From Himal Southasian, Volume 22, Number 5 (MAY 2009)
Nine months after the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) took charge of the government following success in the elections to the Constituent Assembly, the national condition in Nepal today is characterised by a series of absences: of rule of law, of government, of development, of reconstruction and rehabilitation, while of investment and economic revival. The elections of April 2008 threw up a Maoist party that had yet to be socialised into open society, while the leadership began projecting the election win as an endorsement of the decade-long ‘people’s war’.
The public pins its hope on the constitution-writing, but the work has barely begun halfway to the stipulated deadline, because the newly renamed United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is unable or unwilling to lead the process. Meanwhile, the peace process itself is threatened by the Maoists’ sudden reluctance to abide by previous understandings on integration and rehabilitation of their combatants, themselves verified at more than double their conflict-period estimated numbers.
All the while, an enormous volume of human resources and time is going waste, as tens of thousands of professionals in all sectors, who should be enthusiastically engaged in reconstruction and growth, take a wait-and-see attitude. They are not convinced with the words that emanate from a fickle, utilitarian, opportunistic Maobaadi leadership. And while entrepreneurs gasp for air amidst closures, strikes and electricity brownouts, opportunists and crony capitalists scamper after the ministers. A culture of silence is taking over the districts, as Maoist and former-Maoist goons throttle journalists, human-rights defenders, community leaders and local politicians.
Nepal’s peace process has been rightly applauded for showing the world a tantalisingly swift way out of brutal conflict Due to the magnanimity of the political parties, a sense of realism within the Maoist party itself, and an India finally willing to push its weight, in just two years an insurgent force was elevated from the forest to become the largest party in Parliament (the Constituent Assembly doubles as a legislature). But now the peace process is stuck. The former rebels have revealed an inability to rise to the height where the people placed them. While simultaneously tackling their own internal rivalries and contradictions, they ineffectually stayed on the watch while the economy tumbled and rule of law disappeared. They have proactively sought to undermine the constitutional presidency, judiciary, military, bureaucracy and media, leading the government but trying to dismantle the state.
The greatest challenge to the peace process is the continuing recourse to violence, threat of violence, and impunity by the party that leads the government, and it is emboldened in this by the continuing existence of the Maoist force in seven major cantonments and many more satellites. The unexpected win (even for themselves) in the April 2008 elections emboldened the Maoists to shift the goalposts on the previous understanding on combatant ‘management’, which would mean the voluntary, individual intake of ex-combatants into the national army according to the latter’s recruitment standards, while the rest would be demobilised with comfortable rehabilitation packages. Now, egged on by the cantonment commandants, the leadership stridently demands the integration of its People´s Liberation Army (PLA) fighters into the Nepal Army to form a “national army”. This demand for forcible integration has created a chasm between the Maoists and all other political forces, which also erupted in a high-wire drama in the third week of April.
With a 38 percent presence in the House, the Maoists opted for a coalition government rather than an all-party government of national unity, leaving the shunned Nepali Congress in opposition. The spirit of consensus that started with the 12-point understanding between the Maoists and the seven political parties in 2005, and had lasted through the interim government and the elections, was thus broken. Ram Bahadur Thapa, the very Maoist commander who had led the insurgent force, was made defence minister, which showed excessive imagination on the part of the high command. The government is also weakened by its opportunistic nature: the partners of the Maoists in cabinet are the mainstream-left CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist), which vies with them for the same support base, and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), with a history of unresolved violent confrontation with the leading party.
Meanwhile, the standard parliamentary practice of seeking to bring down an ineffective or downright dangerous government is made difficult by several factors. These include the size of the Maoist contingent in the Assembly, the schisms within each of the coalition partners, and the knowledge among all the players that the Maobaadi will go berserk if anyone tries to show them the door. The ministers in government have warned that they will revolt if anyone even so much as tries such “treason”. The politicians fear the urban mayhem that could be unleashed, and the Maoists use this to their advantage, regularly reminding the public of their unreformed ways.
