From Nepali Times, ISSUE #413 (15 AUG 2008 – 21 AUG 2008)
And time for the Maoists, finally, formally and publicly, to renounce violence
As the government finally gets formed via the Constituent Assembly, hope abounds: of a return to structured democratic governance, a conclusion to the peace process, drafting the new constitution, and the arrival of long-awaited political stability to trigger development and economic revival.
Amidst the effervescence of Nepali politics, Pushpa Kamal Dahal will take charge as prime minister following Friday’s vote in the Constituent Assembly. Our way to emerge from a ‘people’s war’ has been to gentrify the insurgents by handing them the accountability of legitimate power. The Maoist triumph in the elections represented a vote for change, but it was also a calibrated response by the voters to ensure their transformation into peaceful politics.
In no way can the electoral success be read as justification of the armed insurgency. The 10 years of people’s war benefited the Maoists, but proved costly for the country. It brought the party to the frontline of national politics but set the people back by a decade in terms of development and economic progress (though there was some ancillary social bonus).
With the government finally in place, the Assembly must work for the people by generating momentum for its twin tasks as parliament and as constitution-writing body. On the former, it is impossible to imagine the Maoists’ announced grand designs being fulfilled in the less than two years ahead. Much as we may want it all (great infrastructure projects, revolutionary land reform, double-digit growth, tripling of the government budget and the promised transformation to Switzerland and/or Singapore), it would be best for the new cabinet to focus on what is doable.
As prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal will be attending office at Singha Darbar rather than directing affairs from the Baluwatar living room, which in itself will provide tangible momentum to government. The revival of state administration throughout, control of Tarai criminality with its cross-border aspect, restart of service delivery, energising of the civilian police force: all of this is necessary for the ride back to stability, peace and prosperity.
The stillborn post-conflict rehabilitation process must be revived, including support for the victims of both Maoist and state-sponsored violence, the management of combatants, and massive investments in infrastructure and the economy to make up for lost time. Looking ahead, the government must guard against inter-community conflagration and join a countrywide campaign to push back the culture of violence that has overtaken society.
But peace must go hand in hand with pluralism, and as the Maoists enter government they must understand that the public already understands and appreciates democracy. The democratic era between 1990-2002 was derided in unison by Kathmandu’s nobility, the donor/diplomats and the Maoists in the jungle, but it was actually an era of successes. Besides concretising the freedoms and rights that we today take for granted, it was those dozen years which made participatory development possible and gave rural Nepal a voice.
If the Maoists underestimate the citizenry’s ownership of democracy, there will be much distrust in the days ahead. A grievous mistake would be, at the village and district level, to seek to monopolise decisions on development projects and the disbursement of funds. For its part, the development community must respect the Nepali public enough to internalise the participatory nature of development that emerged after 1990. The litmus test of the Maoist record in the days ahead will rest on whether citizens’ groups are allowed to freely organise and set their agenda, or whether Maoist committees will direct affairs for everyone else.
Many domestic and foreign analysts prefer to project the present-day Nepali polity as polarised?between the Maoists making up the progressive left and everyone else relegated to the feudal, rightist reactionary category. In reality, there is a broad-based vanguard which stands ready to defend pluralism as the way to the future, and its members reside in the larger ‘parliamentary parties’ and among civil society. These ‘classical democrats’ make up Nepal’s democratic centre-left and they are the ones who fought the king and worked to bring the Maoists into the mainstream. They are not going anywhere.
To be anti-violence is not to be anti-Maoist, but there is certainly the expectation that the Maoists, having been legitimised totally by the April elections, will convert into a fully democratic party?that they will respect the vote which has brought them to the helm of state affairs. As the new prime minister takes his seat at Singha Darbar, society must ask the Maoists to finally, formally and publicly renounce violence as a political tool.