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Emerging Political Equations in Nepal

The hundred-year-old monarchy is being eased out and despite some hiccups, the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists are working towards the formation of an interim government. They do have a number of apprehensions, but the majority of the Nepali people are optimistic that their country is going to witness a major change in governance.

Emerging Political Equations in Nepal

The hundred-year-old monarchy is being eased out and despite some hiccups, the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists are working towards the formation of an interim government. They do have a number of apprehensions, but the majority of the Nepali people are optimistic that their country is going to witness a major change in governance.

MUCHKUND DUBEY

N
epal is poised for major revolutionary political changes. The century-old monarchy is in its last stage. The king has been deprived one by one of all his special powers and privileges. The Royal Nepal Army has been renamed the Nepali Army. The king is no longer the Supreme commander-in-chief of this army. Only recently, the Nepali cabinet appointed a new commander-inchief, instead of the king doing so. The royal advisory body, “the state council” has been abolished. Now the king cannot even frame laws or issue orders regarding the royal succession. And, finally, his incomes will now be subjected to taxation.

The king no longer enjoys the support of the army. Senior officers of the army did not utter a word when the king’s powers were taken away. The Nepali army today is prepared to function under a fully democratic set-up. There are very few among the Nepalese who are prepared to shed a tear for the king, though a handful of them would not mind the survival of a ceremonial monarchy. In the 12-point agreement reached on November 22, 2005, among the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) it is clearly stated: “We fully agree that the autocratic monarchy is the main obstacle. We are in clear agreement that peace and prosperity of the country is quite impossible without ending autocracy and establishing absolute democracy”. They, therefore, agreed to attach the highest priority “to intensifying the ongoing democratic movement across the country in order to bring the autocratic monarchy to an end”. Thus one of the twin pillars of the Nepali political system has collapsed. The only remaining pillar now is that of democracy.

There is a feeling among the people that Girija Prasad Koirala, the prime minister and the leader of the Nepali Congress, would like to retain the monarchy in a ceremonial form; but other important parties of the SPA are against it. In a summit meeting held at the residence of Madhav Nepal, the leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), it was decided that the future of the monarchy should be decided through a referendum to be held side by side with the elections to the constituent assembly. The result of the proposed referendum could very well be the last nail in the coffin of the monarchy.

Different Mass Movement

These far-reaching changes in Nepal have been brought about by a mass movement, which is unprecedented in the annals of the Indian subcontinent. No doubt, Mahatma Gandhi succeeded in mounting one of the largest mass movements in world history during the time of India’s independence movement. But that movement was against foreign rule. The movement that the people of Nepal have launched is against

Economic and Political Weekly October 21, 2006

the inefficiency, arbitrariness or excesses of their domestic political forces. While on the one hand they have been persecuted by the monarchy, on the other hand they have been the victims of the violence, kidnapping and extortions of the Maoists. At the same time, they have suffered immensely because of the corruption, misgovernance and internal bickering of their political parties. That is why they decided to come out on the streets in hundreds of thousands and launch a campaign for establishing a new political system, in collaboration with the SPA and the Maoists.

The people of Nepal want to save their country from the horrors of more than a decade-old civil war. They have come to the conclusion that the only way to do so is to bring the Maoists the mainstream of national politics on the basis of an altogether new political contract. For the sake of the unity of the country and for bringing the ongoing violence to an end, they have decided to excuse both the Marxists and the political parties for their mistakes. In the 12-point agreement, they have obliged both the Maoists and the SPA to agree “to introspect on their past mistakes and… express commitment not to repeat such mistakes in future”. They have also compelled the political parties to agree to the two main demands of the Maoists, i e, the election of a new constituent assembly and formulation by it of a new Constitution.

The SPA and the Maoists have played an important role in organising the mass movement. But this movement has developed mainly as an autonomous political process in which civil society organisations have played the key role. A prominent personality associated with this movement told this writer, “We are keeping the street warm” and in the event of any breach by the SPA or the Maoists of the commitments undertaken by them in the 12-point agreement, “we will bring the people back on the streets in massive numbers”. Both the Maoists and the SPA are aware that this can very well happen.

It is true that the Maoists are not strictly abiding by the code of conduct of the ceasefire agreed upon by them. There are still daily reports, confirmed by eyewitnesses, of their acts of violence, kidnapping and extortion. Nevertheless, the people are proceeding on the assumption that the Maoists are keen to join the political mainstream, as they are tired and discouraged by the results achieved by their decadeold militancy. They are aware that the people of Nepal would not allow them to acquire power by force. In this context, they regard the acceptance of their two main demands as an honourable culmination of their long struggle.

There is an impression among the people that once the Maoists join the political mainstream, they will be obliged to tamper their extremism, as happened with the UML. After joining democratic politics, the Maoists will have to compete with other political parties, particularly the UML. This will not be easy because of their unpopularity on account of their violence of the past. It would, therefore, be necessary for them to adjust their political stand and modus operandi. Thus the democratic process will put them in their proper place in Nepali politics. Therefore, the Nepali people are not as apprehensive about the future activities of the Maoists as some in India appear to be.

In this overall context, the surrender of arms by the Maoists has emerged as one of the most important issues in the changing political equation in Nepal. Neither in the 12-point agreement of November 22, 2005 nor in the 8-point agreement of June 16, 2006, have the Maoists agreed to surrender arms. Therefore, to say that they are committed to laying down arms before entering the interim government or the commencement of the election to the constituent assembly is not correct. However, in some of their proposals made unilaterally and in the public speeches of their prominent leaders, they have talked about transforming the Nepali army and their “people’s army” into a national army. They have also said that this can be done during the course of the current peace process.

