POWER SHIFT IN NEPAL Seshadri Chari
The Maoist insurgency led by CPN-M began as a trickle in 1996 with armed rebellion in the western hills of the Himalayan Kingdom and expanded throughout the country in less than a decade. The Palace killings (Kot Murder-2) in 2001 put the Monarchy and all political parties in a quandary, thus discrediting the new King Gyanendra and the Nepali Congress which was ruling at that time. To make matters worse, in 2002, King Gyanendra dismissed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, ironically for not holding elections, and declared himself absolute Monarch. After series of government changes followed by a state of Emergency, he incarcerated all political leaders condemning their failure to reign in the Maoists, promised elections, led the army from upfront against the Maoist rebels and ended up killing more than 13,000 people.
During this time various groups in the plains of Nepal called Tarai rallied under different “Madeshi” parties and became a significant political force drawing the Maoists, NC and the pro-Monarchy elements towards its support base. Ironically, the Maoists as well as the Madeshi parties used their sympathisers in New Delhi more often than relying on their own supports back home. They all appeared to be more eager to hold on to authority without facing the people’s wrath in elections.
Finally, on April 10, 2008, Nepal voted for nation’s first-ever Constituent Assembly election and on May 28, Nepal’s Constituent Assembly met for the first time and voted to abolish the monarchy, transforming Nepal into a federal democratic republic. The Maoists had evened the score with the Palace but in their exuberance, began to behave as new monarchs totally disregarding the commitment to the people. The new Constitution was a far cry as no one spoke about it even as Nepal began to reel under non governance, runaway inflation, 24x7 power outages, and extreme cynicism. The Maoists did not disappoint George Orwell.
For more than a couple of years all was not well in the Maoist camp. The tussle between groups owing allegiance to Prachanda, Baidya and Baburam Bhattarai spilled over to the streets of Kathmandu seriously threatening the peace process and the Constitution drafting, which was the main reason the CA was elected in the first place. The party’s highest forum was irretrievably split while discussing as many as eleven serious issues such as right to justice, right to property, right to social justice and political objective of the State but all the while the Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who was also the coordinator of the Problem Resolution Sub-Committee, habitually skipped all such meetings. Patently ‘Bourgeois’ characteristics like Intra party feuds and subterfuge became common in CPN-M which opposed its own government.
The task of drafting the Constitution was eclipsed by the petty party politics and sharing spoils of power. Due to instability four governments headed the CA in four years each contradicting one another and their own parties as well. Political consensus eluded basic concepts about governance and hence the CA became a tool in the hands of self serving power hungry individuals totally divorced from ideology or love for the country. As a result of this politics got badly fragmented giving rise to worst form of identity politics such as Tarai versus Hill, Madeshi versus Newari and much more.
After four wasted years, people were fed up of the CA which had not only overshot its term but lost credibility and people’s faith and also the court’s permission to continue which refused any further extension beyond 28 May 2012. Realising the futility of clinging to power, PM Baburam Bhattarai, called for elections for a new CA but other political parties refused to buy his democratic credentials and sought a different set up to hold elections. Eventually, a non-party government with the Chief Justice as PM was formed in March 2013 mandated to hold elections for another CA.
The CA-II result is a signal for democratic forces to unite and work for producing tangible results and not just engage in political semantics and ideological deceit. It is for the Nepali Congress and the CPM- (UML) to sink their differences and bring everyone on board, including the spoil-sport Maoists who have been throwing up tantrums after the drubbing, in order to produce a new Constitution, show good governance traits, restore people’s faith in democracy and end cynicism.
Nepal’s tryst with democracy began in 1990 and the polity witnessed many shades of governments. But by far the worst offenders have been the Maoists who not only destroyed institutions but wrecked the economy and seriously compromised the security and non-aligned independence of the country.
Increasing number of prime properties in Nepal are reported to have been pawned to outsiders especially fly by night operators from China who are said to have some element of backing by powerful strategists in Beijing. Incidentally, China reportedly was the first country to pat Nepal on the success of the CA Poll outcome and sure to fast forward its efforts in reaching out to the new dispensation in Singhadurbar to promote trade. The Nepali Congress led government will have to chart a new course and correct the balance of power equations, a task which the NC leaders are fairly good at. With a new set of leaders and younger elements coming up in the party, the NC should avoid the pitfalls they encountered during the days of Girija Koirala versus Deuba days. Senior leaders should opt for Constitution making and consensus building and leave day to day governance to the younger elements in all the parties.The Tarai belt has tasted blood and has found a right reason to be agitated and feel let down, first by the Monarchy, then by the democratic parties and lastly by the Maoists. The CPM-UML seems to have dented the Maoist base in Tarai but the Madeshi groups have established their influence and won good number of seats. The new government should include sufficient representation from the Tarai and Madeshi parties to assuage the feeling of alienation, real or perceived, to avoid another showdown and possible political, social and economic set back.
India has to play an important role in defining the future course of events in Kathmandu and New Delhi does not have the luxury sitting back and relax or outsource Nepal affairs again to some unemployed Left-wingers. Economic development of Nepal will be to the fullest advantage of not only the people of that country but for the entire northern India and the region as a whole.
(The author is the National Convenor of the External Affairs Cell of the BJP)
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