opposition has to build its own midway competence to undercut the long-term appeal of extremism.
Also, there is no dearth of short-term practical issues to mobilize people. The only international airport of the country is being stealthily leased out to a foreign company. Farmers are forced to stand hungry in serpentine queues for fertilizers. Utility bills are getting longer. Blatant loot of the surplus budget is underway. No party has spelt these issues out as their agenda as of now. The andolan consolidates around the nucleus of people’s agenda, not on a particular leader’s ambition to warm up the chair in Baluwatar. The mantra is: stay put, go to the people, and rekindle that dying vision of hope. Once that last man in the row gets the message, people will rise up. Dahan’s common sense approach helps us conclude that in the Nepali context, the days of Kathmandu-based bureaucratic politics are over.