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  Building new Nepal: pangs of power  


The vision of a new Nepal and aspirations generated by Janaandolan-II are on the verge of falling into a deep, dark ditch. Nepal has been brought to this state of affairs by the same political forces and leadership, i e of the Maoists, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML, that created the vision of new Nepal, aroused popular aspirations and led Janaandolan-II.

Why has this happened? There are obviously sharp ideological differences among these three major political forces in Nepal. But these differences were harmonized under the 12 Point Understanding of November 2005 that paved the way for the peoples’ movement. Take for instance the question of the institution of monarchy. While the Maoists wanted its removal lock stock and barrel, the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) was not prepared to go beyond curbing its ‘autocratic’ character in the interest of ‘absolute democracy’. Many in the NC, the UML and some even amongst the Maoists, until the last moment, were willing to retain monarchy (without King Gyanendra) as a cultural institution sans political power. Eventually, however, all unanimously went along its complete elimination. Similarly, there were differences on the restoration of the parliament dissolved in 2002, as the Maoists wanted a national conference to set up an interim government which could then hold the elections for Constituent Assembly (CA). The question of the management of the then king’s Royal Nepal Army (RNA) and the Maoists People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was defined only in very broad terms, so as not to open a can of controversies. The matters of details and nitty-gritty issues were not pressed upon either by the Maoists or the SPA in the interest of a broader people’s struggle and the vision of an inclusive, democratic and progressive new Nepal.

The ideological differences among these three key national players were also not allowed to vitiate the broader political consensus even after the victory of the Janaandolan-II in April 2006.  They together concluded the eight point consensus, 25 point code of conduct, paving way for the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in November 2006. Subsequently, the questions of interim constitution, interim parliament and interim government; of proportional representation, management of the two armies (the Maoist PLA cadres and the Nepali Army), holding of elections for CA and the final elimination of the monarchy were all sorted out. There were tensions but consensus and compromise prevailed. All this could be possible because the basis of power arrangement between them rooted into and legitimized by the restored/interim parliament were acceptable to all.
Critical issues of peace process and constitution making are being used as bargaining chips for access to power. The virus of power-grab has not only divided the political parties from one another but also fragmented them internally resulting in serious leadership conflicts and rivalries.
This process of transition of the old into new Nepal has, however, been experiencing serious difficulties and obstacles since May 2008, when the results of the CA elections were announced. These elections shattered the hitherto prevailing power-sharing arrangement by throwing up the Maoists as the dominant force, and the Madhes parties and Janjati groups as strong stakeholders in power. The Maoists’ emergence was indeed unexpected and shocking for the rest, including the international forces involved in Nepal. Though the election results gave the legitimacy to the Maoists to lead the new coalition but this was politically not acceptable to the other power players especially the NC, which had to hand over power. No wonder, the outgoing Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala took nearly three months to transfer power to the newly elected CA. The fear among the non-Maoist parties was that by leading the government, the Maoists will infest the critical segments of the administration with their political cadres and use the state machinery and resources to entrench themselves into Nepal’s power structure for all the time to come. Behind this fear was their sense of insecurity arising out of their respective poor electoral performances and loss of touch with their traditional political constituencies due to 10-year-old insurgency.

The Maoists could bridge this trust deficit by proposing Koirala to be the first president of the Republic of Nepal but they did not do so partly out of angst against delay in the transfer of power and partly due to their own fears that by controlling the presidency, Koirala and his Nepali Congress would constrain their political agenda and maneuvers. Under these fears, the Maoists even refused to part with the defense portfolio to the NC, resulting in the latter’s refusal to join the coalition. The pre-CA election political consensus between the Maoists and the NC broke down, almost irreparably, as of now. The vested interests both within and outside Nepal added fuel to the fire between these two major political forces that led the Janaandolan-II to success.  The Maoists naivety in managing the democratic complexities further widened the power gulf between them and the NC when they precipitated the issue of the sacking of the Chief of Nepal Army Gen Rookmangud Katawal in April 2009. This issue deepened the suspicions among the SPA constituents as well as the Tarai groups that the Maoists wanted to perpetuate their political dominance by taming the Nepal army.

