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Nepal: Hope Again

Hope Again The March 19 agreement on a joint campaign against the Nepal monarchy between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) of political groups and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) holds out fresh hope that the days of the discredited monarchy are numbered. But there will be many anxious moments before the final denouement. Three rounds of talks held earlier in New Delhi failed to produce anything and it seemed that the pressure exerted by the US on the SPA not to launch a joint programme with the CPN (Maoist) had succeeded. China decided at that very juncture to come out in favour of a patch up between the

NEPAL

Hope Again

T
he March 19 agreement on a joint campaign against the Nepal monarchy between the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) of political groups and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) holds out fresh hope that the days of the discredited monarchy are numbered. But there will be many anxious moments before the final denouement. Three rounds of talks held earlier in New Delhi failed to produce anything and it seemed that the pressure exerted by the US on the SPA not to launch a joint programme with the CPN (Maoist) had succeeded. China decided at that very juncture to come out in favour of a patch up between the “constitutional forces”, i e, the SPA and the monarchy. King Gyanendra in the meanwhile invoked tradition and loyalty to win over royalist elements in the SPA, playing on their fear of losing their privileges, warning them of the consequences of associating with the Maoists and holding out a vague promise of a dialogue. Through all of this the government of India maintained a studied silence. Other than the intervention in the course of a debate in the Rajya Sabha on March 14, 2006, the government claimed it could do nothing if the SPA held talks with CPN (Maoist) in India or elsewhere as it was their right to do so. But it was only when the venue of the meeting shifted to Kathmandu that the pressure exerted by the rank and file of the SPA tilted the balance against the US and China-backed king. This mood is reflective of popular sentiment, which has turned in favour of a democratic republic. Thus, the leaders of the SPA, who had thrice refused to sign a joint statement and announce a joint campaign, had to give in lest they were seen as jeopardising an eight party-led popular movement. The two sides released identical texts and announced a general strike and civil disobedience beginning from April 6-9. And the Maoists called off their road blockade. With this Nepal enters a new phase which augurs well for a democratic closure to the civil war.

However, differences remain between the two sides over “procedural” matters. These relate to the modalities for moving towards elections to a constituent assembly (CA). The SPA advocates “reinstatement of parliament”, establishment of a seven-party government, negotiations with the Maoists and election to a CA. This prolongs the timeframe and each step gets punctuated with uncertainty. On the other hand, the Maoists advocate a compressed timeframe (to reduce the room for manipulation) by convening an all-party national conference and the formation of an interim government for elections to a CA. Thus, notwithstanding the significance of theMarch 19 agreement, the differences between the SPA and the Maoists could turn antagonistic. A reinstated parliament with ambitious leaders could fall prey to pressure from the US and its allies and place onerous conditions on the Maoists that would prevent them from contesting elections to the CA. The Maoists have indicated more than once that they will accept international supervision, including that of their weapons, provided they are assured of free and fair elections, which necessitates their presence in the interim government. Although there is cause for concern about these differences, they should not be exaggerated. The popular mood regards the Maoists as the harbinger of what the March 19 agreement calls “full democracy through the election to a Constituent Assembly”.

The March 19 agreement speaks of “people’s movement as the only way”, but remains silent on the question of disarming the Maoists. It is a widely held view, cutting across parties that the Maoists’ weapons are an insurance against the monarchy’s propensity to suppress the people’s struggles. Reference is often made to the fate of the first Nepali Congress government, which having disarmed in 1950 was booted out from office by the then king and his soldiers. Quite sensibly, therefore, this matter has been deferred until such time when power has been wrested from the monarchy. All in all, whatever be the course that history takes, one cannot but admire the determination of the Nepali people to take back what is theirs: sovereign power from an usurper. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly April 1, 2006

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