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Current Nepali Politics: Some Issues and Perspective

Lok Raj Baral

People-Leader dialogue aims to bring closer the members of civic society and political leaders. It does not necessarily think of the masses to which the politicians prefer to address for communicational and mobilizational purposes. Our objective is however different as we try to involve the representative sections of society in the name of people, despite some confusions raised by some participants who think that if more than 60 percent professional ---academics, journalist, lawyers, and other similar people --- constitutes the focussed group of a programme, then how could they be called "people". The organizer of an interaction programme in Pokhara in August (held with the support of FES) was thus confronted with this question with a participant asking about the status of " people-leader ' dialogue when no people (a mass of ordinary people on the streets or fields) were left out.

Such an inquiry into the thematic part of the discussion came out of spontaneity and with good intention since " the people content" as is normally understood was missing. According to this argument, how could academic and other professionals could represent the 'people'? Taking it a good opportunity to focus on our agenda, I explained that such huge gathering of people was neither feasible nor desirable because the objective was to avoid populistic undertones often resorted to by public speakers. Moreover, the Leader-People dialogue wanted to concentrate on some of the burning issues with certain degree of objectivity, analytical perspective, coolness and prognosis. So the selection of the audience was deliberate in order to get more in-depth and searching queries and questions on such issues that plague the nation.

What issues did the speakers and the audience normally address? It seemed that the Maoist insurrection that has been dominating the agenda of Nepali politics since 1996 were singled out for the discourse. So was the issue of the succession to the throne that has not yet been well taken into account by the systemic parties but the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist-Leninist) or CPN (UML). On the Maoist agenda, one of the main speakers, J.N.Khanal, a member of the Standing Committee of the UML, tried to impress on the audience that the principal demands of the Maoists--- end of monarchy, holding of election to constituent assembly, interim government --- do not hold much ground in view of the obtaining conditions of the country. Sticking to his party's position for consolidating the multiparty system achieved in 1990, he wanted to open the discourse for further improvement in the position of monarchy in order to make it more transparent in accord with the spirit of constitutional monarchy. Other issues such as improvement in elections, end of corruption, adoption of radical social and economic measures for establishing an egalitarian society could be taken after achieving an all party consensus.

Trying to find out the roots of Maoist people's war, Khanal stated that the failure of parties, particularly the incumbent Nepali Congress (NC) that has had ruled three/fourth time since 1990, were to be squarely blamed. Lack of governance or misgovernance, lack of vision and determination in addition to encouraging rampant corruption, patronage distribution as if the new regime had come for personal aggrandizement and group interests could be taken as some of the main causes of Maoist upsurge. Although his list was comprehensive, he didn't like to accept as much blame as he poured on other parties, specially the NC.

The conscious members of the audience, however, did not spare him for what he said and what his party—UML—has been doing over these years. As a major party, the UML was alleged to have made compromises on the spirit of the constitution accepting the leadership of the former Panchas against whom the 1990 movement had targeted. Presently, the way the party seems to be in a dilemma on whether or not it should abide by the present constitution despite its latest declaration that it would go along with it with certain improvements, was under scrutiny.

Another discourse was on the monarchy in the post-June massacre context in which ten royal family members including the king, queen and the crown prince were included. Although prince Dipendra was declared murderer whose strained relations with his parents on the issue of marriage was singled out as the motivation for creating an unprecedented crisis in Nepali monarchical tradition, people in general didn't believe in it. Fault was also found with the nature and closeness of the Nepali Palace that made its own rules and regulations keeping itself aloof from the rest of the governmental system. Conceivably, the elected Prime Minister who also held the Royal Palace portfolio, a panchayat legacy because nowhere else such portfolio is retained, was simply a spectator of the entire incident so much so that he was informed of the massacre only casually. Now the question of constitutional monarchy is in public discourse demanding the role of parliament to frame laws relating to succession and other affairs of the Palace. Other issues concerning the actual spirit of constitutional monarchy are also raised thinking that there is a discrepancy between the constitution and the actual practice of monarchy.

