Thursday, March 25, 2010

Unfinished business

Koirala was crucial to taking away so many things from the people of Nepal; he was able to return none before his demise. One such debt that Koirala incurred but left without paying it off was a democratic constitution. The other was the pride of the Nepali people — their precious independence as a sovereign nation.

Bipin Adhikari
The Kathmandu Post
March 25, 2010

G. P. Koirala became history on March 20. A four-time prime minister, giving leadership to the country for almost eight years in that capacity, Koirala had been active in politics for the last six decades. From January 2007 to July 2008, he also had the honour of symbolising the nation as the acting head of the state.

During the last 20 years, he had a pervasive presence in the politics of Nepal; and his role, whether he was leading the government or the opposition, had a decisive impact on the situation that Nepal was in all through these years. He was crucial to resolving the Maoist insurgency, affecting the quality of the liberal democratic movement in the country, bringing them into mainstream politics, abrogating the constitution of 1990, taking several strategic decisions affecting the country, establishing a new constitutent assembly and abolishing the monarchy. Koirala also gave leadership to the seven party alliance in signing the 12-point understanding with the Maoists in November 2005 (according to a peace plan facilitated by India).

It is difficult for anybody to face the reality that Koirala is no more. He was the state at least in the perception of the Maoists. The (most visible) guardian of the peace process and the one who gave a democratic facade to the recent reshuffles in Nepal is out of the scene. There is no heir apparent, and no roadmap for the future. He was crucial to taking away so many things from the people of Nepal; he was able to return none before his demise. One such debt that Koirala incurred but left without paying it off was a democratic constitution. The other was the pride of the Nepali people — their precious independence as a sovereign nation.

Nepal’s constitution of 1990 and the German constitution of the Weimar Republic of 1919 suffered a similar fate. They became the victim of insincere leaders and international forces playing foul on different pretexts. The constitution of the Weimar Republic also intended to institutionalise the parliamentary form of government, and establish the image of Germany as a democratic country leaving the imperial regime behind. It also emerged from the German revolution of November 1918, which expressed faith in liberal institutions. Unfortunately, the liberal democracy that it established eventually lapsed in the early 1930s, leading to the ascent of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and Adolf Hitler.

The Weimar constitution (adopted in the city of Weimar) was also (when promulgated) described as the best constitution in the world. It provided, like the constitution of 1990, the required space for all the political forces of the day. Both had a very decent beginning and promises for the future. Both were accepted by the common people. Unfortunately, the Weimar constitution was thrown out because it could not give enough leverage to the aspirations of Adolf Hitler, and the 1990 constitution was thrown out because it allowed little foreign hand in Nepal’s politics.

Moreover, it must be noted that the Weimar constitution was never officially repealed. The people were not prepared for this. It was attacked bit by bit, through a planned conspiracy. The legal measures taken by the Nazi government in early 1933, commonly known as “coordination” (gleichschaltung)meant that the government could legislate contrary to the constitution. Like the 1990 constitution of Nepal, it became irrelevant as time passed. The only major difference is that the next constitution was brought faster in Nepal than in Germany — but in both cases bringing major changes in the country in which the ordinary people had no say. The contexts of both the countries are different, and so the motivating factors and the tensions of cold war. But in Germany, Adolf Hitler was the main architect of this transition, and in Nepal, it was G.P. Koirala.

Koirala had a long and cherished democratic history. He was a seasoned politician. He also had an important role in all the past mass movements in Nepal. His contribution to political and economic reform in Nepal in the 1990s is also laudable. His tall, soaring personality always appealed to the people. In daura suruwal and black cap, he had a very firm and noble look. Wearing spotless clothes and shining shoes, he was a clean person, up and moving all the time. He never allowed his personality to be soiled. Full of energy, nothing was impossible for Koirala. He was a man of action — and a man of the masses. His confidence always demonstrated how smart he was in his mental make-up. He did his work himself. The personal discipline that he maintained in his day-to-day life was remarkably outstanding.

Koirala never spoke more than what would be necessary in a particular situation. He never promised anything that was not within his capacity to fulfil. He was gifted with unlimited patience to listen to others. He had an unusually high respect for women and children. He did not talk about money ever. He never kept a wallet either. He ate little, and lived with only what could be considered the bare necessities of life. He hated speculation. He was straight in his approach to politics. Above all, he endeavoured hard to implement what he had decided. These simple yet incredible aspects of his character and personality made him a tall human being.

Yet, as a politician, Koirala had a problem in the basics. A political Koirala was a problematic Koirala. He talked of democracy only in relation to the king and himself — and not in relation to his cadres and himself. It had no meaning in his political life. His party the Nepali Congress always suffered his apathy to party conventions, free competition, internal elections and popular decision making. He believed in his coterie more than his cadres. The party was without intellectual leadership during these difficult years. He had neither a big head as a planner and campaigner, nor a big heart as a politician. Yet he prevailed everywhere.

The peace process is faltering. The legacy that Koirala has left has no content of inspiration for anybody. The mood of the Constituent Assembly, and the political parties on the front line, hardly show that a new democratic constitution is about to be promulgated within the next two months. There are flaws in many documents that the assembly has produced. Koirala had no inputs for the constitution making, nor comments on the output of the house. He had little design options even as a party leader.

Extremist forces are coming up. This country is being divided on regional, ethnic and communal lines. The capacity of the democratic forces to deal with these issues remains shattered. The most terrible part of the scenario, however, is that there is no direction for a change.

The country is without leadership. Its nationalist ego is also being shattered. There are attempts to destabilise the national army as well. Had Koirala understood his own capacity and the capacity of this nation to go for revolutionary changes without hurting the values of the rule of law and the dictates of constitutionalism, this country would not have suffered this much. His poor leadership, personal ambitions and taking decisions upon the advice of foreign patrons are largely responsible for the poor state of democratic politics in this country. Koirala should have lived to face the mess that he created himself, and sort it out in a dignified way. Unfortunately, that option has also been taken away by God.

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