In the 12-point agreement, it has been stated: “We have agreed that the armies of both the Royal Nepali Army and the Maoists will be supervised by the United Nations or a reliable international body to ensure free and fair election to the constituent assembly”. In the 8-point agreement, both sides have formally requested the United Nations “to help manage the armies and weapons of both sides and to monitor it in order to ensure free and fair election to the constituent assembly”.

There is apparently considerable apprehension among the SPA regarding the armed cadre and the weapons of the Maoists. Most SPA constituents are afraid that if Maoists entered the interim government without surrendering weapons, the government will come under constant pressure. And if they contested the elections with their arms intact, the elections would never be free and fair. Prime minister Koirala is believed to be putting pressure on the Maoists to surrender their arms before entering the interim government. This condition has become the main obstacle to the formation of such a government. It is generally believed that the Maoists would not surrender their arms except as a part of an overall solution. This is because in the absence of strong support among people, their military force constitutes their main strength. At the same time, there is widespread hope that though the Maoists would not surrender their weapons before joining the interim government, they would do so before the elections. This belief derives from the other commitments accepted by the Maoists in the 12-point and 8-point agreements. For example, in the 12-point agreement, they have given “commitment to move into new peaceful political line”. They have also agreed to accept the results of the elections. In addition, they have expressed “firm commitment to the acceptance of the multi-party system, fundamental rights of the people, human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles and values...”. This commitment to multiparty governing system, civil liberties, human rights, democratic norms and values, etc, are reiterated in the 8-point agreement.

Foreign Reactions

Among the foreign powers, the Nepalese are unhappy with the attitude of the US. Because of his aggressive posture, the American ambassador, James Moriarty is seen by the Nepalese people as a major obstacle to the peace process. He visits military cantonments and far-off districts in government helicopters and makes it a point to summon press conferences after each such visit, to highlight the excesses committed by the Maoists. In Kathmandu, he frequently calls on prime minister Koirala in order to advise him not to accept the Maoists in the interim government until they surrender their arms. The US is not a substantial aid giver to Nepal. Nevertheless, the American ambassador there exercises considerable influence because of the ability of the US, as a superpower, to influence other governments and institutions which are assisting Nepal in a major way.

In the beginning, the Nepalese were not happy with the attitude of the European Union. This is mainly because they had tried to persuade the political parties to accept king Gyanendra’s proposal to

Economic and Political Weekly October 21, 2006 nominate a candidate for prime minister. But when the SPA rejected this proposal and instead called upon the king to revive the parliament, the European Union changed its attitude. Since then it has shown full respect for the feelings of the people in Nepal. As a result, the EU has been able, on the whole, to project a positive image, different from that of the US.

The Nepalese are not very happy with the attitude of the government of India. In their perception, India frequently vacillates, which creates a lot of misunderstanding. In this context Karan Singh’s visit to Nepal in a last minute bid to save the monarchy, will go down as one of the most serious blunders in the diplomatic history of India. At a time when the entire population of Nepal was against monarchy, the decision by the government of India to send to Kathmandu a high-level politician to save the monarchy was not only against India’s interests in Nepal but also doomed to fail. Several prominent participants in the mass movement confided that when in a meeting of political parties organised by the Indian embassy, Karan Singh mooted the proposal for these parties proposing a name for the prime minister’s post, they summarily rejected it. In spite of that, when Singh met king Gyanendra, he pursued the same line. What happened thereafter was a severe setback to Indian diplomacy. The position was somewhat retrieved when the then foreign secretary who had accompaniedSingh to Nepal, announced immediately on his return to Delhi, that India would abide by the wishes of the Nepalese people. Later the positive role played by the CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury in bringing the SPA and Maoists together, and large-size budget support given by India to Nepal, went a long way towards improving India’s image in that country.

However, the Nepalese are once again intrigued by India’s current attitude. There is a feeling among a section of the public opinion there that India would still prefer the monarchy to be retained in some form or the other. But more serious than that, there is a general feeling that the government of India is putting pressure on the Nepalese prime minister not to allow the Maoists to enter into the interim government until they surrender their arms. India is thus seen in the company of the US, as an obstacle to the peace process.

Several prominent persons in the security establishment of India as well as those involved in policy-making argue that the Maoists cannot be trusted because ultimately they believe in the cult of violence and, therefore, their commitment to democracy is only a tactical device. But there is no denying the fact is that the Nepalese people have decided to trust the Maoists. They have taken this risk after considering all the relevant factors. It will be imprudent for the government of India not to respect this judgment of the Nepalese people.

Several of these policy-makers and security experts, are of the view that the entry of Maoists in the government and their enhanced influence in the country, would put India’s security in jeopardy. This conclusion is also not valid. It is very unlikely that the Maoists will ever take complete control of the government or even emerge as the most important power in the country. Even if they do so, they are not going to unnecessarily annoy India let alone posing a threat to its security. For, they are prudent enough to know that it can have serious consequences for their country and for their party. They are also unlikely to destabilise India through their help to Indian Maoists and Naxalites. The top leaders of the Maoist in their recent public statements have repeatedly stated

Economic and Political Weekly October 21, 2006

that their relations with these groups in India are only ideological, and that they are not providing any arms or military training to them. No Indian security agency has until now been able to prove to the contrary.

There is an air of both optimism and concern in Kathmandu today. A section of the population is concerned about the slow pace of the peace process. They are afraid that if the implementation of the principal demands of the Maoists is held up for long, they might return to the jungle. There is also concern on account of the differences among the SPA partners and the internal bickerings within the important political parties. On the other hand, the optimists believe that an interim government would be in place in a few weeks and that the election to the constituent assembly would be completed by the end of May. The vast majority of the people are in the camp of the optimists, because they have suffered so much that they see no alternative to being optimists.

EPW

Email: csdnd@del2.vsnl.net.in

Economic and Political Weekly October 21, 2006

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