Picking up the thread of succession issue, Narhari Acharya, an NC Central Committee member, said that time has come for parliament to make the law of succession because under the changed conditions in Nepali monarchy, the parliament should be capable of taking appropriate decisions on the issue. Although Acharya appeared to speak with circumspection due to his own party's reluctance to discuss the issue candidly, he confined his arguments to the succession issue, while members of the audience and outside have entered into vociferous public debates about the actual status of monarchy in the country regardless of parties' positions on the issue.

Perspective

A perspective on current Nepali politics could be developed during the course of formal and informal discussion. The nature, development, scope and intensity of the Maoist violence and the prospects of peace through negotiation seemed to concern all. Since the nature of the conflict is ideological whose achievement is possible only by having structural changes or replacement of the existing order including the traditional institution of monarchy, many were of the opinion that the Maoist People's War was beyond resolution through negotiation. Conflict could have been prevented at its early stage but the upsurge of both violence and public response in commensurate failure of the State has given rise to complexity of the crisis. The scope and intensity thus appear far more difficult to manage due to the lack of coordination and unified command structure of the Nepali State and also due to the failure of constitutional political parties to resist the Maoist threats by mobilizing people at all levels. Since the Royal Army is said to have failed to carry out the policies of government allegedly looking upon the King as the source of command, the police power used so far for combat operations have invariably floundered. Now the actual status of elected government is being questioned in order to find the location of power in the existing political arrangement. Some are of the view that popular sovereignty as underlined by the present constitution and the King as one of the power centres is contradiction. Political parties' leaders who were instrumental in having the present constitutional arrangement have themselves articulated the theory and practice of balance of forces---initially three (monarchy, NC and the Left Front later represented by the UML) to which the King now seem to be assertive for sharing power as any other partner. A strong message has already been given by the new King in this respect during the course of an interview granted recently to an editor of a local daily. Now a new extra-constitutional force ---the CPN (Maoist)-- is recognized though not in the sense of power sharing under the present constitution. All are now bent on finding out a new space in politics for it within the constitution with suitable amendments. But going by the intent and mission of the Maoists, they have not yet dropped any hint of such acceptance short of some fundamental changes both in structural and substantive terms. Nepalis do not know about the actual model of the Maoists as they have time and again changing their version on the nature of their polity. On the one hand, they are at war for republic or people's republic the latter has definite connotation in communist system), they do not fail to assure us that their regime would guarantee no less freedoms than granted by the present system one on the other.

It is however a jigsawpuzzle in Nepal. How the Maoist upsurge is possible in a country whose background and present setting and orientation are totally different for such a war. Why in India where teeming millions are poverty stricken and oppressed and suppressed despite a long history of liberal democracy Maoist insurgency is only marginally present? But what factors are responsible for its overall growth and dynamics in Nepal need to be studied. So far only scanty information and causes have been advanced without going into the origins and growth of the Maoist war. Whether it is a temporary phenomenon having potentials of being withered away soon or is it likely to assume permanency in Nepal is not thoroughly probed. It has nonetheless been proved that systemic distortions, leaders ineptitude , undemocratic behaviour and lack of performance of governments both symbolically as well as practically seem to provide breeding fields for such movement. Apparently, it is a terrorist movement as it creates fear among the people, impose death penalty selectively for blacklisted persons and mobilize resources either through extortion or through snatching of arms from the Police. Such activities seemed to have thrived in face of much weakened State.

Contrasted with such methods, however, the Maoists have been able to mobilize the people in both overt and covert forms. Their mingling with the masses openly is a regular feature and the manner in which they have been able to mix up with the ordinary people is likely to transform the nature and intensity of the movement into a new situation whose consequences would be far more dangerous for the existing order. How would the Nepali State and the constitutional parties respond to such a rapid rise of the Maoists is subject to speculation.

September 2001.

 
Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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