May 10, 2011

Home truths

By Yubaraj Ghimire

Nepal has been a failed lab for many political experiments since the 1990s. Now, the control of the state by the radical left is emerging as a distinct possibility. Its takeover will be difficult to contain if the tenure of the constituent assembly, which expires on May 28, gets extended.

Last week, Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal, who is also the chairman of the CPN-UML, entrusted the home ministry to Maoist leader and Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, overruling his own party’s directive. For Khanal, appeasing the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), the largest in the House, is important to ensure his survival.

The Armed Police Force (APF), the police and the intelligence come under the home ministry. That the Maoists are now in charge of that portfolio, when their army is still intact, has worried the other parties and even a large section of the CPN-UML. According to a leaked statement, the UCPN-M’s secretary, C.P. Gajurel, told cadres at a training programme that controlling the police and the APF is necessary to eventually “take on the Nepal army” — perhaps the biggest if not the sole hurdle — in its taking control of the state.

Extending the term of the constituent assembly, which has so far failed to deliver a constitution, is now solely the agenda of the radical left in general, and of Prachanda and Khanal in particular. Only then can the UCPN-M continue to enjoy being the No 1 party in the House. More than any other party, the UCPN-M needs the House to gain whatever legitimacy it can in the peace and democratic process.

The international community, which supported the entry of Maoists into Nepal’s democratic process about five years ago, is confused and remorseful of what now appears to have been wasted years. The European Union, mainly the UK and Denmark, mooted the idea of bringing Maoists into peace politics in March 2005. India, which wields considerable influence in Nepal, came into the picture nine months later, but took the lead by bringing Maoists and pro-democracy parties together through the much-talked-about 12-point agreement.

Unlike the UK and Denmark, India — given its location next door and various security-related interests — does not have the luxury of ignoring the current mess in Nepal. India, of late, seems convinced that the continuation of the constituent assembly will not be in the interest of democratic consolidation and has possibly outlived its utility.

A delegation of the European Parliament was in Nepal in May last year to lobby for the extension of the constituent assembly. India had endorsed it then. The constituent assembly is unlikely to fulfil its task even this time. The EU may not be able to lobby openly for another extension. India too is unlikely to watch the process unfold silently; it could in fact be very vocal in its opposition.

India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, during his recent visit to Nepal, said that India was in favour of a constitution being drafted within the designated timeframe. Meanwhile, there are fears in and outside Nepal that China has come to patronise Nepal’s radical left ruling coalition. China has kept away from directly or visibly dictating Nepal’s political course. However, it has given clear messages over a period of time, especially after the end of the monarchy, that its interests in Nepal are no less than India’s. Even so, more than Chinese involvement, the two crucial issues that will concern internal and external players will be the future of democracy and political stability.

The consolidation of the radical left and its control of the state apparatus have greatly minimised the participation of democratic groups, including the Nepali Congress and most of Terai-based parties, in government. Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai has been advocating their entry to government, but it seems more of a tactic to secure their support to have the House tenure extended, than a genuine commitment to democracy.

Nepal could see new permutations in the near future. One possibility is that Khanal will be blamed for the crisis, and a section of the Maoists will propose that the Nepali Congress lead the new government on condition that the House continues to exist.

What Nepal’s political class should realise is that the constituent assembly has run its course. The parties, including the Maoists, should accept full responsibility for the time wasted and opportunities bungled.
They should chart out a new course for peace, democracy and reconciliation.

If they fail to do so, the radical left could be pitted against the rest. It may even lead to the restoration of the constitution of 1991 that was unceremoniously and unconstitutionally dismantled exactly five years ago. After all, a country cannot indefinitely remain without a constitution.

(Courtesy: Indian Express)

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