Kaile sasu ko palo kaile buhari ko is a popular Nepali saying, which can be said to roughly imply that the actors in the driver’s seat change with time. Last May, it was the turn of the Maoists, this May it is that of Nepali Congress (NC), among others, to bargain. Last May 28, the opposition Maoists set the resignation of Prime Minister (PM) Madhav Kumar Nepal (MKN) who headed the coalition government of CPN-UML, NC and Madhesi parties, as the No 1 precondition to extend the term of the Constituent Assembly (CA) that was to expire the next day.
As without Maoists’ support whose strength in the House is nearly 40 percent, an amendment in the (interim) constitution (which requires a two-third majority to pass) was not possible, MKN either had to succumb or shoulder the blame of dissolving the CA without writing a constitution. Although all major parties, the Maoists being the main among them, were responsible for most of the delay and the stalemate that took place in writing the constitution, no alliance that runs a government could afford the dissolution without a workable alternate.
MKN, therefore, resigned when he still enjoyed the majority support of the legislative assembly, hence his opponents were unable to elect his successor all along the seven months after he resigned. Jhalanath Khanal (JNK), his own party president, who, openly or covertly, helped Maoists in forcing MKN out, now sails the troubled water of a loosely interconnected coalition as Pushpa Kumar Dahal (PKD) heads the control room of the vessel. As another May 28 is just round the corner amidst a similar situation (an incomplete peace process and unfinished constitution writing), now it is the turn of NC, now in opposition, to play the bargaining game.
The alliance decided the other day to table a constitution amendment bill to extend the term of the CA. But the move, which was only the latest in the series of decisions taken without prior consultation with the party, seems to have brought the Prime Minister (PM) more headaches than relief. In a worsening confrontation, the politburo and the central committee of the party he chairs have almost echoed the preconditions put forward by NC to support the resolution. NC’s two main conditions out of ten are the resignation of the PM and the management of the Maoist Army in a way acceptable to all.
NC’s conditions may appear stringent but they are not without justifications. You can fool some people for some time but you cannot fool all the people all the time goes another popular saying. And NC has become wiser this time. The Maoists, especially its shrewd leader PKD, succeeded in fooling everybody, especially the late Girija Prasad Koirala, mostly by playing on the latter’s lust for power, and got for some time whatever he wanted without keeping his promise made in exchange. Now none of them believe his words unless matched by deeds. Their message is loud, clear and unequivocal: Prove your honesty in peace-building and in writing a democratic constitution or face the consequences.
Yes, it may be argued that contentious issues or mammoth tasks that could not be resolved all along the three years cannot be resolved within a week. That’s true but they are something the Maoists, and not NC or others, have failed to do in the past. As the No 1 political force, as the single largest party in the CA and as the biggest stakeholder and part of the peace process, it is the Maoists’ duty to cooperate both in peace-building and constitution writing. So, naturally the opposition sees the occasion as an opportunity to pressurize the Maoists.
Self-interests, hidden as well as surfaced, of actors and mediators of the 12-point deal aside (followed by a series of supplementary pacts), the deal and other deals that followed have laid down specific obligations on the part of each signatory. Parties like NC, CPN-UML and others that believed in constitutional monarchy agreed to switch to a republic; in exchange the Maoists promised to give up violence, arms and the long, bloody and costly rebellion besides an assurance to join mainstream and democratic polity.
One need not be a political pundit to predict the unpredictability and dangers that lie ahead if the term of the CA is not extended. The constitutional vacuum and the fluid and anarchic politics bitterly polarized along ideological and ethno-lingual lines will bring catastrophe to the nation and the people.
While other signatories by and large kept their promise, Maoists did not; this is why the former are bargaining. Some argue that it should be taken as a natural delay, and not willful denial, on the part of the Maoists to transform. Fine, but most of their actions indicate the contrary, not to mention their plans/words such as power seize or ‘people’s revolt’ adopted by the party as its future political course. In the past, whenever there were pressures to do so, PKD committed both verbally and in writing on a number of issues that ranged from peace-building to the formation of a state restructuring committee to the return of seized private and public properties by Maoist cadres to the creation of a truth and reconciliation committee to the dismantlement of their militia – theYCL – only to backtrack once the pressure eased. His tactics were to dismiss if possible, or dilly-dally the ‘give’ part while cashing in on the ‘take’ ones.
One need not be a political pundit to predict the unpredictability and dangers that lie ahead if the term of the CA is not extended. The constitutional vacuum and the fluid and anarchic politics bitterly polarized along ideological and ethno-lingual lines will bring catastrophe to the nation and the people. Expiry of the CA, albeit legal and logical, is therefore not a viable option. However, despite the merit of the extension, NC has been pushed to bargain mainly because of Maoists’ poor track record in living up to its commitments—and it was the Maoists themselves who set the precedent of a last minute bargain the night before the expiry of the CA.
Power mostly brings wealth and clout, but not always; at times it brings serious challenges as well. May 28 is one such occasion when Maoists will have to execute their ‘give’ part or let the CA dissolve, which will be more damaging to them than to any other political force. After all the condition of PM’s resignation is a blessing in disguise to PKD himself as NC’s turn to lead the government will come only after they agree to the proposed rotation formula of sharing power.
As for the peace process, the numbers, modalities and norms of Maoist combatants’ integration into the national armed forces, as proposed by NC, pro-Madhesi parties and the UML can be negotiated. State restructuring, the most contentious, delicate and risky part of the forthcoming constitution, can be entrusted to a state restructuring committee. Communists need not treat ‘social rights’ as bargain tools to agree on universal tenets of democratic rights. Baburam Bhattarai and Ram Sharan Mahat can sit together and work out on a series of social rights that are sustainable.
And one final word of caution, especially to JNK: Any attempt to extend the CA tenure with a ‘two-third majority’ will not be possible in the first place as the alliance already falls short of the numbers required. Despite that, if he wants to give it a try, UML will be the next party to split after the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum, thus reducing JNK to the status of Upendra Yadav.