Ram Baran Yadav vs His Detractors

Ram Baran Yadav vs His Detractors

During the last 6-7 years I have had the opportunity to meet, observe and get to know many Nepali leaders from different political parties, civil society and other walks of life. I have found many smart, intelligent, articulate and committed leaders, some of whom have made great sacrifice for the nation. I have also found many cunning, calculating, and demagogic leaders, who excel in using their oratorical skills to vilify others and glorify themselves or their party in a self-serving and self-righteous manner.

It is in the nature of competitive politics everywhere that sometimes even the most mature, responsible and enlightened leaders take partisan positions, especially in the heat of electoral campaigns. But truly great and decent leaders often rise to the occasion and overcome their partisanship and become champions of broader national interest.

Of all the contemporary political leaders of Nepal, I have found Ram Baran Yadav to be one such exemplary leader.

I did not know much about Ram Baran Yadav until he became Nepal’s first president. I have personally known him only for a few months. But during this time I have found one admirable quality in him that I have rarely found in any other contemporary leader of Nepal. He has been a consistent champion of what he believes to be in the best interest of Nepal as a nation.

President Ram Baran Yadav has been an exemplary leader. He has been a consistent champion of what he believes to be in the best interest of Nepal as a nation.

Scratch the surface, and you will find that most other leaders are driven by either their party’s ideological interest or their own self interest in terms of class, caste, ethnicity, region, etc. often cloaked as representing the national interest. But as president, Ram Baran Yadav has impressed me – and many other Nepalis – as one of those rare Nepali leaders who have always stood for the unity, integrity, and prosperity of the nation as a whole, rather than its sub-component parts.

It is, therefore, extremely painful to see this decent man being vilified as acting unconstitutionally and undemocratically by partisan politicians and activists whose own record of following constitutional norms and democratic practices is deeply flawed and suspect.

The Supreme Court will soon decide if the president’s actions were constitutional. The case could also be taken to the sovereign Constituent Assembly which after all symbolizes the supremacy of the people, and has the power to even impeach the president. But his detractors have no patience or use for such constitutional and democratic remedies. In the name of “civilian supremacy” they are hell-bent to impose their views through street pressure and intimidation – i.e. through any and all means – except the designated constitutional means, as practiced in most civilized democratic states.

It is ironic that the one political party that has not renounced violence, that keeps a private army of its own, and that still subscribes to an ideology of “power comes from the barrel of the gun”, claims to stand for “civilian supremacy”. All other political parties with a much longer and consistent record of following democratic norms are castigated as supporting militarization, and being feudal, reactionary, anti-people, lackeys of foreigners – as certified by self-proclaimed defenders of the people.

The Maoists and their sympathizers being the only supporters of “civilian supremacy” sounds curiously like the old Nepali saying “the cat is the watchdog of the milk” – doodhko saakshi biraalo!

No political party in Nepal currently matches the para-military youth organization and other fraternal groups aligned with the Maoists in terms of their capacity to organize demonstrations, agitation, intimidation and even what is known as “physical action” – i.e. killing and maiming of their opponents. Currently such activism has been unleashed to give the impression that the whole country is united against the president’s “unconstitutional” act.

In this effort, the Maoist cause has been greatly aided by a group of supposedly “neutral” civil society leaders – some of whom had played an important role at the time of the 2006 People’s Movement, but who seem to have aligned themselves, perhaps even inadvertently, with the Maoists since then. The one-sided vitriol coming from some members of this civil society leadership is breath-taking. Reminiscent of the hired propagandists in the Stalin-era communist regimes, a well-known and thoroughly partisan leftist writer known for his poison-pen activism characterizes Ram Baran Yadav as “an evil president who is tempted by greed for power, and is desperately seeking a crown and a throne”. No one with an iota of objectivity would characterize Yadav, a humble son of a farmer and a life-long democrat, in such hyperbolic terms.

It is understandable for the Maoists to charge that the president violated the Constitution. But how about the constitutionality of the decision taken by a coalition government during a cabinet meeting boycotted by over half of its ministers and objected to by all coalition partners of the prime minister’s party?

In a parliamentary system, is it not the constitutional duty of the president to take account of the views conveyed to him in writing by 18 political parties representing the majority of the membership of the Constituent Assembly? And how about the constitutionality of the unilateral actions of a prime minister who no longer commanded the support of his coalition partners on this issue and whose government had effectively ceased to enjoy the support of a majority of CA members?

There is something deeply disturbing about supposedly “neutral” civil society leaders not even granting the benefit of doubt to a president with life-long record of commitment to norms of democracy, while granting carte blanche credibility to unilateral decisions of a party which waged a violent insurgency against parliamentary democracy. There is a cruel irony in a political party and its leaders who maintain their own private army and who have publicly and unapologetically vowed to destabilize and politicize a professional national army claiming to stand for “civilian supremacy”.

This is not to blindly defend the Nepal Army or its chief as paragons of virtue. There are many documented cases of unprofessional behavior, human rights abuses and impunity perpetrated by the army in the past. But the Maoist army is no less guilty of its own brutalities, forced recruitment, including that of minors, and other violations of human rights and impunity. Furthermore, in terms of “civilian supremacy” a national army infiltrated by the ideologically indoctrinated partisan army of one political party is infinitely less likely to follow such supremacy, unless it is that of its own political party masters.

Whereas one can speculate about the president’s intentions, the Maoists’ intentions to infiltrate the army, destabilize other independent institutions and to capture state power need no speculation – the official pronouncement of the recent Maoist party convention in Kharipati, Prachanda’s video-taped message to his party cadres in January 2008, and a consistent pattern of follow-up actions ever since, are there in the public domain for all to see.

Yet, it is the humble and decent Ram Baran Yadav, circumscribed by the decorum of his office; and mindful of his constitutional duties, who is being portrayed as the villain. Yadav possibly helped prevent a major national disaster by his difficult but thoughtful decision not to lend constitutional legitimacy to a seemingly unconstitutional and unilateral act of the ruling political party on May 3, 2009. The Supreme Court and history of Nepal will judge whether he was a hero or a villain. But there is no question in my mind that his decency, his love of the nation, his commitment to democracy and genuine “civilian supremacy” is unmatched by his self-serving opponents and detractors.

(Writer is former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.)

Source: www.myrepublica.com, Published On: 2009-05-10