Most importantly, the road to political stability lies in the drafting of the new constitution, and this cannot happen without the Maoists. For all these reasons, the Maoist remain in command, and little can be done other than to challenge them to reform and to democratise. This will take time, during which they will seek to consolidate their hold over society through all means, running a legitimate government yet retaining full freedom to remain outside the law. There is a restless and relentless attempt to weaken state institutions and polarise society, under the ‘chaos theory’ of the finance minister and ideologue Baburam Bhattarai, while the rest of the polity has to remain on continuous guard to tackle the next challenge.
The Maoists have tried variously to demoralise the Nepal Army; played fast and loose with the assignment of civil servants; and even dared to intervene in the cultural/religious arena, seeking for example to end the centuries-old tradition of sourcing the abbot for the Pashupatinath Temple from faraway Karnataka. Even while maintaining and indoctrinating their own combatants through the national exchequer, and with the peace process still on, they would have the public believe that their manhandling of the army comes under the principle of ‘civilian control’, itself a critical principle whose neglect has impacted national political evolution again and again. Meanwhile, the Maoist cadre continue their attacks on the media, whose weakening would provide the party with the elbow room it seeks. Journalists all over, and in particular in the districts, are today bottled up on self-censorship. The Maobaadi now regard the Supreme Court of Nepal as a hurdle against their rampaging cadre, and have gone public with threats of “crushing” the court, and organised demonstrations against the bench.
Such Maoist contempt for democratic institutions is not surprising, given that their leader, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal continues to use foul language against his opponents, and instigates the rank-and-file against journalists by claiming that the media is made up of “smugglers” and foreign stooges. In early April, he suggested at a mass meeting that politicians opposing the Maobaadi should be “chased like the bhyakur”, a reference to a bird species which is pursued on the ground until it is too tired to run, and then killed.
Some would suggest that the Maoists are simply lacking in decorum and diplomacy, while others are convinced that they actually lack in statecraft, values and ethics. But the fact remains that the Maoist leaders in power today have taken part in an insurgency, many have blood on their hands, and they have not formally eschewed violence as a tool of politics. Rather, they seem to suggest that the ‘people’s war’ has only been abandoned in a tactical sense. They may not even care that the polarisation they are instigating can only fracture society, with the rise of an extreme right phalanx to which many frustrated citizens would flock. That would be the end of the long-envisioned social-democratic state amidst political stability. For their part, it does not look likely that the Maoists have an effective plan if the bottom were to fall out of society.
It is important to remember that the Maoists started their ‘people’s war’ in 1996 against a democratically elected government, and that the socio-political conditions in Nepal hardly required a violent armed revolution. Today, the Maoist momentum remains all too real for people to do a cost-benefit analysis of the ten years of conflict till 2006. What is the fallout of the introduction of physical violence into public life? How grave was the loss of development momentum? How much did the economy suffer even while the neighbouring economies surged? What of the destruction of infrastructure? What of the instilling of fear in local activists, teachers and development workers, and children scarred by war?
Among some of Nepal’s influential donors and diplomats, the outlook has remained preternaturally sunny. There remains the illusion of progress even as the society confronts crisis after crisis, due to the standard time lag in the understanding of Nepali politics. the there is still an illusion of progress due to the standard . There is the expectation that the UCPN (Maoist) is already a democratic party; and that while the use of violence is not to be condoned, somehow this much is acceptable given the previous order of exploitative violence in the country. And that, in any case, the Maoists have been legitimised and ‘cleansed’ by the elections, representing the voice of Nepal more than the others do. This, of course, would be a denigration of the people’s experience of working democracy and participatory development, their considered vote for the Maoists for change and to prevent further bloodshed, which hardly implies their willingness to submit to the feudalist Maoist philosophy that ‘armed might is right’.
Where’s the philosophy?
Where, indeed, do the Maoists receive their philosophy from? As far as the party ideology is concerned, it relies on the theory of class war, as if the diverse Nepali experience could ever have been reduced to one formula. There is no convincing case made that the political system that was activated in 1990 was so corrupt and directionless that its only corrective was an armed insurgency. The Maoists still have the task of convincing the populace, and the world, that they were not just a fringe political party that opportunistically utilised the existing incipient democracy and the Nepali landscape, among other things, to (successfully) achieve power at the Centre.
