ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Waiting for 'Naya' Nepal

The April 2008 mandate notwithstanding, the Nepali people are still waiting for the formation of a government and the initiation of the process of constituting a "naya" Nepal. The forces of the status quo have rallied around G P Koirala and the Nepali Congress and are blocking the Maoists from taking over the reins of government. How long will the people have to wait for the agenda of a naya Nepal to get off the ground?

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 19, 200823Waiting for ‘Naya’ Nepalrita manchandaThe April 2008 mandate notwithstanding, the Nepali people are still waiting for the formation of a government and the initiation of the process of constituting a “naya” Nepal. The forces of the status quo have rallied around G P Koirala and the Nepali Congress and are blocking the Maoists from taking over the reins of government. How long will the people have to wait for the agenda of a naya Nepal to get off the ground?In making “Peace After War” the con-sensus in the international post-con-flict discourse is that the “rebels” are given a chance to take power in the proc-ess of post-conflict stabilisation. As for Nepal’s Maoists, in April, they won a sig-nificant popular mandate to lead the youngest republic in the shaping of a radi-cally different society and polity. Yet, three months later, there is still no new government in place to reflect the changed power equations; the historic constituent assembly (CA) has yet to begin framing the laws of a new Nepal. Digging in their HeelsThe old guard – the political parties that had presided over Nepal’s flawed experi-ment with multiparty democracy under the shadow of the palace – the Nepali Congress(NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) [CPN (UML)] – are digging in their heels. Prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala (86), at this stage should have been basking in the iconic status of a statesman, for his his-toric role in bringing the Maoists into the democratic fold and presiding over the peaceful transition. Instead, he is being derided as the “spoiler”. On June 26, he was constrained to announce his resigna-tion, but till a president can be elected to whom he can submit his resignation, it is business as usual with the caretaker Nepali Congress-led “government” and a Maoist government-in-waiting, both readying preparations for the presentation of the annual budget in a few weeks. The issue of who should be the head of state has been a major point of contesta-tion, with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) [CPN(M)] obliged to accept that their electoral mandate (a third of the house) does not entitle chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, to claim both head of state and head of government. Meanwhile, the Koirala camp has been insisting that the apostle of democracy in Nepal should be the first president. The Maoists fear, and with reason, that this would be a recipe for the emergence of a parallel centre of power. To complete the murky politicking, inspired leaks have ap-peared in the press – the Nepal Army (still accustomed to being the Royal Nepal Army) does not want a Maoist commander-in-chief (C-in C) and is rooting for Koirala. A “mysterious list of ‘suggestions’” was sent to political parties indicating the Nepal Army’s supposed political priorities. After weeks of a “slug-fest” highlighted in the media, a way-out was found – the CA would vote for who shall occupy what public offices – president, speaker, etc. Also, the rules of the functioning of the CA drafted by the old parties when they ex-pected to be in driving seat, are to be changed – decisions, including no confi-dence motion, will be decided by one-third majority and not as before by a two-thirds majority. And stapled on to the fifth amendment of the interim constitution is the decision to dismantle the paramilitary trappings of the Maoist Young Communist League, the highly controversial “third force”. As for the second force, the 19,600 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the UN-supervised cantonments, there will be a time bound plan for the integration of the soldiers in the state army and security forces. But, the process of passing the fifth amendment has been stalled for nearly two weeks in the CA by protesting mem-bers of the Madhesh-based political par-ties. On the basis of campaign slogan of “one Madhesh, one Pradesh” to right the discrimination and marginalisation of the people of the Terai, the Madhesi parties had garnered a surprising 20 per cent of the seats in theCA. They were insistent about including the demand for an “auto-nomous” Madhesh “province” and Madhesh representation in the army. Not unexpect-edly, it has prompted the Terai’s other minorities – the Tharus and Rajbhansis to take to the street with competing claims. It raises the larger issue of pre-empting the CA’s role in shaping the federal re-structuring of the state of Nepal, but such democratic proprieties have got lost in the ugly struggle for power.Nepalis are discovering that it is easier to get rid of the 239 year old monarchy, the symbol of old feudal structure, than the “imperial” prime minister, Koirala who Rita Manchanda ( a journalist, who has written exten-sively on human rights and the role of women in peace-building, and is with the Kathmandu-based South Asia Forum for Human Rights.