Now that President Ram Baran Yadav has finally bitten the bullet, he faces a much more challenging task of keeping national politics within the bounds of democratic norms. Constitutionality is no longer an issue. Premier Bhattarai at least has the legitimacy of parliamentary traditions to lead the government until the next general elections. His successor would merely be a political appointee bereft of all constitutionality.
President Yadav has staked whatever little credibility he had built over a lifetime in democratic politics on his latest gambit. For the generation of politicos that struggled for three decades for the restoration of multiparty democracy, history came to an end—the triumphal tone of political scientist Francis Fukuyama was unmistakable—in 1990 with the emergence of liberal politics and free markets. Any attempt to take it forward was tantamount to subversion, if not outright treason. However, the arena of politics has since expanded dramatically and changed beyond recognition. Nepalis have begun to organize for dignity, justice and participation. Federalism and inclusion are new buzzwords as Nepal struggles with the task of framing a new compact for its future in the twenty-first century.
PHOTO: KESHAB THOKER/REPUBLICA
Political consensus in a highly polarized society is almost impossible to achieve. The so-called political consensus in the aftermath of Rhododendron Revolution in 2006 did not include parties of former Panchas and sundry other royalists. It was a kind of gentlemen’s agreement—there was no woman signatory even though Sadbhavana Party bracketed Anandi Devi in its formal name—between leaders of Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the-then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). None of the Madheshi formations except two divisions of Sadhbhavana Party had come into being. Political outfits of Janjatis had not even been conceived. In the immediate future at least, Madheshis and Janjatis are going to be decisive players of all political contestations.
Democrats of yore find the company of their former tormentors—stalwarts of disgraced Panchayat system—more comforting these days. A few Mahapanchas such as Surya Bahadur Thapa, Pashupati Shamsher Rana and Prakash Chandra Lohani habitually sit proudly with ‘socialist’ Sher Bahadur Deuba and ‘communist’ Madhav Kumar Nepal. Meanwhile, most Madheshi parties that grew out of anti-Maoist wave share cabinet berths with their former bugbears. Presumably, whatever combination satisfies the whims of strategists at Shital Niwas would be considered the political consensus. However, even a unity of purpose between the Big Three—The Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the UCPN(Maoist)—and the Madheshi Morcha would still leave at least two influential Madheshi factions led by Upendra Yadav and Sharad Singh Bhandari as well as a possible spoilsport—the breakaway Maoist faction led by Mohan Baidya—outside its ambit. Miracles do happen in politics, but they are called so for not being commonplace.
If even a modicum of consensual understanding fails to materialize, what is the Plan B of forces that have pushed a ceremonial office into political activism? The simplest option would be to go on extending the deadline as President Yadav has been doing for past several months with his verbal requests. However, repeated violations of a written cut-off date would turn the presidential office into a laughing stock. At some point, the head of state would have to either swallow the tallow used to grease the bullet—and his pride along with it—or spit it out and take charge as the head of government. The next premier—whether consensual or nominated is immaterial—would merely be a deputy of Executive President for all intents and purposes.
The regime of unconstitutionality that may materialize from presidential initiatives would then have to proceed towards its self-assigned task of conducting elections for a new Constituent Assembly. That would necessitate appointment of election commissioners, judges of the Supreme Court and various functionaries of other constitutional bodies, everything to be done posthaste without mandatory parliamentary hearing. Updating electoral rolls, settling the issue of citizenship certificates and delineation of constituency too would have to be done without parliamentary debate. For the moment, implications of President Yadav’s decision remain a matter of speculation. The model of governance that would emerge out of his future course of action is most likely to be authoritarian.
An authoritarian regime is founded upon the belief that enforcing strict obedience to some form of authority during times of crisis is a necessary corrective to anarchic impulses. Based upon experiences of Roman republic, there is an influential school of thought in legal studies that talks about ‘constitutional dictatorship’ as opposed to ‘sovereign dictatorship’ or ‘totalitarian regime’. However, in the Roman republic the agency that decided that an untrammeled authority was required to meet exigencies of an emergency situation (The Consuls) was different from the one appointed to enforce its will for a specified period (The Dictator). History of such political experiments ever since has been less sanguine.
Bonapartism is the term that Marxists use to describe dictatorial ambitions of putative authoritative figures. The concept owes its origin to Louis Bonaparte who staged a coup against himself within three years of being elected and set up a military dictatorship. Writing in the preface of the second edition of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx observed with an unmistakable hint of melancholy, “… the class struggle in France created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero’s part.” Bonapartism became Fujimorismo in Peru. If the recent gamble of Islamic politics in Egypt succeeds, Bonapartism would perhaps henceforth be known as Mursiship after its impregnator President Mohammed Mursi.
Whether it’s Bonapartism, Fujimorismo or Mahendrism of 1960s in Nepal, authoritarian experiments require a distinct domestic constituency and some form of international support. The Asojtantra of Chairman Gyanendra came to an inglorious end because he could neither rally the people behind him nor gain the confidence of influential international players. What kind of international support President Yadav manages to marshal in favor of his political activism remains to be seen, but his domestic constituency is perceptibly shaky.
If an unpopularity poll were to be conducted in Tarai-Madhesh, there would be neck-to-neck competition between President Ram Baran Yadav and Deputy Prime Minister Bijaya Kumar Gachhedar. They were resolutely against the Madhesh Uprising, benefited most from its success, did least for Madheshis, and never stopped taunting them in the name of ‘Nepali-first’ slogan. If it were not for the caste-loyalties of Upendra Yadav, the Secretary General of NC would still be issuing anti-Maoist statements. Forget CPN (UML)—despite proclamation of loyalty from leaders at the center, anti-NC conviction is inscribed in the DNA of its activists at the grassroots—support for President Yadav’s next moves would probably be limited to the technocratic coterie within the party that he once belonged to.
Premier Baburam Bhattarai and his coalition partners can still go to the people with an appeal that the forces of status quo obstructed their efforts of transforming an exclusionary establishment of the country into an inclusive, federal, democratic and republican order. Strategists behind President Yadav’s adventures have limited options for redeeming the legacy of the first elected head of state of the country in the court of history. It has to begin with a public pledge not to cross democratic norms