As for the rank-and-file, where would they get their ideology other than through word-of-mouth? At the very least, an earlier generation of the left could learn in Bengali or Hindi. But with the run of Nepali nationalism as defined by the ‘partyless’ Panchayat regime which was imbibed in toto by the Maoists, it became ´anti-nationalist´ and passe to read even Mao in Hindi. Most do not know English, and the Nepali language political corpus is miniscule. Clearly, the Maobaadi ‘revolution’ was run on autopilot; and once the inertia of the conflict was over, they have been left flailing without the philosophical underpinnings against the challenge of open society.
To understand the Maoists today, we need to know how they got here. Most observers never consider just how easy it was – in the country’s terrain and in the absence of government in the rural areas – for someone with a gun, and someone who uses it to take a life, to control the villages of Nepal. While the individual Maoist cadre, activist and fighter must be respected for sacrificing all for the cause, the leadership’s introduction of sheer violence for political purpose could never be accepted by the populace in the long term. It is due to the lack of a deeper ideological foundation that the Maoist leadership today finds it cannot maintain cohesion amongst its flock, other than through the language of revolt and incessant reference to the ‘people’s republic’ agenda as still being alive. At their large National Council conclave in the Kharipati outskirts of Kathmandu in late November 2008, the Maoists came to the conclusion that they were in government but did not control the state, for which the Nepal Army and the independent judiciary were found to be prime obstacles. It decided that the cantonments should not be disbanded until the new constitution is written.
The change agenda that the Maoists introduced cannot be denied; it sought a higher and quicker transformation of society. The methodology is something else, and it still guides the party to this day. It would not be incorrect to say that the ‘people’s war’ and everything that the Maoists have done since show a utilitarian streak – meant solely to take the party towards power in Kathmandu and keep it there, using and discarding rhetoric, friends and fellow-travellers as required. Thus it was that the Nepali comrades made common cause with the Co-Ordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA), but today they have abandoned the band and in turn have been rejected. The Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) was always presented to the Nepali public as though it were a powerful global movement; the RIM is now reported to have evicted the UCPN (Maoist) from membership, but the latter evidently could not care less. The Maobaadi’s entire populist plank was based on vehement anti-Indianism, but this was swiftly discarded the moment state power seemed within reach. The World Bank and the development agencies were supposed to be the enemies for their imperialist agenda, but only while the rebels were in the jungle; the development programmed of the party contains nothing that is different from the past. It continues to be influenced by the donors, and itself has nothing add to the development discourse other than simplistic rhetoric.
The fact that the Maoists were not backed by an urban intelligentsia does indeed seem to have deprived them of a philosophical base, as also the ability to adjust to the sudden elevation to open politics and government administration. Today, it is impossible to consider that the Maoists have not abandoned their ideology – what remains is only their ability to use state machinery for their ends and, and when that does not work, to threaten violence and ‘revolt’. Ironically, the extent to which the Maobaadi were an ambitious political, rather than revolutionary, force was what made it possible to end the conflict so quickly. A true revolutionary movement would have fought longer and harder, and would not have jettisoned the armed rebellion the moment it seemed a losing proposition. The agenda, now that the party has achieved power, is simply to stay there as long as possible and create facts on the ground for the long haul.
It is one thing to welcome the Maoists into open politics as a means of putting an end to the horrific violence of the conflict era. It is another matter to buy into the ideology of violence, or the premise of armed insurrection. Nor is it necessary to try continuously to appease the Maobaadi, even when it becomes clear that they have little innovation on their agenda. The past nine months have shown nothing other than the same donor-driven, pro-capital, India-fearing state against which the comrades had thought to present themselves in contradistinction. The obvious question thus arises: Was a decade of brutal warfare necessary to arrive at this point? In turn, the conclusion is inescapable: The ‘people’s war’ was good for the Maoist party and truly harmful for the people of Nepal. Whatever ancillary advantages there may have been, they do not add up to the loss.