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 19, 200825undoubtedly was a triumph of people’s power. It gave the final push, toppling the autocratic king, and paved the way for the revival and reconfiguration of democratic politics, now expanded to include the CPN(M). The road map has been full of de-tours, setbacks, breaks and even near col-lapse as the Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) entered into a dialogue with the Maoists, and developed a consensus articulatedin a series of agreements – November 2005: the consensus on realising “full demo-cracy”; November 2006: Comprehensive Peace Agreement; January 2007: Interim Constitution; April 2008: elections to the CA, May 2008: Republic. It has been a unique achievement that has enabled the CPN(M), to shift from mili-tarised politics towards a strategy of “peaceful revolution”; to work through a democratic constitutional politics to trans-form the socio-political structure of the Himalayan kingdom. However, as Baburam Bhattarai, the deputy leader of the party reminded us – the base was laid during the 10 years of “People’s War”. That phase saw the emergence of women as im-portant political protagonists. Newly inducted CA member, the social scientist Hari Roka, noted during the election cam-paign, the huge presence of women at ral-lies, a stark contrast to their extremely thin presence during the 1999 elections. He recalled how struck he was by the political consciousness of women while travelling, much before the elections, in the remote rural mountainous areas of Humla. There was a 72-year old woman of the house busy cooking for him, half liste-ning to his conversations with her hus-band, when suddenly she remarked, “do you think Koirala will let it happen?” She proved to be more prescient than many. The old guard’s initial gracious accept-ance of the Maoist victory has given way to obduracy and aspersions about a “stolen victory”. Moreover, the argument bruited about in Kathmandu elite circles goes thus – “the Maoists got just over 30 per cent of the votes, and that too with a voter turn out of only 60 per cent. This means that the non-Maoists represent 80 per cent of the population”. More disap-pointing has been the return to old style Kathmandu politics, characterised by an oligarchic cabal cutting secret deals. Wherein lies the difference when you have three hill Bahuns – Koirala (NC), Khanal (CPN-UML) and now Dahal [CPN(M)]closeted in Baluwater, the prime minister’s official residence, working out compromises. What difference does a truly representativeCA make if it is to be reduced to a rubber stamp? The Madhesi leaders have reason to be disgruntled about their exclusion. As Bipin Adhikari, a senior lawyer commented inThe Kathmandu Post,“what matters to this group (producing one logjam after another), is a guarantee against the as-sembly itself – its powers to frame the issues, discuss them through the active participation of the people…” Already, one-eighth of the two-year period set to draft the constitution has lapsed. Increasing Anarchy“Our problems are domestic, not inter-national”, said Hisila Yami, a senior CPN(M) leader and former minister of works in the interim government. Ironi-cally, most of the international players are eagerly pushing for the realisation of the democratic mandate, and so be it, if it is a government led by the Maoists. Post- conflict stabilisation models prescribe that the “rebels” should be given a chance in running democratic politics. As regards India, left and socialist forces have been in the forefront of crafting a democratic consensus for peace. Official India, having abandoned its twin pillar policy of crown and multiparty democracy, had actively pushed for elections to the CA andthe democratic denouement. The results as former Nepal ambassador Shiv Mukherjee, a little disingenuously said “are immaterial”. However, on the eve of the elections, the national security adviser, M K Narayanan, in a television interview indiscreetly revealed India’s preferences for a NC victory. Since then, the Indian diplomatic establishment has been quick to accept the surprise victory of the Maoists. Shyam Saran, a former Nepal ambassador and the organiser of the Indo-Nepal Patna exchange in May, clarified India’s position: “It is for the Nepali people to deliver a verdict on who should govern them and in what manner”.The problem is that Nepal is still wait-ing for a government. Meanwhile, all around there is increasing anarchy and mounting chaos. In the last week of June, Nepal was paralysed by no less than eight disrupting strikes and protests. A section of the Armed Police Force (APF) mutinied over poor living conditions. The fuel price hike saw an outcrop of protests – a trans-port cartel declared a bandh and tourist buses were stoned in Pokhara; students took to the streets in protest at rising bus fares, vandalising the chief justice’s car; gas station owners and taxi service pro-viders went on strike for days; high school students imposed a ‘chakka jam’ over the delayed delivery of school textbooks; civil servants went on a flash strike because one of their own was locked up in a toilet by the Maoist minister of forests, Matrika Prasad Yadav for gross corruption; and, as for us in Kathmandu, the garbage piled up and up as the controllers of the landfill site withheld permission even if there chanced to be trucks to move the garbage. All around corruption has become an every day affair as there are no checks, except the vigilantes of the MaoistYCL and the CPN(UML)’s newly minted “Youth Force” to expose corrupt officials. With no govern-ment, the law and order agencies are whistling away while crime stalks the land. In the violence prone Terai, the lat-est victim is the civil rights activist Govind Pande, murdered by an anony-mous criminalised militant group. It fol-lowsuponthe rape and killing of several women activists. Lawlessness sans GovernmentIn this hiatus of lawlessness sans govern-ment, the Kathmandu media is full of re-ports of the YCL’s continuing coercion and highhanded behaviour, including abduc-tions, extortions and their intimidating and beating up people. The difficulty of transforming a militarised force accus-tomed to meting out a rough and ready justice, into an accountable democratic force was dramatically highlighted by the abduction of Kathmandu-based business-man Ram Hari Srestha, and his murder in a PLA cantonment managed by the UN. The evidence implicates the PLA canton-ment commander. The crucial question of security sector reform has not been touched in these last two years despite the commitment in the

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