Thursday, October 08, 2009

Deadlock in Nepal

A stasis has persisted in Nepal ever since the formation of the new government led by unelected-but-nominated (to the constituent assembly) prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). The rather ineffectual government, which hosts - apart from Madhav Nepal - other unworthies such as foreign minister Sujata Koirala (who has aspired to become the Deputy PM after demands by Nepali Congress patriarch (and father) G P Koirala) and discredited Madhesi leader Bijoy Gachchadar as vice premier has been so poor in its governance that there prevails virtual anarchy in various parts of the country. Ethnic clashes, demands, violent actions, strikes and disruption of economic activity has been the order of the day since the formation of the new coalition government whose very raison d'etre for existence has been its anti-Maoist position. The government has not even been to able to introduce the yearly budget - a sign of utter incompetence and inaction. Buttressed by staunch Indian support, the Madhav Nepal government has been unable to firm up a consensus with the Maoist opposition over the latter's demand to discuss the president's unconstitutional action in reinstating (former) army chief Rukmangad Katuwal after his dismissal by elected former Maoist prime minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal, in the Constituent Assembly.

The Maoists, who have privileged this issue as a case of establishing "civilian supremacy" have been unremitting in their efforts to discuss the issue in the CA and rightly so, for there remains no moral argument against such a discussion. The resultant disruption of parliamentary activity by the Maoists has taken quite a toll on the already ineffectual governance, not to mention the rather destabilised process of writing the Constitution - stipulated to be completed by next year. Apparently the government led by the UML and the NC is reluctant to discuss this issue or put it to vote in the CA fearing that the legislators belonging to the UML in particular would be loath to take a pro-President position when push comes to shove. And that would threaten the very legitimacy of the government in itself.

Apart from the political stasis, there has been also been attempts to shift the goalposts from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed by the Maoists and the other major parties, prominent of which are the NC and the UML. Madhav Nepal has already start to sound forked tonguish on the question of integration of the Nepali Army and the Maoists' PLA. In a recent interview with The Hindu, the PM tragi-comically suggested that he was yet "to go deeply" into the agreement (CPA) that he was a signatory of! Apparently it is the reactionary pressure that is telling on this slip-shod approach to a vital issue of the peace process.

All that seemed to be a matter of the near past, when some diplomatic parleys between the representatives of the three major parties - the Maoists, the UML and the NC got underway during the Dashain festive season. Encouraging remarks about a break in the deadlock through a joint resolution were being mooted by all representatives. But the central question - allowing a discussion on the president's move and a decisive resolution on civilian supremacy, that saw no acceptable answers. The NC and UML are still distrusting of the Maoists and consider that the question of civilian supremacy is settled.

All this is pushing the Maoists themselves in an insurrectionary direction. Already under pressure from a two-line struggle featuring what could be termed as a battle of ideas between a section of "dogmatists" represented by senior Maoist leaders Mohan Baidya and CP Gajurel and (for want of a better word), the pragmatists, represented by Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoist leadership is keen on a different strategy to achieve a Constitution of their liking and which involves their return to power. Deadlock on the question of "civilian supremacy" is only taking the Maoists further to where the dogmatists in their ranks would want them to be - something that can turn nasty with the incumbent government even wanting to use repression. And that would be disastrous for the fledgling republic which is still faced with other social questions that were kept under wraps in an unitary and hierarchical state for long and that have being now raised in the form of various social upsurges - on ethnicity, on caste, on land ownership and what not.

In all this, the Indian role has also been negative. The current ambassador's fishing in troubled waters; nay mudding the waters even further by throwing in new interpretations of the CPA - Rakesh Sood suggested in a recent interview that integration of the PLA tantamounted only to an integration into Nepali society - an absolutely facetious remark considering that the UN recognised the combatants of the PLA at par with the Nepali Army when it brokered the ceasefire which preceded the CPA. Ostensibly, the more independent foreign policy of the erstwhile Maoist led government was not to the liking of the South Block, which saw any maneuver by the Maoist led government to be responsive to a Chinese regime (that was in turn using soft power to cozy up with the government due to its Tibet-related considerations) as being tantamount to a bandwagoning with the northern neighbour (and "competing" power). The Indian actions only gave further grist to the dogmatist mill among the Maoist sections; witness the actions of Maoist cadre and sympathisers against Indian priests in Nepal.

For three years since 2005 and the coming together of the mainstream political outfits and the Maoists against the erstwhile monarchy till the formation of the Nepali republic, things were progressing quite well for a nation with a blighted past. There were indeed more than a few hiccups as was expected between parties representing various class interests and the irreconcilability of those sections' interests playing itself out politically. But the Maoists made most of the important compromises - they gave up their "peoples' war" and agreed to work toward a "21st century system" of democracy; accepting a multi-party system that went against their given dogma. They agreed to work democratically to realise their aims - that of building a "new democratic" Nepal on the long march toward socialism. They even achieved a multi-class alliance of sorts in their efforts to do so, only for reactionaries to put a halt to all these in cahoots with sections of the Indian establishment.

The breaking of the deadlock would herald a return to the peace process inaugurated path, and a political settlement of sorts leading to the building of a visionary Constitution could be achieved. Will Madhav Nepal show the sagacity to achieve this? Will the UML in particular, be willing to act as a leftist party and defy its NGOised inner demons? Will the republican sections of the Nepali Congress realise the futility of giving leeway to the reactionary old guard and change course? And how long would a consensual approach toward achieving political aims be acceptable or indeed be made palatable by a pragmatic Maoist leadership to dogmatic sections of the party? Answers to these questions will determine the rate of change toward progress in Nepal. The leftist in India here is waiting for the right ones.

Cross-posted from

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