When it comes to statecraft, the Maoist failure is evident in not being able to reach out to the political parties, civil society, the professional classes and the communities. As a result, there has been no rehabilitation and reconstruction to speak of three years after the conflict, and development has not been reactivated. The absence of government is evident across the spectrum, from an inability to control bandhs and closures, to amateurishness in the management of foreign affairs, to an absolute inability to respond to natural and manmade disasters.
The Finance Ministry’s ability to raise unprecedented amounts of internal revenue is seen as a major success of the Maoists-in-government. It will be important to make this collection exercise sustainable, rather than a one-time success based on the threat of dire consequences. The question is also asked, how is the government planning to spend the money it has raised, with such sluggishness in development and regular state activities. Some parties in and out of government fear that it will be squandered among the Maoist party faithful through one stratagem or another, such as hiring hundreds of party faithful as tax investigators on behalf of government.
In terms of development thinking, the Maoists seem to be following a clock that stopped ticking in the early 1960s, all infrastructure talk and little reference to genuine grassroots empowerment, and the strident belief that they know best for the people. For some months after their ascension to government, the Maoists talked up their central agenda of inviting foreign direct investment. In New Delhi in September 2008, Prime Minister Dahal sought to woo the members of India’s three leading chambers of commerce and industry by claiming that he sought only “mega-projects”. Yet with continuous bandhs and strikes, and factory closures instigated mostly by the Maoists’ own unions, the leaders have finally been embarrassed into dropping reference to FDI. Even as Nepali labour migrants begin to return from the Gulf and Malaysia due to the global economic meltdown, there is in Nepal a constriction of industry – and thus no place for many upon return. Capital flight accelerates, meanwhile, and the only ones who are licking their chops are the would-be crony capitalists. In more ways than one, in terms of lifestyles and attitudes, there is a sense of ´Animal Farm too soon´.
The right of humans
Part and parcel of the crisis in the peace process is the fact that the human-rights situation is marked by impunity and refusal to work towards accountability. The present state establishment seeks to project human rights and fundamental freedoms as being ‘relative’ to the needs of the people and the demands of class war. There are now Maobaadi human-rights organisations attempting to present ‘Nepali values’ in human rights and divert attention from civil and political rights. According to the Maoist ´human rights activists´, they are pioneering a “human rights for the 21st century” that will open the eyes of the world. Meanwhile, from the districts upwards, they seek to devalue human rights organisations by portraying them as directed by foreign forces, using ´dollars´ to introduce alien values.
Whether in human rights or any other arena, of course the Maoist leaders can be most beguiling with their arguments, beautifully calibrated to the audience at hand. Which was why one Western ambassador was suggesting recently that civil society “go slow” on demanding accountability for past crimes, as it might affect the peace process. Meanwhile, to more than one interlocutor a development agency head professed to see “the light of commitment in the eyes of Prachanda”. (Prachanda = the nom de guerre of Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal.)
In the arena of accountability and transitional justice, it is now obvious that the Maoists want nothing more than token procedures and the setting-up of pliant commissions on disappearances and on truth and reconciliation. The unstated truth seems to be that the party superstructure would collapse if a genuine process of accountability required the identification and surrender of the party members. There seems very little institutional strength to withstand the challenge of indicted individuals, who would have no compunction in bringing the house down with exposés and accusations. When a Maoist organiser, Ram Hari Shrestha, was murdered in a Maoist cantonment immediately after the April 2008 elections, the Maoists were forced to contend with public anger for the first time. Even amidst the charged atmosphere, however, the principal accused has been inducted into the Central Committee of the UCPN (Maoist). Murders have been pardoned by the scores, and charges against Maoists accused of murdering journalists have been withdrawn. Such is the scale of impunity, excesses have failed to have meaning.
Such is the Maobaadi abhorrence of the accountability process that they would willingly let the guilty army and police personnel off the hook for extrajudicial killings, torture, disappearances and unlawful detention – as long as their own cadre remains untouched. In such circumstances, there can be little hope of justice for victims on either side, and one wonders how the society can ever heal if proceedings are not begun against those who have committed excesses. Without an accountability process, the society will be condemned to live again and again through periods of violence.
