Thursday, January 28, 2021

Political polarization and its ramifications

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With untimely dissolution of the parliament and call for snap polls, Nepal’s politics is dangerously drifting towards extreme polarization between two camps: one supporting and other opposing PM’s move. The verbal duets and high decibel noises between these two camps have reached such a deafening level that it will not be surprising if charges and counter-charges turn into physical fights and violence. The society is gradually dividing into “Us” vs. “Them” camps. The dictum sounds like: Either you are with us or against us.

From tripartite to bipartite conflict

Historically, Nepal’s politics has been all about triangular conflicts. In early 1950, the conflict was between Ranas, Shahs and Nepali Congress. With the ousting of Ranas, the triangular conflict got replaced by Panchas (Royalists), Nepali Congress and Communists in 1960s. By 2000, the conflict took the shape of Monarchists, Maobadis and Multipartywallahs. Probably, this is the first time Nepali politics is drifting towards polarized bipartite conflict. Compared to tripartite conflicts, bipartite conflicts are quick and easy to resolve but they are decisive and far more destructive.   

The Oli camp

It is now clear that the Oli Camp is backed by pro-monarchists (RPP), some smaller communist parties like NMKP and Jana Morcha and the big Indian back up via Bharatiya Janata Party expecting to catch big fishes in the troubled waters. Basically, the camp is supported by anti-federalists, anti-secularists and anti-republicans or those who are against or are not happy with the People’s Movement II in 2006/7.

The Prachanda-Nepal Camp

The Prachanda-Nepal faction is supported by those who are seeking to uphold and retain the gains made by People’s Movement II. This included factions within Nepali Congress and Janta Samajwadi Party and a large number of civil society members and professional groups who actively participated in the People’s Movement II.

Within Nepali Congress there are two simmering views – one, eagerly waiting to contest snap polls, expecting a big victory amid divided communists and two, the snap polls are a ploy, therefore, it will be stupidity to participate in elections that is not going to happen anyway. Therefore, only sensible way out is to wage street demonstrations and, if necessary, join hands with other like-minded political forces to reinstate the parliament. By and large, Nepali Congress thinks it is in the driving seat with dubai haat ma laddu or in a situation of “having a cake and eat it too”. The indecisiveness of Nepali Congress may have put the situation on hold for a while but the political polarization will soon take a toll on the Nepali Congress.

Janata Samajwadi Party is also having two minds – first, the present constitution does not meet their aspirations, therefore, any move towards destabilization is good for them. Second line of thinking is that they must preserve what has already been achieved. Basically, federalism is the brain child of Terai-Madhesi based political parties and Oli camp is determined to destroy federalism. Provincial governments have already felt the impact of political polarization.  

By default, China is expected to take side with Prachanda-Nepal Camp as it failed to keep NCP unified due to stubbornness of Oli Government and its recent tilt toward India. In the days ahead, it will not be surprising to see Nepal turning into a playground for India and China with more proxy players in the background.         

Polarization impacts

The polarization will impact state functioning. Already, constitutional bodies like the Supreme Court, National Election Commission and the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) are in a state of indecisiveness, if not in a situation of defunct. It will take ages before the court decides on writ petitions filed against the dissolution of the parliament. The Election Commission is already in a tricky situation not having able to determine which faction is a legitimate party. The CIAA is waiting to be used as a political weapon to punish the opponents and provide clean cheats to near and dear ones. The process of polarization will soon slip into the bureaucracy and the security apparatus leading to a situation of governance paralysis.  

The economy already tattered by global pandemic situation will further bear the brunt of polarization. Foreign investors will think twice before investing in such a volatile situation. If they do come, they will come with their agenda to dictate. In a polarized situation, corruption becomes both means as well as end for survival. Lucrative jobs and contracts will go to one’s followers and yes-men. There is already news that Madan Bhandari Foundation is awarded a grant of Rs. 5 million.

Foreigners’ playground

Similar to the situation in Afghanistan, polarized situation becomes a breeding ground for foreign intervention. Nepal is already squeezed between two aspiring giant economies in the North and in the South. The country will have difficult time juggling its relationship between the two. Imagine a situation for a country where a visit to India or China cannot be done without ever visiting India or China in a row! One should note from the history that it is during political crisis situation, foreign countries have a greater say in Nepal’s internal politics, and this includes signing of trade, transit and friendship treaties and agreements to sign big infrastructure projects. Civil society members have a reason to warn the public about the visit by Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali to India. At a time of national crisis, there must be something more than vaccine diplomacy.

Likely scenario

Due to polarization, the most likely scenario includes: no reinstatement of the parliament and no elections in April/May. The country will then drift into chaos and violence with foreigners dictating their terms into Nepal’s internal matters. This could be a pessimistic view but more positive outcome could be triggering of People’s Movement III leading to greater democracy, better federalism and sound republicanism.   

Published 14 January 2021