Source: Spotlight Weekly Nepal
People are disillusioned that peace has come and everything from now onwards will go smoothly following the government-Maoist ceasefire and announcement of several proclamations including holding the elections to Constituent Assembly by the House of Representatives. However, the threat and pressure coming from different sides frustrate many as it shows that restoration of peace and stability is going to be a difficult and complicated process. From managing the Maoist militia to setting up consensus agenda for Constituent Assembly and adjustments of all political forces, the phase ahead is strewn with difficulties. Recent incidents indicate that the conflict was not by people and for people only. There are many forces, including within the country and outside that have vital interests to promote or safeguard. There are symptoms in the political atmosphere of the country today that suggest a prolonged conflict involving costly consequences could be looming large. The forthcoming crises maybe most dangerous and devastating if the leadership fails to manage them
By KESHAB POUDEL
After the reinstatement of parliament, and after passing a unanimous proposal for Constituent Assembly, announcement of Charter Declaration, and beginning of peace talks, people are under the illusion that everything would be alright now.
Whether they are members of civil society, political leaders or common citizens, all have similar kind of feeling that following the charter declaration and announcement for holding the elections for constituent assembly, present political crisis is nearing its end.
However, more the new events unfold, more it is generating worries about the consequences. The recent developments indicate that the crisis may not be solved so easily as believed by ordinary Nepalese. Maoist leaders have already issued threat that they will not hesitate to return to civil war if political parties reject their demands. “Revival of local bodies would force Maoists to return to war,” warned Maoist leader Dev Gurung. Revival of local bodies is one of the contentious issues now among seven parties alliance.
Maoists' demands include dissolution of present House of Representatives and transfer of power to political conference, and formation of interim government. “The government should work to fulfill the issues raised by our party to pave the way for free and fair elections for Constituent Assembly,” said Gurung.
Leaders of seven parties don’t want to dissolve the parliament as demanded by Maoists. “There is no question of dissolving the House of Representatives till formation of reliable and legitimate body,” said CPN-UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal.
Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel, too, holds similar views. “Who will call the national convention of all political forces and who will decide the number of participants and what will be the basis for that?” asked Poudel.
Slowly and gradually the euphoria generated a month ago is fading away. Nobody knows how to manage the present crisis. Majority of the people do not know what the Constituent Assembly is all about, how would they participate in the elections, how would it formulate the constitution, and what would be the role of parliament.
Process of Adjustments And Readjustments
The new phase of political crisis in Nepal seems to be very complicated involving inside and outside forces working overtly and covertly. One of the major conflicts is going to be the accommodation and adjustment of concern of outside forces including India – Nepal’s immediate neighbor and largest democratic country in the world – and the western democracies including the USA. Although India and the western countries are firmly committed to similar democratic ideals, they have different priorities and models for Nepal.
For the cause of democracy, the western countries, Japan and the USA are on one side and the Indian leaders and parties on other side. “Experiences have shown that Indian leaders and political parties appear only at the time of agitation but they have hardly taken any initiative to stabilize the situation in Nepal. West has sympathy and resources to promote democracy but that has often been stopped by another democratic country,” said a political analyst.
India – a close neighbor with highest stakes including the security in Nepal – does not want to see growing western influence in Nepal. The recent expression of Sashanka — the former foreign secretary, an experienced person in India’s foreign policy matter, revealed this difference. In the recent issue of India Today, a leading Indian magazine, the former Indian foreign secretary had come out with a blunt statement that the US and European countries wanted to play a pro-active role in Nepal – which India blocked.
Will the western countries pack up and quietly back out from Nepal’s present politics? Or will they find new ways to deal with it is a matter for anybody’s guess. The US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, Richard Boucher, termed as progress the formation of cabinet and some fundamental decisions by political parties and said the US has an assistance team talking to the government of Nepal. “We are closely coordinating with other governments including India.”
Similarly, other western countries too have shown interest to support Nepal in the process of democratization. Norway had already sent a senior minister and other western democratic countries are also backing Nepal. In 1990, western democracies spent a lot of resources to formulate the new constitution for Nepal. So far as formulation of new constitution through the CA is concerned, they are yet to come out with a proposal.
“In Nepal’s new atmosphere of democratic adjustments, there are two different democratic approaches. One, is backed by immediate neighbor India and other is backed by rest of the democratic countries of the world,” added the political analyst. “The strategic interest and security perceptions are there to create this difference between two different fronts. China, Nepal’s northern neighbor, is another factor which has a separate and distinct role to play.”
“The real challenge for India in Nepal has only just begun, with the restoration of parliament. It can be met only if India sheds off its inherent preference for the status quo and relates itself to the popular forces in Nepal today,” writes S.D Muni, prominent Indian writer and Nepal expert in his recent article “A Policy of Deception on Nepal.”
Managing the Transition
In the last five decades of political change, Nepalese political leaders led successful agitations but they failed while managing transition and transfer of power smoothly and peacefully. People took part in the street agitation supporting leaders who had no idea about what their role was going to demand from them. Like in the past, the crisis of Nepal is not going to be short and easy this time also.
In 1990’s change, there was a definite goal like constitutional monarchy and restoration of multiparty democracy. Now nobody is sure whether Nepal will be a republic or ceremonial monarchy. The 1990 constitution had turned the monarchy into completely ceremonial. King Birendra fully abided by it. Thus, he was out of controversy in his later phase.
