Foxes pretending to be lionsIt's distressing to see that Premier Deuba has almost no fight left in him anymore.
Another year comes to an end, and it's time for yet another lament. With the abrupt decision of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli to recommend the dissolution of the Pratinidhi Sabha, circa 2020 had ended on a bleak note. My column that fortnight was a cry of desolation. A year after, there is little to lift the spirits.
A quick overview to make sense of the on-going mess. Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana defied calls for his resignation and presided over the court despite mounting controversies about his leadership. The ruling coalition has ignored requests for his impeachment.
When the Supreme Court invalidated the unconstitutional dissolution of Parliament, rightwing communists of the nationalist variety forsook constitutional propriety. Premier Sharma Oli wielded the axe again to dissolve the restored House.
Sharma Oli's second attack upon the legislature boomeranged as the judiciary intervened, this time with an order for its immediate replacement.
The Supreme Court has never been shy of showing off its political proclivities. Through a landmark decision, the judiciary had restored a duly dissolved legislature in 1995 by alluding to the fall of the Weimer Republic in its formal order.
The decision to declare any further extension of the term of the Constituent Assembly unconstitutional re-established the fact that the judicial review, through what has been called "Politics of Unamendability", was more powerful than the revolutionary constituent power of the elected representatives.
Unrestrained authority often has the tendency of alluring ambitious and sometimes unscrupulous persons. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority was designed to prevent, probe and prosecute public officials misusing their power. With at least two of its chiefs having faced charges of corruption and abuse of authority, the commission is often in the news for all the wrong reasons.
With the supreme legislative authority in its hands through extraordinary powers, the Supreme Court hasn't been an exception to the trend of being an essential player in the politics of elite capture.
When Deuba became the prime minister of the country for the first time in 1995, he still had some fire in his belly to fight for democratic principles. Even though the judicial decision to restore Parliament had made it possible for him to head the government, he once decried the court order in no uncertain terms.
I recount the story from memory, but it's still vivid in my mind after so many years. Justice Biswanath Upadhyay was being feted in the autumn of 1995 for having saved the nascent democracy from falling into the hands of communists. Mahottari Parivar, an organisation that the late Upadhyay had helped found, decided to honour him publicly. Yet another luminary from the district, Badri Bikram Thapa, was to chair the function.
In one of those unfortunate and inexplicable accidents of history, the upright bureaucrat of yesteryear succumbed to a heart attack. However, the chairman of the planned event had instructed that the show must go on as scheduled before his passing. I had the sad and impossible duty of stepping into his empty shoes for the function.
Justice Upadhyay came to the venue a little early. As was his wont in those days, Premier Deuba headed to the backroom for a cigarette before getting on the stage. The conversation backstage between the chief justice and the chief executive was far from cordial.
Justice Upadhyay tried to remind Premier Deuba that the government needed to take the aggrieved opposition on board to justify the restoration of Parliament. Premier Deuba immediately retorted that the court had merely postponed the inevitable face-off between what he then termed the "democrats" and the "leftists". The stunned justice had lapsed into silence before complaining that politics was not about confrontation alone.
Years after the moral disagreement, it's distressing to see that Premier Deuba has almost no fight left in him anymore. During his second term in office in 2002, he refused the Maoist demand for a Constituent Assembly, saying that the monarch would never agree to it. In the hope of sweeping the elections with the connivance of the royal-military dispensation, he had broken away from his parent party and floated the Nepali Congress (D) of his own.
King Gyanendra then dismissed him for his incompetence to hold polls. Perhaps it was the insulting dismissal that broke his political will. It turned him into a pragmatic politician with nothing but prosperity as the ultimate goal of public life.
A monarchist during the royal-military rule, a pragmatist when in the opposition, and a ditherer when heading a coalition, Premier Deuba has shown that he is a politician for all seasons. What he glaringly lacks are the qualities of political leadership: The intellectual ability to take a principled stand, the moral strength to inspire followers, the rhetorical capacity to mobilise the masses, the dexterity to organise followers, the determination to agitate, the tact to negotiate, the confidence to make compromises, the resolve to seal and keep a deal, and the fortitude to get one's agenda implemented.
This is the person heading the government and is likely to lead the most major political party of the country into the upcoming general elections. The much-ballyhooed results of the 14th general convention of the Nepali Congress show that the grand old party has finally become what Premier Deuba had intended it to be with a "D" suffix in 2002—a platform for conformist politics.
Like all demagogic populists of South Asia, supremo Sharma Oli believes in the centrality of the leader. After all, he dissolved the legislature twice within a few months when he suspected its willingness to endorse his whims. It's pretty natural that he has little interest in the proper functioning of Parliament.
The opposition party is the mainstay of the parliamentary system. Supremo Sharma Oli is determined to sabotage it and has instructed his political troops to obstruct all its sessions. Even though very few parliamentarians in the country possess the courage to go against their party whip, at least its sessions could have provided a forum to discuss bipartisan issues.
Unseemly delays in the parliamentary endorsement of the MCC compact has made a mockery of the government's international commitments, and the continuing protests of the Nepal Bar Association against the chief justice erode the judiciary's credibility. Risks of the new variant of the pandemic require immediate action. Remittances have begun to decline, and imports continue to balloon, indicating the risk of an impending economic crisis.
The executive is unperturbed and busy with the routine, the judiciary is caught in the chaos, Parliament has been stunned into inaction, the media is busy documenting exciting times, and the international community has bigger things to worry about elsewhere. On that unnerving note, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2022!