Have we acted in haste only to repent at leisure?
Penning this before yesterday's scheduled opening of the Constituent Assembly (CA) when the 'declaration of a republic' was to be a done deed, the thought that arose in this commentator's mind was whether in so doing we as a nation have not acted in reckless haste only to deeply repent at leisure later.
In fact, quite apart from the tearing haste that was exhibited in many political quarters on this score, myriad issues including those of external pressures, political probity and constitutional lacunae were linked to it.
Most galling, at least to people who consider themselves patriots, is that certain external forces – too well known to need any specific or special mention here – provided much of the driving force to attempt to do away by fiat the institution of the Monarchy in its most recent 240 year-old manifestation.
Irrespective of all other considerations, that pungent home truth should have caused all conscious citizens to ponder why such powers or foreign interests were so determined to uproot the very institution that was instrumental, along with the Army, in putting Nepal, as we know it today, on the map of the world.
What was it about the institution that stuck in their delicate gullets? Were they in fact against the very concept of Nepal as an independent, sovereign state? Was Nepal under the Monarchy too independent or nationalistic in her foreign policy projection? Was she a hurdle in the advancement of unspoken global geo-political goals and geo-strategic maneuvers using Nepalese territory as a convenient base? Or, was it merely that a Hindu Monarchy was considered completely unacceptable or anathema to them?
One doesn't have to be a Kissinger or Muni to realise that there are umpteen Monarchies and Muslim Sheikhdoms, including those in Asia, that are still being robustly supported by the new 'democratic' messiahs rampaging across the globe in an evangelical fervour. The question is: why should only the Nepali Monarchy have been thus targeted?
At the very least, such disturbing questions ought to have caused a pause and stirred a thorough debate and discussion in the CA before the Rubicon was so recklessly crossed.
Yet, the unseemly haste is manifest in the domestic sphere as well. Thus the interim constitution that pledged a CA to the Nepalese people has, as noted constitutional lawyers have pertinently pointed out, been executed without even specifying its constituent powers.
As Bipin Adhikari argued and rued in a recent article in the Kathmandu Post: "The interim constitution does not guarantee that the sovereign house will have no limitations in its constituent powers or that it will not be constrained by the decisions of the interim legislature or the interim government on the basis of this constitution or by any executive agreement that it has signed with rebellious groups in the pre-election period."
Besides, the hurried or slapdash nature of the whole business has been poignantly reflected in that the Assembly did not provide the aggrieved party, or the King, the opportunity to contest the motion against him in the House where he should have been allowed to present his case before the die was cast.
As Adhikari bemoaned in an opinion piece also in the Kathmandu Post: "In (a) democracy it (providing such an opportunity) matters; and it matters in the most powerful sense. The King is not being toppled; he is being laid off. If this is the truth, then the process requires that he must be allowed an adequate opportunity to present his case."
Quite aside from the miasma of subterfuge that wafted from the grotesque Alice in Wonderland-like 'sentence first – verdict afterwards' approach, there is the incontrovertible fact that in the end the seven super political parties that called the shots decided this cardinally important question for the entire population.
What, pray, is the meaning of 'loktantra' if the right of the 'lok' to pronounce on the key constitutional issue was so brazenly hijacked by a political cabal acting in the name of the people. If so, what we now have is not 'loktantra' but 'partytantra' – with the real decisions being made virtually by one party!
Furthermore, do universally accepted notions of political probity and norms of fair play and parliamentary ethics have absolutely no place in the new 'loktantric' order of 'naya Nepal'? Else, why should the provision have been made to decide that fundamentally important issue by a simple majority – when every other decision on which there is no consensus needs a two-thirds majority?
Was the Monarchy vs. Republic issue a trivial one? Or, was the intention right from the start to bulldoze through regardless, comforted in the knowledge that, at least for now, there is no likelihood of effective opposition either from inside the Assembly or from without? Was all this merely, or mainly, to please unseen powers that be?
The less said about the double or even treble standards of the fabled 'international community' the better. As already noted, most members of that charmed circle had vested interests or hefty axes to grind in seeing that the institution of the Nepali Monarchy goes the way of the dodo.
LESSONS FROM HISTORY
If not the others, they surely should know from contemporary history that contentious issues that are not properly settled through legitimate legal means or due process and resolved instead through application of steamroller tactics, have an appalling tendency to return, sometimes with even greater ferocity, to right what is deemed as a historical wrong.
That argument can perhaps be better understood if one recalls that peace agreements such as the Versailles Treaty of 1919, based on the principle that 'might is right' and driven by a spirit of diktat or revenge, led to the rise of Hitler with terrible consequences for the whole world.
Super Powers, or wannabee Super Powers, must in particular be reminded of the above realities of international relations, as also that a drastic change in Nepal's strategic or geo-political status, or tilt in one particular direction – likely to follow the abolition of the Monarchy – must sooner rather than later, set in motion countervailing forces, including external ones.
In our case, it is not difficult to foresee a looming confrontation between opposing forces, including in what is shaping to be the battle for a 'Free Tibet' from Nepali soil. In short: instead of sustainable peace, stability and prosperity in the country, we could now jolly well be heading in the opposite direction. When the centre collapses, it is difficult to imagine the periphery holding!
IGNORING UNIVERSAL VALUES
But, to return to the arguments proffered earlier, this commentator can only endorse Adhikari's concluding remarks: "Eventually, those who are said to be making history should make it on the strength of self-respect and certain universal values.
"Such values – justice, equality, the rule of law, to mention the most basic – need to be protected, no matter who gains from it. It might delay the process a little, but it can surely give a clear outlet to the problem and a firm footing to the democrats."
Another illuminating perspective was offered by Trilochan Gautam, a well-known advocate, in a recent interview to this weekly. Among other things, he argued powerfully that a constitution may only be implemented after it is formulated.
He then rightly questions: "How can only one provision of the constitution be implemented. Declaring the country a republic is only one provision of the interim constitution. The new constitution can only be implemented after it is prepared fully and ratified by the constituent assembly. It cannot be implemented in part or in pieces. The issue of declaring (a) republic by the first meeting of the constituent assembly will be illegal. If they do it, it will be coercion and imposition."
One doesn't have to be a legal-eagle to point out that the assumption that the diktat of the interim constitution on the issue of the Monarchy has to be scrupulously obeyed by the CA seriously undermines the concept that the elected CA is a sovereign body, that is to say, the sole master of its own rules and procedures.
Even a political science neophyte who is still wet behind his/ears can easily figure out that an Assembly specifically elected to draft a new constitution cannot, in all legitimacy, be dictated to by a defunct interim assembly composed of unelected representatives of a seven-party oligarchy.
That apart, it is a gaucherie of the highest order that, two days before the CA was convoked, proposals were been forwarded by the Maoists at a three party meeting to 'amend' the preamble as well as Articles 1, 4, 38, 45, 46, 138, 158 and 159 as also to scrap Article 159 (5) which gives recognition to the King.
If there is so much homework that needed to be done from just the Maoists' perspective where was the cyclonic hurry?
As the well-known adage goes: act in haste, repent at leisure!