The waiting gameAs long as the state indulges in fleecing its people, the country remains in transition forever
One discernible aspect of Nepali politics is that nearly all political leaders have passed away without ever seeing their dreams fulfilled. Former Maoist ideologue, Baburam Bhattarai, may be a lone exception who is expecting to see his dreams fulfilled during his lifetime. The stark question is: why have we come to this situation? Are we a nation in permanent transition?
Imagine the situation of a cinema viewer: what happens when they come across multiple flashbacks? The result is obvious—they get confused, distracted and probably lost. There is an analogy between Nepali politics and a cinema with multiple layers of flashback situations. With a successful 2006 Jana Andolan II (People’s Movement II), we entered a new phase of political transition. And without even completing this phase, we are now in a new one.
Not much change
Those interested in complicated politics can further stretch their imagination and view the Jana Andolan II itself as a sequel to the 1990 Jana Andolan I. Just to rewind the events from Jana Andolan II, we had political regression, a palace massacre, a Maoist insurgency, mid-term elections, and Jana Andolan I in 1990. One can go further back to the Panchayat days or to the political movement of the 1950s and even to the 104 years of Rana oligarchy. Each political event gave birth to a transitional situation, putting the country in a different political trajectory. Yet without completing one phase, we have entered into another. Like in a cinema with multiple flashback situations, we have a transition within a transition.
On a rough time scale, Nepal is rocked by a major political event every ten years. This can be taken as the average life span of a transitional situation. The data on state fragility index published by the Funds for Peace, a US-based non-governmental institution, indicate hardly any perceptible change is taking place in Nepal from 2005 to 2016 (Refer to the graph).
21st January 2018
With the new constitution promulgated on 20 September 2015, we have entered yet another phase of political transition—of implementing the constitution. This included the demarcation of federal and local boundaries and the holding of elections. Part 33 of the constitution is primarily devoted to the transitional provision and Article 296 categorically sets a term limit up to 21 January, 2018 for the existing Legislature-Parliament. If things go normal, which is rare and unusual with the Nepali style of working at the eleventh hour, the current transitional situation is supposed to last no longer than 19 months. The constitution has a provision to end the transition before, but not after, the expiry date of 21 January 2018. The question that invariably arises is: what will happen after that date? Will the system come to a total collapse? What happens with the political void thus created?
Given our experience with the first Constituent Assembly and its unceremonious and acrimonious demise, there is little chance of the current transitional situation coming to a happy ending. The political masters, adept at extending their tenure to rule the roost, will simply resort to constitutional amendments. More than enough excuses are already available—the devastating earthquake, the Madhes movement, the unofficial blockade, political instability, inter- and intra-party wrangling, reconstruction process, Brexit, monsoon floods, cold winter, Dashain-Tihar-Chhath holidays, electoral preparation, foreign visits, and who knows, deteriorating health of senile leaders.
Borrowing the words from Antonio Gramsci, an Italian leftist thinker, one can compare a transitional situation with what he called the situation of interregnum, where the old is dead but the new one is yet to be born. Typically, this is a situation of discontinuity marked by state fragility, weakness and sickness. The Maoist leaders like to call a transitional situation as nirantarta ma krambhangata or discontinuity in continuity. But the reality is: we are having a situation of continuity of discontinuity or to borrow their words krambhangata ko nirantarta. History tells us that we are into several situations of interregnum—an ever evolving, never-ending political saga, with each political negotiation and compromise giving birth to another transitional situation ad infinitum. The Nepali version of a transitional period is called sankramankaal, which is, literally, a combination of sankraman (infection or contagion) and kaal (death). By this reasoning, can we call ourselves a sick country, waiting for the inevitable to happen?
Railway station nation
Someone commented that Nepal is like a railway station or a transit lounge, where people wait for the arrival of the next train to catch. Once the train departs, the station wears a deserted look. With around 1,500 youths going abroad every day for employment or nearly one third of the economy surviving on remittances, the country does, in a way, resemble a transit nation. Someone visiting the Passport Department at the erstwhile Narayanhiti Royal Palace will get a feel of a railway station. One may not see the trains, but the serpentine queue gives an impression of passengers waiting to board a train. With 4,000 passports issued per day at Rs10,000 per passport under the fast-track system, imagine the sum of money the predatory state is collecting from its people. Recently, the rate has been hiked to Rs15,000; the reason cited was to provide fast service to the people. As long as the state indulges in fleecing its people, the country remains in transition forever.
Manandhar is a freelance consultant