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Standstill in Kathmandu

By P. K. Hormis Tharakan: The procession of the Rain God of Nepal, Rato Machchindranath, is taken out in the month of Baisakh (April-May) in the Kathmandu valley. In May 2009, the chariot of the god toppled in Patan, one of the three major towns in the valley. Old timers said this was a bad sign.

That year turned out to be full of misery for Nepal. The then prime minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal (Prachanda) sought to dismiss R. Katawal, the then army chief, but was forced to resign himself, setting the clock back by at least three years in Nepal’s quest to give itself a democratic constitution.

This year’s chariot festival went off without any major mishap. But still there are many who wonder if the rain clouds hovering over Kathmandu signal something sinister. While the festival was on, the term of the Constituent Assembly (CA) expired, on May 28. With the supreme court refusing to countenance another extension of its term, the CA was dissolved automatically, without having completed the task for which it was set up — drafting the constitution. The opposition called Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s bid to hold fresh elections on November 22 undemocratic and unconstitutional. Bhattarai claims this was the sole option open to him, since it was the only course of action approved by the supreme court in its judgment of November 25, 2011.

The prime minister had obviously calculated that his party could come back to power if fresh elections were held, enjoying as it did the support of the Janjatis and the Madhesis. However, his party, the United Nepal Communist Party-Maoist (UNCP-M), split on June 22 in a development that was not totally unexpected. A faction led by Mohan Baidya and C.P. Gajurel walked out of the parent party, alleging that the line followed by Prachanda and Bhattarai since 2005 was wrong. Both Baidya and Gajurel were in Indian jails back then and unable to take part in the internal party discussions that led to the historic decision of the Maoists to revert to multi-party democracy. Ironically, one of the primary conditions reportedly laid down by Prachanda and Bhattarai for reconciliation with the democratic forces in Nepal in those days was that they help secure the release of Baidya and Gajurel.
Not surprisingly, the Baidya-led breakaway party, which calls itself the Nepal Communist Party-Maoist, has been loud in its denunciation of India. It is against fresh elections, it does not see the need for a CA and would rather have a constitutional commission representing all parties that would sit around a table and draft a new constitution. There have been suggestions that they have fallen into the trap of the royalists. The Nepal Congress and the Nepal Congress Party (Unified Marxist-Leninist) must be embarrassed to find themselves on the same side as the hardline faction of the Maoists on some of the contentious issues facing the nation.

It is too early to assess the breakaway faction’s strength. Yet there is no doubt that the split will affect the UNCP-M’s prospects at the hustings. Chances are that the UNCP-M will still be the single largest party, but its ability to dictate terms in the new legislature would certainly be diminished. The party would be able to count on the support of the Madhesis and the Janjatis, but the propensity of the Madhesi parties to keep splitting does not help the process of an alliance. The leadership of the UNCP-M faced a tough time at its plenum, which concluded on July 22. Ex-militant cadres of the party demanded action against ex-commanders who were alleged to have misappropriated funds meant for the former. Prachanda was criticised for moving into a posh residence, prompting him to announce that he would vacate it. However, Prachanda and Bhattarai continue to be well in control of the party.
constitution (IC), the Election Commission Act and the Constituent Assembly Member Election Act are required. The EC had given the government time till July 22 to make clarifications on this, since amendments to the IC can only be effected by the CA, which stands dissolved. This is probably another reason why the prime minister has said that he is not totally averse to the revival of the CA. However, the UCPN-M and its allies want contentious issues involving the names, number and boundaries of the provinces to be resolved to their satisfaction as a precondition for the revival of the CA. Since these were the issues that led to the impasse in the first place, it remains to be seen whether any early solution will be possible. The alliance has also put set the obvious condition that the supreme court must approve of the revival of the CA.

July 22 has come and gone, and the government has not been able to give the clarifications. The EC might give it some more time but since the political parties are no closer to an agreement than they were when the CA was dissolved, the dates for the elections are almost certain to be postponed.

In a bizarre turn of events, a certain Gyanendra Shah has let it be known that he does not mind getting his old job back. Since the job in question is that of constitutional monarch, the major political parties were quick to close ranks against him. It would be amusing, although good for Nepal, if the former king managed, by raising the spectre of a royal return, to bring all the feuding political parties together.

Political parties in Nepal have shown in the past that they are capable of overcoming impossible roadblocks. As they seek a way out of the deadlock, we in India need to analyse recent events. Most importantly, we need to examine whether we failed at crucial junctures to assess political personalities properly. There was a time when Prachanda was perceived as anti-Indian. But recent events show that he stood firmly with Baburam Bhattarai as a bulwark against anti-India forces in their party. As chairman of UCPN-M, Prachanda was even willing to face the threat of a split in the party rather than give up a line criticised as pro-India. This does not mean that Bhattarai and Prachanda are votaries of India, but it is important that we do not allow traditional mindsets to cloud our judgement as the prophets of doom hasten to write off the democratic experiment in Nepal.

Source: (Indian Express)

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