Oli way outMaking Oli the next PM is still the best option to salvage the constitution out of the current morass
As the Madhes suffered, people in Kathmandu celebrated the new constitution. Now, though hardly a month has gone by, leaders in Kathmandu are back to doing what they do best: playing a game of political brinksmanship.
The focus is back on forming a new government and salvaging hurt egos. The lives of millions of people are no significant than flies in the higher order of political ambition. It is not that the politicians do not have strong reasons for what they are doing, and that is exactly the problem.
Other than that, Nepali politics has become a gyre of murky waters. The analysis of current trends and the possible future scenario indicates that the way forward must include making Oli the new prime minister and resolving the Madhes issue by amending the constitution.
For the new constitution to survive, realistically, political parties must reach an agreement on constitutional amendments followed by an agreement on the demarcation of electoral and federal boundaries, and an election government.
Nepali politics, at the moment, is revolving around the axes of the Madhesi movement—which has been amalgamated by India’s support—and the political vision of CPN-UML leader, KP Sharma Oli, which is being buttressed by UCPN (Maoist) chairman Prachanda.
Nepal was peaceful as long as the Madhesi people were subservient to Kathmandu politics. The first indication came in 1990, as a second wave of protests following the main political movement. The second jolt came in 2008, again as an aftershock to the main 2006 people’s movement. Now, the Madhesi movement has come as an independent shock, at a time when people are supposed to be celebrating a new constitution.
The current movement of the Madhesi people has been strengthened by India’s support. The Madhesis have begun to view India as a guardian of their cause because they have lost the patronage of mainstream political parties in Nepal.
For some reason, leaders of our mainstream political parties and some hill-centric leaders have always viewed Madhesi people with suspicion. This perspective, handed down by Panchayat nationalism, has created a rigid boundary between the Madhesis and ‘Nepalis’. Madhes, in this sense, has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because the mainstream leaders—and a large swathe of the hill-centric populace—believe that the Madhes will move away from them, it is moving away from them.
The second major factor is Oli’s vision and the chasm it has created in Nepali politics. Much of his machinations and intentions have not been very transparent. However, despite pushing the constitution-drafting process across the finish line, he has generated deep suspicions among Nepali Congress (NC) leaders, the minorities, and India. His proximity to China, his insistence on controlling the reconstruction and rehabilitation process, and his penchant for Mahendrabadi politics has alienated some of his former partners.
Between Scylla and Charybdis
It is impossible to move along Oli’s current political trajectory because it will require suppressing the Madhes movement, cowing down India, and earning unstinted support of the NC and the Maoists. If Oli continues on his current path, India will continue to play hardball and the Madhes will continue to move away from our control. It will be only a matter of time before Nepal reaches a breaking point unless Oli is able to galvanise the NC, the Maoists and the Nepali people. Even then, it will mean an escalation of violent conflict and Nepal’s rapid economic free-fall.
Containing India, given our political reality, is a difficult proposition. For this, Nepal needs a long-term strategy, and this is not possible without the support of China and other members of the international community. Nepal’s diplomacy is chaotic and we cannot expect to change things overnight.
It will be equally tumultuous if Oli has to give up his political ambitions. He will then be recalcitrant and, in all probability, scuttle any move to amend the constitution. This could lead to a new constitutional crisis. The solution for such a crisis will have to emerge from outside the constitution and it might require strong military support and a neutral government.
There is very little possibility of constitutional and political processes moving ahead with Oli in command unless he reaches a negotiated settlement with the Madhesis and India at a personal level. Reports indicate that he’s been communicating with India regularly in the recent days.
Resolving the current deadlock by making Oli the new prime minister would mean that the NC should be prepared to lose its political constituency. The alliance of Oli and Prachanda is more likely to prevail in the hills and Churia range, and a new alliance between the Madhesis and Baburam Bhattarai will prevail in the plains.
In order to allow Oli become the new PM, the Congress will most likely seek some consolatory rewards. Even then, the NC will lose its central position in Nepal’s politics for the next decade and might be forced to give more space to Hindu agendas.
If the Nepali Congress does not relent, fearing its political future, it would mean forcing Oli to compromise. It will be really difficult to resolve the Madhes issue by bulldozing Oli’s resistance. This will be only possible if NC takes a strong position in favour of amending the constitution, and Oli’s existing support within the party and outside swings to the other side.
Negotiating the maelstrom
The above scenarios indicate that we have very few political choices unless we want to prolong suffering, gamble what we have already achieved, and push Nepal towards continued political instability.
The best way out for Nepal, with minimal damage, is to make Oli the next prime minister in return for his support in revising the constitution and resolving the Madhes issue.
For many, that would mean giving in to his political brinksmanship and pushing Nepal further towards an unfathomable cultural divide. Oli has that uncanny ability to generate both admiration and hatred.
An ideal way forward is to keep our house in order. The first step in this direction is to hold a dialogue with the Madhesis and reach a negotiated settlement regarding the content of the constitution, demarcation of electoral and federal boundaries, and mechanisms for the next round of elections.
Nepal cannot take on India if the house is divided. Unfortunately, our mainstream parties cannot work with each other, let alone develop an understanding with the Madhesi forces. We can, and should, develop strength to keep India at an arm’s length regarding our sovereignty and our political choices. However, it is a long process which depends as much on our political sagacity as on India’s.
The sooner political stakeholders realise this, the faster can Nepal emerge out of the current morass. However, this realisation has to come first from Oli himself, who has to revise his current ‘Oli vision’.
It will take years of hard work. But several years of informed politics would be able to bridge this divide and make Nepal stronger.