In Nepal today, there exists the incongruous situation where an as-yet-undemocratised party leads the government, and is tasked with protecting the peace and the human rights of the populace. All the while, that party-in-government continues in its acts of impunity, and presents its understanding of human rights as relative to its (self-defined) class war. There are no central directives to the cadre to act against the law; but there is an amorphous yet very real sense of threat in large parts, and the belief that justice will not be done. The police is programmed increasingly to pull back from actions when the party boss calls, directly or through the agency of the Chief District Officer. Things are so bad that, because of the absence of law and order, the publicity of atrocities actually energises the Maoist cadre and party, and weakens the public.
The greatest arena of pain today is among the victims of violence, who have seen the Maoists enter the interim government and then elected to government, who have seen hopes of prosecution evaporate, who see an ongoing politicisation of the compensation process, and individuals who committed atrocities placed on high pedestals. Such is the leadership’s disinclination towards accountability that many of the Maoist supporters victimised by the army and police during the conflict years themselves feel abandoned. Those who seek justice are sought to be bought off with compensation and a signature on a thank-you note that would block future investigations.
The dozen years
How exactly Nepal got to this point remains a matter of contention and obscurantism. At times, the canard gets bandied about that the 12 years of democracy between 1990 and 2002 constituted a wasted effort. For the first time, pluralism allowed progress and the building of the foundation of democracy, equity and economic growth. However, this period was likened a failure by the Maoists, the royalists, the mercantilist class and much of the development and diplomatic community alike. This is still the analysis that prevails today, as even scholars, local and international, fail to come to the defence of the dozen years of democracy.
While the weaknesses of the political parties was there for all to see, there is simply not enough evidence to declare that the exercise in parliamentary democracy was a failure, and that such ‘failure’ required an armed insurgency to correct. Even today, overwhelmed by the Maoist drive, scholars do not come to the defence of the democratic interregnum of 1990-2002. International and national NGOs active in development refuse to consider that the era of real participatory development began with 1990, and that the link between human rights, democracy and development has been proven indivisible in the Nepali context.
The Nepali villager was outside looking in; and with the weakness in elite discourse, it was easy for some in the international development community to buy into the suggestion that it was mal-governance of the post-1990 era that led to heightened poverty, which in turn justified the insurgency. That is the interpretation the Maobaadi would prefer, whereas this reading glosses over the complex casualties and also that the Maoists had already started their underground ´war´ in 1996. There is surely a need for research on how (or whether) the dozen years of democracy led to the sparking of genuine socio-economic progress after decades of Panchayat-era talk, and how the Constitution of 1990 provided much of what was required for a free, liberal democracy to move ahead. The all-important matter of inclusion of the marginalised segments, in fact, became part of the national agenda due to the freedoms promoted and protected by the 1990 Constitution.
Amidst the emerging anti-intellectual environment in Kathmandu, there were not enough who would rise to defend the left-liberal ideals of 1990-2002. Although some critique the neo-liberal agenda which infiltrated the economy during this period, there is no doubt that the continuous discourse would have led to a course correction, back towards the social-democratic ideals of Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala and his nation-building cohort of the middle of the last century. On the whole, especially as the Maoists gathered steam, the intellectuals, fearful of being labelled royalist, feudal, retrograde or capitalist, preferred to remain silent rather than defend the democratic interregnum.
There is a second significant influence to contend with beyond the Kathmandu intelligentsia, as well, that of the international development community. While it is true that the discourse will ultimately be carried by the Nepali players, the fact that so much money is in the hands of the donors means that they have an ability to influence the direction of debate and disbursement. It is therefore important that they pay due respect to the achievements of the ´democratic development era´ after 1990, learn not to undervalue the Nepali politician, and check the future of development against the litmus test of a free society from the village up. Simply put, they need to ensure that development decisions can be made freely at the grassroots, understanding that there is one party with overwhelming power, its own ability to wreak vengeance and that of the government machinery.
