System failure in Nepal

From The Kathmandu Post (10 May, 2013)

First, Khil Raj Regmi was made head-of-government. Now ‘Operation Overwhelming Force’ has succeeded in appointing a corruption-accused royalist to head the anti-graft body

The democratic journey meant to bring prosperity and inclusion to Nepali society hit a roadblock with the appointment of sitting Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi as head-of-government. And now we have been pushed off the cliffside with Lok Man Singh Karki made head of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA).

This is a case of asking the cat with bloodied incisors to watch over the chicken coop, because not only was Karki chief henchman of Gyanendra’s autocracy, he is someone specifically barred from holding public office by the self-same CIAA, for corruption. Why was it necessary to pick Karki amidst the hundreds of clean and qualified citizens to serve as the head of the anti-graft body?

The UCPN (Maoist) leadership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai clearly want Karki in order to get a clean chit for their massive fraud, extending from the cantonments to telecom. But how come they received assistance in this from Indian interlocutors, so willing to be part of this calibrated attempt to tell the people of Nepal that they amount to nothing, that they can be manhandled at will?

Karki’s appointment is a continuation of a diabolic exercise to weaken the Nepali polity, and to leave President Ram Baran Yadav so isolated that he is forced to toe the line. The four-point deal which constructed Bhattarai’s Maobadi-Madhesbadi coalition was part of this exercise, with its promise of amnesty to perpetrators, among other things. Then came the propping up of the Bhattarai caretaker regime, and the firman against Sushil Koirala getting his promised term as election-time prime minister.

Just as the political parties were building momentum for a people’s movement to oust Bhattarai, Dahal was made to propose Regmi as prime minister. The Nepal Bar, former chief justices, the chair of the Constituent Assembly, and party rank-and-file all over objected loudly. Regmi was about to say no when he got a midnight visitation, and the next morning he made haste to the swearing-in at Sheetal Niwas.


Oh, Koirala! Oh, Khanal!

The second edition of ‘Operation Overwhelming Force’ was enacted this week, when the President held out against Karki’s appointment for three full days before the wheels began turning. On Tuesday evening, with the UML and Nepali Congress holding firm against Karki, it had seemed that the spooks had lost. Overnight, amidst visitations, President Yadav’s resolve was crushed. Karki sauntered into Sheetal Niwas to be sworn-in by the beleaguered head-of-state at 9am Wednesday.

Amidst the relentless erosion, now there is nothing left of Sheetal Niwas, that symbol and repository of republican sovereignty. Between the ultra-opportunist UCPN (Maoist) leadership, which will make any compromise to get a grip on the people, and Indian agents spreading threats and inducement, the ability of a people to freely and transparently conduct its own politics is compromised.

A country with a strong jurisprudential precedent is made to suffer a sitting chief justice as head of government. The move against separation of powers felled the judiciary, and the terrain today is littered with the bodies of broken spirits at the bar, bench and civil society. Last week’s Supreme Court refusal to register a writ petition against the four-party syndicate’s recommendation of Karki, and Monday’s decision to technically discard a petition against the Constitutional Council’s recommendation, tells us of a judiciary brought to its knees.

The main fault for this spiraling systemic failure lies with the ‘democratic’ parties, the Congress and UML, who have failed during successive episodes to protect the polity from attacks of the UCPN (Maoist) and the not-so-secret agents. Jhala Nath Khanal lost his credibility long ago, Sushil Koirala is living proof of incompetency, the sharp-tongued KP Oli has lost his voice, and Krishna Prasad Sitaula stands exposed as handmaiden of the ‘agencies’.


Let Nepal be Nepal

At a recent meeting with Kathmandu journalists in New Delhi, India’s foreign minister and foreign secretary both denied that India was in any way involved with the evolving scenario in Kathmandu. Given the hyper-activism of the Indian interlocutors in Kathmandu, one can only suggest the two gentlemen were mis- or under-informed.

If the present interventionist Indian policy is being played out on the plank of national security vis-à-vis the open border, and with an eye to Nepal’s market and natural resources—high dams, hydropower and stored water—the planners must mull over whether this plan will deliver the results they crave.

Perhaps questions should be directed to Shiv Shanker Menon, former foreign secretary and present national security advisor to the Indian prime minister. Menon is one who has openly admired the People’s Movement of 2006 and appreciates the democratic spirit of the Nepali public. If the shenanigans in Kathmandu corridors, which have compromised the executive, judiciary as well as the presidential office, are the result of an intelligence-led exercise, one must ask whether this is in concord with the policies set out by the political leadership.

It is evident, especially after Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s recent trip to New Delhi, that India is on the lookout for a Kathmandu satrap to control the chaotic country, much as the British sought out the Ranas. But any hope for stability in Nepal through the auspices of the Maoist chieftain would indicate a breakdown of intelligence and analysis down south. Because in that direction lies another decade of instability, for which citizen of Nepal wants a guided banana republic? The sordid application of a particular brand of ‘Southasian bilateralism’ must be reversed, and Nepal must be left to be Nepal, a potential role model for a South Asian nation-state.


Lokman regime

The Lokman regime is now set to remain unassailable for six years, even when Khil Raj moves on after the elections. The democratic as well as un-democratic parties have painted themselves into a corner. There is no parliament to remove the CIAA chief and, in any case, it is unlikely that the future Constituent Assembly will be able to muster the two-thirds majority required. Some of the politicians who helped bring in Regmi as head-of-government as a short-cut to oust Bhattarai are now in regret mode. They have placed an unaccountable gentleman in Singha Durbar, and there is no parliament to impeach or oust him either.

It is too much to hope that Karki will turn a new leaf at the CIAA, going after the bad ‘uns without fear or favour. More likely, he will start with some applause-grabbing prosecutions, then play the selective game to cow down the players—political or otherwise—who would trouble his masters. Some imaginative commentators suggest that Karki’s appointment is actually part of a ‘deep conspiracy’ to pursue Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his ill-gotten lucre, but one cannot accept a plan which dumps due process, and seeks to destroy the state superstructure in order to build it.

The road to crony capitalism has been cleared with the Lokman appointment. It will be difficult to imagine domestic and foreign investment flowing to a country where a corrupt man has been malevolently placed in charge of the powerful position of CIAA chief. It was because it is such a commanding office, created in the democratic era after 1990, that the constitutional pre-requisites required to hold the position were made so stringent—‘high social regard and moral character, public respect, sense of service and relevant work experience’. Each and every requirement was abandoned in Karki’s elevation.

The larger game seems to be to stifle the polity. This may be the appropriate place to remember the murder—nay assassination—a year ago of Supreme Court Justice Rana Bahadur Bam by Bagmati-side, as well as Maithili cultural activist Ranju Thakur and others in Janakpur. Rest in peace.

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