I am the stateAddressing the parliament of Paris on April 13, 1655, French King Louis XIV declared “I am the state.”
Addressing the parliament of Paris on April 13, 1655, French King Louis XIV declared “I am the state.” This was his ecstatic statement after having achieved unchallenged authority over state affairs.
His government had subsumed the authority of the nobles and pushed the powerful church away from a political role.
In the 362 years since then, the I-am-the-state syndrome has continued to be a global political malaise that has given rise to hundreds of dictators across the world, and ironically, been the main reason behind their downfall.
One of the implications of this syndrome is that persons exercising state authority are so engrossed by a sense of invincibility that they cannot even perceive any impending peril.
Several Nepali rulers too have fallen prey to this ominous syndrome. They include deposed king Gyanendra who had to abdicate after trying unsuccessfully to take absolute control; and Maoist Centre (MC) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal who had to resign as prime minister a decade ago while trying to change the chief of the Nepal Army by bypassing rules and norms.
Likewise, Lok Man Singh Karki, former chief commissioner of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), was widely criticised for harbouring an ‘I-am-the-state’ attitude until he was disqualified and removed by a Supreme Court order four months ago.
The latest example has been presented by Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba and Prime Minister Dahal who heads a NC-MC coalition government.
The surprise impeachment motion filed in the Legislature-Parliament against Supreme Court Chief Justice Sushila Karki on April 30 smacks of nothing but the Deuba-Dahal duo’s I-am-the-state haughtiness.
The constitutional basis presented for impeachment is farcical because it supposes that a verdict yet to be delivered on a case related to the appointment of the inspector general of police (IGP) is ‘sure’ to encroach upon the prerogative of the executive branch of the state. The judiciary, for its part, has taken the impeachment motion as a deliberate attempt by the executive to infringe upon its independence.
The Supreme Court issued a stay order to halt the impeachment proceedings and enabled Chief Justice Karki to resume her duties immediately. Following the stay order, the Supreme Court has also been alleged, interestingly again by the ruling parties, to have exhibited a similar I-am-the-state attitude and stepped on Parliament’s turf.
This completes a full circle of exchange of allegations about encroachment upon another’s jurisdiction among the executive, legislature and judiciary.
This has sparked a new debate on the need for precise delimitation of jurisdiction among the three branches of the state. If taken to a logical conclusion, the debate may deliver some welcome results for the future.
After CIAA Commissioner Karki was removed by a court order, Prime Minister Dahal began bragging that he had been able to ‘use’ Chief Justice Karki to send him away.
The message he deliberately spread, more openly within his party, was that no state institution was out of his control. After the CIAA episode, the NC-MC coalition was exulting that any institution of the state could run only at the mercy of the duo.
They went to the extent of suggesting that the judges were expected to remain indebted to these political bosses for ‘helping’ them secure lucrative appointments, and thus the adjudication of cases must invariably be in favour of the executive.
Two Supreme Court verdicts, one overturning the government’s decision to appoint Jaya Bahadur Chand as the IGP and another ordering the government to arrest former Maoist legislator Bal Krishna Dhungel for murder conviction, shocked Deuba and Dahal respectively.
Apparently, the first court decision had gravely hurt Deuba’s undeclared vested interests who had put in all his efforts to appoint Chand as the IGP superseding three senior contenders.
If Dhungel is sent to jail as per the second ruling, Dahal fears that it could set a precedent for the arrest of other perpetrators of atrocities during the decade-long Maoist conflict.
As he has very strategically rendered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission dysfunctional, the only danger is that the courts may bring these cases to justice.
His cadres will be able to walk away unpunished only if the judiciary can be kept under pressure.
Moreover, Dahal is infuriated at Chief Justice Karki’s ungratefulness because, as he has been boasting, he was instrumental in making her a Supreme Court judge in 2009.
“How can anybody raise a finger at us? If somebody does so, he or she must be crushed because we are the state.”
This is the attitude that led the Deuba-Dahal duo to file an impeachment motion against Karki.
The impeachment motion was not discussed even among the purportedly signatory Members of Parliament, let alone within the respective parties.
Several of them have disowned their signatures, but they don’t dare question the motion for fear of reprisal by the ‘I-am-the-state’ operatives.
In the absence of even basic democracy and individual freedom in the political organisations and the government alike, a debate over the separation of powers can only make the executive more totalitarian in nature.
In the separation of powers debate, the priority of the independence of the judiciary must top the agenda.
French political philosopher Montesquieu, who propounded the theory of separation powers almost one hundred years after Louis XIV’s ‘I am the state’ declaration, has asserted, “The independence of the judiciary has to be real, and not merely apparent.
The judiciary shall generally enjoy most important of powers, independent and unchecked.”
The problem now seems to be that the Deuba-Dahal duo is not prepared to listen to anyone, be it the media, civil society, UN agencies, International Commission of Jurists or the international community.
Their I-am-the-state posture is not only pushing Nepal towards unwanted confrontation, it may ultimately jeopardise their own interests too.
Wagle, a founding editor of the economic daily Arthik Abhiyan, is an eco-political analyst