It is notable that none of the heads of the donor and diplomatic community currently resident in Kathmandu were present when the People’s Movement took place, which proved the Nepali people´s maturity in the understanding of peace, pluralism and development; nor were most present during the 12 years of vibrant democratic exercise till 2002. Some donors perceive Nepal like, say, a Vietnam, where there is one-party rule where you can push through programmes from the top down. It can also be said that while the development community – the multilaterals, bilateral, INGOs, NGOs – has the right position on attacking marginalisation, ushering inclusion and a rights-based approach to development, it does not give due importance to the issues of pluralism, fundamental freedoms and human rights, especially at the grassroots. The international community, with its spread across society, cannot neglect the arena of freedom if it is serious about development.
Because of the paucity of works in English, and because the national discourse occurs mostly in the Nepali and other national languages rather than in English, many donors and diplomats fall into the trap of thinking that the levels of violence in the cities and villages are par for the course. While the government bureaucrats and local level staff tend to keep their own counsel under the circumstances existing, it should be easy enough for the donor-agency heads to check with their field workers – as to whether there is a sense of duress in taking developmental decisions, whether the rural folk and district-level locals are able to take decisions freely, whether the activists affiliated to the Maoist party are infiltrating the contracting and bidding procedures in the districts, and what is the untoward influence in village and district conclaves. The body language of the Maoist cadre vis-à-vis other party representatives at village meetings itself speak volumes.
While there is no suggestion that there should be any kind of development sanction against the Maoist-led government, which would only hurt a populace that so wants to revive the stalled activities, the donor representatives must realise that the average three-year stint does not allow complete understanding of an un-colonised society that does not conduct discourse in a European language. However, provided they are convinced, the donor agencies in Nepal could very well bring themselves together, as they did in 2005, to caution the Government of Nepal of the condition of human rights and fundamental freedoms. All of this against the backdrop of the unfortunate tendency to blame everything on the political elites and the Nepali system, forgetting that the donors have been partners in Nepal’s development effort since the country opened to the world in 1950. An argument can be made that the development agencies (and their representatives) from then till now must bear at least some of the responsibility for the failures of the state, including marginalisation, Kathmandu-centricism and exclusion.
What the international and national development community should be concerned about, therefore, is of a possible pushback of participatory development, which was Nepal’s success story after the open society became a reality in 1990. And yet today, one would be hard put to locate discussion of this critical element among the agencies, the I/NGOs and the development scholars. This too, is a denigration of the Nepali grassroots.
All-party national unity
Following the elections of April 2008, those who challenged the Maoists out of the belief in the universal values of anti-violence and pluralism were sought to be portrayed as members of a conservative, ´feudal´ clique. This intimidated the intellectual class, which sought refuge in simplistic formulations rather than confront the intellectual drift.
The weaknesses of the intelligentsia, more than that of the development community or the political class, must be said to responsible for much of the drift in society. The commitment among those who consider themselves members of the opinion-making category in Kathmandu is easily tested by asking two questions. First, did you publicly – in speech or writing – challenge Maoist violence as it sparked and spread after 1996? Second, did you come out onto the streets against the king as soon as he took over on 1 February 2005?
Therein lies challenge of Nepali society in seeking a path to the future, a Kathmandu intelligentsia which has not been able to lead, compromised as it is by the opportunism of new elitism, donor consultancies (which should not, of course, prevent the expression of heartfelt opinion), party-specific biases, and willingness to succumb to populism and demagougery. All of which is impacting society today, when the issues are much more complex than ever, because of the need to confront the Maobaadi while preventing a reactionary right from emerging. On the whole, the weaknesses of the critical cross-section of the educated classes does injustice to the people and also colours how the world sees Nepal and its experience.
The Nepali polity is today in suspended animation, with political chaos eating away at the time allotted to the crucial process of constitution-writing. Part of the challenge is the fact that the Maoists are not threatened of government collapse regardless of their irresponsible acts and omissions. The options, thus, are stark. Given that the Maoists are more or less in command of the direction of the polity, the challenge is how to move towards the writing of a democratic constitution while trying to prevent the collapse of the state. The other option would be to do nothing, to merely wait for such a polarisation in society that the constitution-writing collapses, foreign intervention becomes a reality, and/or a rightwing departure comes riding the military or Hindutva agenda.
