With the Maoists quitting the government, there is a real risk of the peace process in Nepal going astray. Though the leadership has promised to keep the struggle peaceful, the country faces a serious crisis
The decision of Nepal’s Maoists to quit the Eight-Party Alliance government and launch a ‘peaceful’ agitation for the establishment of a republican Nepal even before the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections is, on the face of it, a breach of their commitment. In their Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of November 2006, with the G.P. Koirala-led Seven Party Alliance (SPA), the Maoists had agreed to let the elected CA decide on the issue of monarchy or republic in its first meeting. The Maoists have also reversed their earlier decision to opt for the elections on the basis of a mixed system of direct and proportional voting. Now they want a wholly proportional basis for the elections. These are the two principal demands in their 22-point charter that the SPA has refused to accept.
The Maoists are driven by three motives. The first is that they have genuine concerns over the ‘regressive forces’ led by the monarchy that will not allow smooth, free or fair elections, only to ensure that the republican agenda is thwarted. The role of these forces in fuelling the Terai violence, instigating the recent blasts in Kathmandu and vandalism in the Terai region are cited by Maoists to justify their fears. In their assessment, the present king and his coterie, though politically redundant, have enough resources to create mischief. They refer to the June 2007 amendment to the interim constitution which says that if the king is found to be disrupting the peace process, the interim parliament may, by a two-third vote, declare Nepal a ‘republic’. But the Maoists suspect that sections of the SPA, as well as countries like India and the US, would still prefer a ceremonial monarchy over a republic.
Second, the Maoists complain about being shabbily treated by the interim government and that they were kept out of the key ministries of home, finance, foreign and defence. None of the important ambassadorial assignments, in India, China, US and Britain, were given to them. In other critical administrative and political appointments, they were not offered adequate representation. Their cadres have not been given promised facilities. They also allege attempts to marginalise them politically. The turning of the Madheshi movement against the Maoists that seriously dented their political base in Terai is pivotal to this impression. The Maoists have a real fear that the drive against them will lead to a serious slump in their electoral prospects. They have, accordingly, been asking for an assured share in the winnable seats in the elections.
The internal divisions within the Maoist organisation have deepened. There has always been two viewpoints among the Maoists: those who want to get into the democratic mainstream and the rest who want to carry on with their ‘struggle’ until all their demands were met.
Prachanda and Bhattarai can ignore the 22-point demand charter at the cost of their credibility within the organisation. The Maoists, however, are conscious that their move will lead to sullying their public image and international reputation. They were desperately seeking a face-saving mechanism to solve their political dilemma. They proposed a parliamentary resolution to declare Nepal a republic before the elections, but subject to final endorsement by the elected CA. Prime Minister Koirala refused to concede that, as that would have made the elections appear to have ben fought on a Maoist agenda, giving them huge political mileage.
The Maoists’ action has raised serious questions on the peace process as a whole. They have threatened to withdraw from the CPA as well as various understandings worked out with the SPA. There is a real possibility of accidental violence as well as a possibility that hardliners among the Maoists can instigate violence. Though the Maoist leadership is committed to keeping the struggle peaceful, but there is real risk of losing control.
The Maoists may realise that it will be impossible for them to achieve their political goals through an armed struggle particularly under an internationally supported democratic government. The regressive forces and all those who have stakes in disrupting peace and stability in Nepal may also exploit the opportunity provided by the Maoist agitation. This can only serve to worsen the suffering in the poorly governed mountain nation. A further loss of credibility of the democratic experiment will only frustrate the aspirations of the Jan Andolan-II of April 2006.
All those who have stakes in a stable and democratic Nepal, particularly India, need to ensure that the narrow political space still available to resolve the crisis is harnessed constructively.
SD Muni is visiting scholar, IDSA and Editor, Indian Foreign Affairs Journal.