The present King aspired to play a pro-active role in an unruly and arrogant manner, too. Result is even this ceremonial role of monarchy is in danger. The majority of the people might still have emotional attachment to this institution but they are silent and without an articulated leadership.
From framework and conditions for CA to other crisis of political management, seven political parties are yet to come out with a common agenda. They have major differences over revival of local bodies to expansion of cabinet, mobilization of internal security and maintenance of law and order.
Political agenda is more complicated. Everyone is talking about the inclusive democracy but nobody cares about the consequences of such populist jargons. Nobody realizes how people in Nepal’s neighboring big democracy have started struggling due to inclusive democracy.
One of the major crises of India now is the emergence of differences based on caste, creed and race – because of the reservation of these aspects in the legislation for jobs in government services and educational institutions. What appears to be a great controversy in India, is being considered as a model for future in Nepal.
In the name of inclusive democracy, various groups have already demanded their role in constitution making. From the dalits and other ethnic groups to geographical regions and genderwise, wide range of growing demand for participation in the constitution making process is being heard every day.
Another contentious issue is whether Nepal should have a unitary or federal structure or be given ethnic autonomy – that again could prove to be never-ending debate. Some want federalism on the basis of geographical region and others want it on ethnic or linguistic basis.
Question of Security
The question of management of army and consideration of security issues is another important issue. Following the declaration of parliament, the army has come under the control of the parliament. “The third and most serious matter within the security system of Nepal is if it will have its own independent security perception or would be an appendage to a neighbor’s perception? The loyalty of armed forces in Nepal has sufficiently been tested by the resolution of the parliament. Maintaining its traditional discipline and loyalty to the state, the army has adjusted itself to the new situation. As an oldest institutionalized army of this region, it has behaved with dignity and maturity,” said an analyst.
“Elite class of the army demonstrated that their loyalty to the state is beyond doubt but that is not seen to be enough at present situation.” Chief of Army Staff General Pyar Jung Thapa said that the army would carry out the directives of the government. “Nepal Army is unwaveringly committed to its primary responsibility of protecting the sovereignty, nationalism and nation’s interests,” said General Thapa, addressing the army officers. “In keeping with this tradition, Nepali Army is committed to following the directives of Nepal government which is moving ahead with the objective of creating a prosperous Nepal by strengthening multi-party democracy and lasting peace.”
Spokesman of Nepal Army further clarified its stand. “Our main responsibility is to protect the national sovereignty and national integrity,” said Nepal Army spokesman Nepal Bhushan Chand to BBC.
Although the agitation was led by octogenarian leader Girija Prasad Koirala,whose commitments towards democracy and patriotism is unquestionable, new aspirants are emerging in a political environment that is bubbling with initial euphoria. “There is a long way to go for them to be acquainted with the hard realities of the country and needs of the people,” said the analyst.
“The old generation politicians of 1950s like B.P. Koirala, Subarna Sumsher, Surya Prasad Upadhyaya and several others had high academic background, were voracious readers and very articulate. PM Koirala, who is a seasoned politician, however, lacks such a background,” said an analyst.
“Persons who have a name in Nepalese politics have no such academic background and habit of studying subjects like that. Their caliber cannot match the average standard of South Asian politicians. Thus, they always play a reactive than pro-active role in politics,” said the analyst. In this whirlwind of political crisis, the present leaders are, therefore, easily carried away by make-believe formulas and deceptive manipulation. The King and his whole edifices of monarchy have been suddenly blocked of its role. The King now has to go through a role of “proactive monarch” to a symbolic one – without any authority and without any say.”
A small country – which has gone through several serious convulsions in the past – fortunately survived as a stable and mature nation. But the present convulsions seem to be more serious than any such in the past. It will be a long story to deal with all previous turmoils of 1950, 1960, 1979 and 1990.
“The present crisis is much more serious in dimension. What was not possible in the previous designs seem to have been planned to achieve by a prolonged crisis of management. There are very few people who have concentrated upon the task of managing the crisis,” the analyst added.
These apart, the majority of people have an attitude to accept the fait accompli and adjust with a new situation whatever emerges in peace and reconciliation. Forget and forgive has been a healthy attitude of the vast majority who need a courageous leadership to complete the transition at the earliest with highest skills, dedications and management. In earlier three political crises, there were leaders likes B.P. Koirala whose unflinching commitment towards national reconciliation had averted a major crisis.
Now Nepalese are even talking about South African leaders like Nelson Mandela for the successful political transition in drafting the constitution through the constituent assembly. While South African model of Constituent Assembly is usually mentioned by elites, they forget to mention that South Africa had Nelson Mandela as a role model to accomplish the transformation to a new democratic environment accommodating the commonalities of interests of all.
Mere wishes do not make any country fortunate like South Africa where Nelson Mandela is still a living legend. He was able to lead the black community and also able to win the trust and loyalty of the whites.
At a time when the country’s political leaders are launching tirade against the persons and officials in previous regime at the extent of engaging in vendetta, imagining South African model of reconciliation is far from reality. Unlike Nelson Mandela who bore no grudge whatsoever against the white officials in judiciary and security organs and who had worked under apartheid regime exercising discriminatory laws, almost all leaders in Nepal are now speaking the language of vengeance and vendetta.
The way politics of Nepal was derailed from the constitutional track and put into perpetual uncertainty in the present geo-political situation, it would be testing time for politicians to do justice and maintain a proper balance treating the interest of the nation as supreme. In days to come, politicians of Nepal are definitely going to have to pass through a great trial in history.