Moving towards writing the constitution, then, needs to include a vast public sensitisation campaign, which simultaneously locks the Maoists into democratic transformation. This would require the abandonment of the present opportunistic coalition government, and an opening-up to all the other political parties to form a government of national unity. Such a government would include the Nepali Congress and the Tarai Madhes Democratic Party, besides the CPN (UML) and the MJF. And, certainly, the Maoists should lead such a government but not keep the defence portfolio, for the sheer logic of it.
The democratisation of the Maoist party is a precondition for the advance of Nepali society. There will be no political stability nor development advance without it. The many dislocations and tragedies being suffered by the Nepali people, from the horrific criminality in the middle-eastern Tarai to the inability of the state to respond to restive groups all over, cannot be resolved in the absence of Maoist engagement at a higher plane than where they reside at today.
The route to the rapid democratisation of the Maoists can only be through an all-party national unity government, as then there will be a need for more give-and-take among the players for the sake of governance as well as the writing of the constitution. The addition of more democratic players will act as a brake on the Maobaadi momentum, and the resultant ratcheting down of rhetoric will also help in the writing, which could otherwise be the victim of so many primitive notions. Leaving the Maoists to continue in the present path, with their own power and control of the government mechanism, would mean a gradual return to the era of Panchayat, where all the structures of democracy appeared to be in place but none of its values were present.
If one is to look for a way out rather than succumb fatalistically to whatever may happen, then it is important to see what is feasible. In this light, the challenge is not to convince the other political players so much as the Maoists, who have their own certitudes and insecurities to contend with. It is the Maoists who will have to be convinced that their long-term political future depends upon abandoning the irresponsible path they have charted in the last nine months, and to go back to a consensus government for the writing of the constitution. It will be difficult, but Prime Minister Dahal must force his commandants and cadre to give up visions of undemocratic takeover of the state, and to accept an expansion to an all-party national unity government.
Besides an all-party national unity government, there is one other requirement for writing the new constitution in an atmosphere free of fear and distrust: the disbandment of the Maoist cantonments, through integration of combatants into the security forces and demobilisation and rehabilitation of the rest. One cannot imagine the unhindered drafting of the constitution with the cantonments remaining in place.
Dream, the People’s Movement
The euphoric dreams of the People’s Movement of 2006 seem to have gone crashing. That experience was a simultaneous rise of the people of Nepal – unprecedented in the last few decades, right around the world – when they rose by the millions against the autocratic monarchy of Gyanendra and the violent insurgency of Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The people voted with their feet over 19 days in April 2006, for lasting peace and democracy, knowing through experience that one could not go without the other, and that socioeconomic progress required both. They knew that political stability under a democracy would be what would make the citizenry – cheated throughout history in this, one of the oldest nation states in the world – finally able to enjoy the fruits of their labours and the possibilities of their geography.
While it may be an ancient nation state, Nepal is now engaged in a nation-building exercise in which myriad processes are simultaneously in play. The society is having a go at post-conflict rehabilitation; it is seeking to re-democratise after years of ad hoc and autocratic governance; it is seeking to reintroduce rule of law and state administration; it is proceeding with a peace process in which the Maoist combatants are yet to be ‘integrated and rehabilitated’; it is engaging with the challenge of a myriad marginalised communities, finding their voice for the first time and targeting all their demands against an inarticulate state establishment; it is seeking to write a new constitution which will restructure state-society relations, and define federalism; and it is suddenly tackling a plethora of armed groups who have seen the efficacy of blackmailing society with gun in hand.
It turns out the journey to nation-building is never linear. The electoral success of the Maoists, achieved through means fair and foul, has made everyone introspect, with the understanding that there is no alternative to forcing the Maoists to be democratised. Today’s challenge is to convert the former rebels to democracy, rather than for the Maoists to try and force society to accept their simplistic notions. It is to refuse to submit to a Maoist fait accompli, for that would be the path back to the Panchayat era of unrepresentative governance and top-down diktat. And so let no one be fooled: even if they seem to be submitting amidst the anti-intellectualism of Kathmandu, the people will sooner or later stand their ground. It will be the Maoists who will transform and join the democratic mainstream, for they have no choice.