Friday, May 23, 2008

Heady Times in Nepal

It has been a month since the election results for the constituent assembly in Nepal had trickled in. Despite having a time-table for the convening of the constituent assembly and for the smooth adoption of a republican constitution, there have been several bottlenecks that have been created by the mainstream political parties in Nepal. Most of these bottlenecks have to do with the government formation post the polls.

Before the CA elections, the seven party alliance had an agreement that whatever might be the outcome of the polls, the government post the elections, would still be formed by consensus and coalition, i.e. by retaining the existing alliance. But the unexpected victory of the Nepali Maoists has made the other main parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United-Marxist Leninist) -UML to change tack and come up with new formulations for sharing power. From amending the interim constitution to enable a provision for removing the prime minister through simple majority in case of a no confidence motion (the current constitution provides for a 2/3rds conditionality), to arguing for a retention of the executive posts by the major parties as they stand today, the opposition parties have thrown up newer demands to scuttle the smooth Maoist takeover of executive power. Day in and day out, the other parties have articulated newer demands and taken up hostile positions against the Maoists on government formation by flatly refusing to join the government sometime or demanding implementation of their conditions to do so, the other.

What has motivated these parties to go about this new song and dance attitude? Is it plain bitterness and angst at the unexpected loss to the Maoists, part of which was possible because of the Maoist reliance on their “efficient” mass organisations, such as the Young Communist League (YCL)? Or is it a game orchestrated by international players in Nepal who want to prevent the radicalisation of Nepal's political economy owing to Maoist control over the constitution building process? This writer feels that it is a combination of all these factors.

It is necessary to understand the composition, organisation and support base of each of the political parties to find out the reasons for their recent behaviour. The Nepali Congress is an umbrella organisation of various power centers, owing allegiance to different pressure groups both national and international. It's younger crop of leaders are staunchly republican and liberal democratic having fought the monarchy during the emergency to yield to a return back to parliamentarian democracy. Its older crop includes leaders of different factions, the conservative Koirala clan, which includes the prime minister GP Koirala and his daughter Sujata, and Sushil Koirala, and other important faction being that of Sher Bahadur Deuba (who merged his Nepali Congress faction back to the party prior to the elections). The Koirala clan (the most powerful of the factions) is almost the first family of “democratic Nepal” having produced a series of politicians who have dominated the Nepali Congress party. The Deuba faction on the other hand draws support from American backing, it is alleged, and was one of the biggest backers of the anti-Maoist fight using the Nepali Army with help from international backers (read Americans in particular) in the early 2000s. GP Koirala was responsible for the rapprochement between the major parties in Nepal including the Maoists against the monarchy.

In the recent elections however, both Sujata Koirala (who pushed for a constitutional monarchy) and Sushil Koirala lost, while Deuba was able to win both his contested seats. The Deuba faction and other leaders in the Nepali Congress have orchestrated the demand for the Nepali Congress to come out of government, while the Koirala faction prefers to stay in government, afraid that the Maoists will use power to further entrench their support base in Nepal.

For the UML, though, the matter of continuing in government and in the peace process is of a matter of the survival of the UML identity itself. The Maoists have been tapping into the UML support base as well as their cadre base, by virtue of their more militant, organised and radical communist philosophy and stances. The UML, on on the other hand, has become less of a radical force, having been muddled in reformism. Most of the UML senior leadership and cadre have over time, become part of NGO networks, losing their militant edge as communists. The UML suffered the biggest defeat in the recent CA elections and the general secretary of the party, Madhav Kumar Nepal was trounced badly at the hustings at the hands of unfancied Maoist candidates. The continued poaching of UML cadre into the Maoist party has become a threat to the very identity of the UML as a left force in the country. No wonder, this party has thought it necessary to keep its oppositional character against the Maoists intact and hence a majority of the UML leadership and central committee members found it necessary to stay out of government. The UML had also burnt its hands by refusing a left coalition with the Maoists (when the Maoists approached them before elections) with some conservative elements in the party opposing any form of tie-up. All such conservative voices such as K.P. Oli have bitten the dust in the hustings too. The future indeed looks very bleak for the UML.

The shifting of goalposts by these two major parties has also got to be explained by the role of international actors in the Nepali polity. The US has always had an influence on both the royalty and factions of the Nepali Congress in particular during the phase of war against the Maoists. There is still no recognition of the Maoist victory (who continue to be technically branded as terrorists by the US state department) and history suggests that the inordinate influence of the Americans in Nepali internal affairs is driving the unreasonable positions of the mainstream political actors too, as Siddharth Varadarajan of The Hindu newspaper alluded to recently. The Indian government which has the highest leverage over the Nepali internal political process, has still privileged the continuance of the eight party alliance and transition to a republic, but many sources within Nepal have told this author that the Madhesi identity movement which undercut Maoist gains was fomented by covert Indian help, afraid as the Indians are of Maoist supremacy in the Nepali political processes. As for China, the Tibetan cause within Nepal and the American role in it, has made it important for the country to start using its soft power within Nepal too, an influence which was lacking erstwhile.

A heady mix of international intervention through overt and covert means and internal political factors among mainstream parties are therefore in play to muddle the mandate in Nepal for a smooth transition to a new republic based on a consensual welfare based and radical constitution written by a popularly elected constituent assembly. Thus far, the premier victors of the electoral process, the Maoists have renewed their commitment to a consensual approach by willing to work not just with the aforementioned parties,but also the Madhesi parties as they steer the constitutional process forward. There seems to be no dissension within Maoist ranks in this regard. The Maoists suggest that the posturing by the UML and the NC are merely for bargaining over important executive posts.

But if any sabotage of the mandate occurs in the short term, through the heady mix elaborated above, it is possible for sections within the Maoists to want to change strategy and adopt an ultra-left posture which could involve a return to the insurrectionist phase. The mandate for the Maoists was also a vote for peace and stability and such a culmination of events would be tragic for the Nepali people. In the interests of the Nepali people and their future as the citizens of an upcoming sovereign republic, it is necessary for the mainstream political parties to come out off narrow political considerations and malignant international influences, to respect the mandate of the people and forge the path for the building of a new Nepali republican constitution that provides representation for hitherto marginalised groups and steer the political economy away from debilitating poverty and toward self sufficiency.

Article written for The Post

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article...

But my guess is road ahead will not be smooth for Maoists as supporters of monarchy,regional outfits, and not to forget our own V.H.P&CO wont make things easy for them.The true test will be in coming days for prachanda &co

any how i think maoists of india should take a leaf out of this Nepal experience.