NOT for the first time, or the last, both the media-friendly tribe of political analysts and psephologists, as also the political establishment failed to read the public mood. And the failure was not marginal. In a sharp rebuff to the talking heads who inevitably dominate public discourse in the run up to elections, the recently concluded elections to the Constituent Assembly in Nepal saw the Maoist party conclusively besting other contenders, both the pro-monarchy parties and its allies in the seven-party alliance. The much touted Nepal Congress and the UML, widely anticipated to struggle for the top two positions, returned dismal figures with many of their stalwarts biting the dust.
So why did so many, rare exceptions apart, who should have known better get it so wrong? Is there a basic flaw in the methodology to study and capture public mood, and even more convert popular vote shares into seats? Do our analysts still continue to rely overwhelmingly on categories like caste and community to the detriment of other solidarities – be it class, age or gender? Or is it that epochal events, and clearly elections to select representatives to design a new constitution classify as such, cannot be understood in frameworks more suited for normal times? Though the final verdict is available, the jury in still out.
It is after all no secret that for well over a decade the Maoists had the run of large parts of the Nepal countryside. Whether or not we agree with their political philosophy or strategy, and no matter what our understanding of the ‘havoc’ they are accused of creating, that they radically rewrote the social conditions in the countryside enabling, for the first time, the excluded and the marginalized some freedom to carve their own destiny cannot be seriously countered.
Women, youth dalits and janjatis – all of whom enjoyed little space and effective voice in erstwhile Nepal – were drawn to their call of republican Nepal, one which would be more inclusive/representative and hopefully less exploitative. Many joined as their cadre, driving out the police and army. Surely, this massive mobilization would have some impact in elections? Add to this the fact that both the NC and the UM-L had been party to various governments and people had seen and assessed for themselves their reliability as genuine representatives.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the Maoist call for giving their people a chance proved stronger than backing the ‘tried and tested’ politicians and parties, more so since so many of the erstwhile excluded were first time participants in the elections. It almost appears that the analysts fear of the unknown, if not ideological bias against a formation threatening an overturning of the known order combined with its proclivity to use violence, created blinkers.
Unsurprisingly, now that the results are in, the refrain has turned to the problems Nepal will face under a Maoist dispensation. We are increasingly reminded of the ‘horrors’ that the long insurgency and civil war wreaked on the country, on how capital will flee Nepal, that trade and tourism will see a decline, and so on. Much is made of the discomfort of the Indian security establishment, fearful that the Maoist victory in Nepal will further embolden its home-based militants.
All this may well be ‘true’, just as it is pointless to minimize the many challenges facing the new establishment in Nepal – from handling the complex problems of the Madhesis in the Terai, tempering the heightened expectations of the numerous janjatis and, most of all, providing a constructive engagement for the Maoist cadre, both the armed militia and the noisy Youth Communist League who might be tempted to settle scores with old opponents. But from caution to cynicism and defeatism is a short, slippery slope. For all we know, the Nepali Maoist leadership may still surprise.
The initial pronouncements of its leadership – both Prachanda and Bhattarai – have been measured. And like the much reviled Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan, who have displayed uncharacteristic magnanimity and accommodation in victory, there is no reason to presume that the Maoist leadership in Nepal will not grow into their new roles. Yes, they are likely to be unyielding in their demand for an abolition of the monarchy and convert Nepal from a Hindu kingdom to a secular republic. That in any case is a call of the times. But to assume the worst case scenario as the most likely one – the favourite ploy of the no-changers – would be a serious error, and one most guaranteed to deny Nepal and Nepali people their chance at remaking history. Hopefully this time the political pundits and establishments will read the situation better.