Thursday, 7 December, 2023

BSP Chair’s Dangerous Proposal

Mukunda Raj Kattel

For some four years now, Bibeksheel Sajha Party (BSP) has been harping on about ‘alternative politics’ in Nepal. Some BSP advocates are even found to claim the party to be the harbinger of hope in politics. The erosion of moral high ground in the mainstream political parties, they bet, gives the BSP a competitive edge over those of the rest. And, the alternative vision and leadership ability they have enables them to deliver what the mainstream has failed. However, things took a contrastive turn on July 26, when the BSP chairperson Rabindra Mishra floated a political proposal for discussion, which his own lieutenants rubbished, a week later, as a “threat to the party’s progressive character”.

Three elements
Mishra’s proposal centres around three elements that undergird the Constitution of Nepal, 2015: federalism, secularism and republicanism. He proposes to abolish federalism and hold referendum on secularism in order to achieve the third outcome, which he has tactfully chosen to remain implicit about: the reversal of the republic and the revival of the monarchy.
What Mishra has said or implied should not be of that much of concern. Entitled to the freedom of thought and expression, one can think even the unthinkable and put it on paper. ‘How’ Mishra has said ‘what’ he has said should, however, worry all of us.

Federalism, claims Mishra, is not a home-grown idea. It is rather a concept forced on us – the ‘us’ being everyone except perhaps Mishra – by Westerners. Since we cannot think and imagine on our own, drivels Mishra, and only act on the basis of “manufactured perceptions,” the concept imposed by foreign elements should be abolished. Or else, we will lose national security and integrity. Federalism has also added “financial burden, corruption and inefficiency” to other disappointments of ordinary Nepalis, goes on Mishra. However, these economic and governance woes are not what worry him. He is plainly worried about federalism posing a fatal threat to the nation’s security and integrity.

To substantiate his claim, Mishra turns to a shallow argument that the existing structure of federalism will soon give way to the demands of ethnicity and identity-based units and, once it is achieved, further to “federalism with the right to self-determination.” With the later demand of Madhesi people, implies Mishra, India’s strategic interests come into play in a manner that risks Nepal’s resources, such as water, as well as sovereignty in the long run. This scenario emerges from Mishra’s figment of imagination and his doubt on the loyalty, patriotism and integrity of the Madhesi people. When a choice is available, suggests Mishra, Madhesi people will chose Indian interests over that of their country.

Mishra’s claim on secularism is as fanciful as on federalism. He repeats the same argument that secularism too was imposed by external elements, especially Europeans, to pave the way for religious conversion in Nepal. Arguing that secularism is divisive and Hinduism is unifying, he laments that people’s demands for a Hindu state were “blatantly disregarded” by the Constituent Assemblies that wrote the 2015 constitution. The blunder committed by top leaders, stresses Mishra, should now be corrected through a referendum and Nepal should be reverted to a Hindu state as per the choice of the people. Mishra is sure that referendum will throw aside secularism, one of the hallmarks of the constitution of the day, and give what he wants – a Hindu state.

Mishra’s argument on the dissolution of the institution of the monarchy is no less conspiratorial. Referring to a hearsay, he writes that “India had approached King Gyanendra with several enticements and commitments when the demands for republic were being raised” with one of them being “the proposal about ‘baby king’". Since Gyanendra rejected the proposal, claims Mishra, India winked at the call for the republic, which created ground for the dissolution of the institution of the monarchy, which over history had stood in the way of India’s strategic interests in Nepal. With the monarchy gone, Nepal lost her institutional authority to rise to India and Western powers. Political leaders, continues Mishra, are not able to do even a fraction of what the monarchs have done.

Although chosen to remain implicit, Mishra does not mince words and makes no secret of his penchant for the monarchy, which he claims is home-grown, unlike federalism and secularism, which are engineered by the West, and the republic, which is India-fed. Mishra’s proposal for “Changing Course” by keeping “Nation above Notion” – which is how it is titled – boils down to the revival of the monarchy as a panacea for all the ills facing the Nepali people. And, to this end, the two obstacles – federalism and secularism – should be done away with.

At the core of Mishra’s proposal is to undercut the foundation of the constitution that has been written following a long and arduous period of political unrest and a violent conflict triggered by, among others, the socio-political culture institutionalised by the monarchy. Mishra cannot pretend to forget that the constitution is the outcome of a decade-long exercise that followed the Comprehensive Peace Accord of 2006. During the period, an enormous amount of time, resources and energy has been spent to review the past and, based on insights and lessons, chart a course for future. The product – the constitution – has had an overwhelming buy-in from the people at large, as seen in the record participation of people in the elections held over the years. It will continue, for some decades to come, to lead the process to usher Nepal in a new era of prosperity. The xenophobic hyperboles that call for the demolition of its foundations should, thus, be rejected outright. So should be the conspiracy theories that led credence to the hyperboles.

Cure the pimple
All that said, I agree to Mishra’s contentions that the political leadership has failed to match the need of the day and live up to the expectation of the people. It is, however, not the fault of the system, nor of the constitution. It is instead the failure of the Bhishma Pitamahas (patriarchs) of mainstream political parties to walk the talk. The respective parties will, and must, rectify this failure sooner or later. When you have a pimple on your cheek and you don’t like it, you do not cut off your neck.
Rabindrajee, we are not in Lenin’s time. Two step backwards do not make an alternative to a step forward.

(A PhD on human rights and peace, Kattel is a senior research fellow at Policy Research Institute.