Since then, there has neither been a stable power-sharing arrangement in Nepal nor a political consensus so badly needed to complete the peace process and to write a constitution. In the absence of a democratically legitimate and politically credible power-sharing arrangement, the ambitions of parties and their political leaders for power-grab have run amuck. Recall the 17 rounds of failed elections for choosing a prime minister. The logic of governmental changes is being extended on the basis of personal and party ‘turn’ in the merry-go-round of the power-grab. Critical issues of peace process and constitution making are being used as bargaining chips for access to power. The virus of power-grab has not only divided the political parties from one another but also fragmented them internally resulting in serious leadership conflicts and rivalries.

The road to rebuilding national consensus for new Nepal lies through internal cohesion within the major political parties and the culture of compromise and adjustment between them. The apparent signs lately of understanding within the Maoist party between its president Pushpa Kamal Dahal and the ideologue Baburam Bhattarai, and in the NC between President Sushil Koirala and former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba are welcome developments in this respect. The Maoists initiative to compromise on the question of integration and rehabilitation of their armed cadres by accepting the Nepal Army’s proposals on this issue, even at the cost of powerful internal dissent, is also a major positive move toward carrying forward the peace process and rebuilding the national consensus. The insistence of the NC in league with factions of UML on a push for the peace process before the CA term extension is understandable but to link it up with the immediate change in the government is nothing but the extension of ruthless and illogical power-struggle. The NC has rightly started reviving its grass-root contacts. It is this mobilization of its social constituencies which will strengthen its claims for a larger share in the national power structure, not the toppling of prime ministers and changing of the governments. Much as this is necessary at this critical junction to secure extension of CA by another six months or a year, but that will do no good to the country and its people unless it is accompanied by a strong and genuine urge to build a consensus to reinforce the vision of Janaandolan-II. Without this consensus, the complex and formidable questions of peace process, federalism and forms of government will not be resolved to the satisfaction of the Nepali people.

India and the international community played a very constructive and decisive role helping Nepali political parties to forge a consensus for building new Nepal. With the breakdown of consensus in the aftermath of CA elections, the powerful external forces also became partisans in Nepal’s internal struggle for power, contributing to the fuelling and fanning of this struggle. The emergence of the Maoists was perceived by them as a challenge to their respective political preferences and strategic interests. This was an erroneous and kneejerk reaction. India, in particular, for all its closest identity and longest association with Nepal, must have realized that neither Nepal’s history, culture and social ethos were compatible with totalitarian and extremist governance nor its geography and population would permit the Maoists to play the China card beyond a limit to dent India’s strategic presence. Even now, it is not too late for India and the international community to push Nepal’s major political stakeholders toward rebuilding their broader political consensus in the interest of creating an inclusive, democratic and responsive polity. It is in the enlightened interest of India and the international community to help Nepal arrest its political drift and encourage it in the right direction.

Writer is Visiting Research Professor, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore
Published on 2011-05-24 00:56:59
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Building New Nepal: Pangs Of Power
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That "fear" and "insecurity" arise out of dismal performance and loss of touch with the grass-root is undoubtedly true. (That was precisely the reason why the GOP gradually lost its base and its meaningful relevance over the last one and a half decades!) Today, the Left politics in Nepal is facing a similar conundrum. Internal "cohesion" is possible only when the political leadership cultivates the self-discipline of respecting the sovereign people who constitute the true Žlocus of powerŽ in a d [more]
  - Anonymous
wise man, wise article.

He has studied Nepal much more closely than most of the comment-makers. [more]
  - kedar
It's interesting to read the article by Muni, whose analysis largely relies on news reports and feeders by some pro-Maoist "intellectuals" in Nepal. Muni needs to first understand the fact that the Maoists had signed in CPA and subsequent agreements to complete the PLA integration in six months, return the seized property in three months and formally renounce violence. He also should read the words in CPA--the nitty-gritty of integration. The CPA clearly states that the verified PLA combatants c [more]
  - Mohan, Kathmandu
The article appears to be a wise counsel to come out of present turmoil in Nepal. [more]
  - yajna Man Tamrakar
Prof. Muni, you sure remind us of the good doctor Pangloss in Voltaire´s Candide, but that would be a big mistake on our part. You are too smart to be so compared. You want us to believe that all is best in this best possible of loktantras and simple consensus between the parties to the 12-point Delhi architecture would make everything as good as new. Ha! I know you as one of the main architects of the unholy deal which thankfully has collapsed with the democratic forces such as the Congr [more]
  - Party Peedit
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