Feb 19, 2011

Road past revolution

By: Yubaraj Ghimire

Ten days after his election as Nepal’s prime minister following a secret deal with the Maoists, Jhalanath Khanal finds himself under siege. He does not quite know who his friends are, if there are any. His party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), has told him in no uncertain terms that the deal is not only against the spirit of the interim constitution but also against the peace process. At least 13 other political parties, including the Nepali Congress, have endorsed that view.

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), especially its chief, Prachanda, instead has reason to be happy as the sole factor behind Khanal’s elevation. Under the current equation, Khanal can survive as PM only as a puppet. In fact, what happened in India in November 1990 - Chandra Shekhar’s small party forming the government with the outside support of the Congress - has been replicated in Nepal. But neither Khanal nor Prachanda has the commitment that Chandra Shekhar or Rajiv Gandhi harboured to parliamentary democracy.

The UCPN-M has made it clear time and again that it has never accepted parliamentary democracy, not even when it signed the 12-point agreement in November 2005. However, Prachanda went a step further this week when he said the seven-point deal signed with Khanal is a joint pledge to establish a “people’s republic” - a communist dictatorship - with no space for political pluralism at all. If the democratic forces, including the section within the UML, give up, like they have done in the past five years on each crucial issue, the Maoists would face hardly any obstacles in their journey towards a people’s republic.

The Maoists would be in a much more advantageous position politically if they do not join the government, as they can enjoy power without accountability and openly criticise the government. The deal makes it obligatory for Khanal to raise a separate security outfit for the Maoist combatants, now lodged in 28 different camps and sub-camps, and accord them status and privileges at par with other state outfits. The deal clearly violates the earlier consensus that the high-powered special committee under the PM’s leadership would monitor the combatants, and decide on their rehabilitation and integration. Command and control of the combatants had been handed over to the committee.

But less than a week after Khanal’s elevation, the UCPN-M military wing sent circulars directly to the combatants asking them to list their preference on whether they want to join the new security outfit, join other security agencies of the state or take “voluntary retirement” against a hefty payment. The Maoists are determined to exploit Khanal’s helplessness to the hilt and, if possible, appropriate and exercise the authority of the state.

The politics of compromise and surrender of the moderate and democratic forces, either out of lust for power or because of the fear of being targeted by the left, is mainly responsible for this situation. And the international community - led by India, with a large stake in Nepal - can no longer be given the benefit of the doubt for having trusted and supported the radical left during the past five years.

The choice before Khanal is very difficult: either walk out of the alliance and assure the country and the world outside that he will not stay in power at the cost of democracy, or accept the Maoists’ dictates. Prachanda has already suggested that the tenure of the constituent assembly can be further extended by two months beyond May 28. That means it will not be able to deliver the constitution during its current term, already extended by a year. But the radical left alliance would need the House for its own legitimacy in the eyes of Nepali citizens and the international community. It will, like a rubber stamp, endorse the left agenda.

Those 13 parties may soon be seeking presidential intervention against the “undemocratic and unconstitutional” activities of the radical left. But with the kind of fear sweeping across the country and with the radical left’s success with Khanal’s election, there is hardly anything the president can do at the moment.

As democratic forces see a big threat to their survival, and to that of political pluralism, the country may once again go through a phase of political turmoil and agitation against an impending left dictatorship. This is an occasion for the democratic forces as well as the international community to review where they all went wrong - mainly in throwing their weight behind sweeping radicalism, at the cost of fundamental principles: democracy and pluralism.

(Courtesy: Indian Express) 

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