Meet the ‘New Nepal’ (same as the old)

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By Shashi P.B.B. Malla & Chandra Bahadur Parbate

With the exception of the country having been transformed from a constitutional monarchy into a republic and the erstwhile terrorists now joining the political fray and jockeying for power, nothing seems to have changed in the political scene. And, of course, India (backed by the United States) still plays an inordinately powerful role in the domestic affairs of Nepal, which is reminiscent of the situation back in the Fifties of the last century when the Indian ambassador acted out the role of viceroy. The real movers and shakers reside in Lainchour (the Indian embassy) and the other Baluwatar (the US embassy), and of course, the Delhi Durbar. The Indians command so much clout that they could demand that the new President, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav boycott the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games, and thereby fully irritate the Chinese government.

Nothing seems to be moving ahead with regard to the urgent need for government formation. The daily changing political kaleidoscope is fascinating to some, revolting to others. The attempts of the CPN-Maoist to form a ‘consensus government’ has been frustrated and blocked at every step. No government can be installed that has not the full backing of our Indian masters. In the meantime, the problems facing the country are mounting by leaps and bounds. The capital’s respected independent daily, the Nepal Samacharpatra asked in a front-page headline last Sunday whether there were any prospects of the 25 political parties represented in the Constituent Assembly (CA) addressing the country’s woes anytime soon. We may not yet be experiencing the galloping inflation of 13% of our southern neighbour (only 6.8% in China), but we will definitely catch up soon, considering that we have no functioning administration and government.

On Saturday, caretaker PM Koirala still stated that there was no alternative to consensus, cooperation and unity in order to draft a new constitution and to lead “the ongoing peace process to a logical conclusion”. Coming from him, it does sound very much hollow, and above all, the latter part of the statement is absolutely nonsense, since it is quite unclear how such a “logical conclusion” is envisaged and how exactly it would look like. Koirala also paid lip service to the necessity of a coalition government of the four major parties, the CPN-Maoist, Nepali Congress (NC), CPN-United Marxists-Leninists (UML) and the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF), while behind the scenes other plans were afoot.

The still officiating Minister for Peace and Reconstruction, Ram Chandra Poudel, claimed the ministry of defence for the NC, even before concrete negotiations for a division of the various portfolios had started, because of the necessity of balancing power as the Maoists had their own People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Although the army is mobilized under the PM-led National Security Council and the issue of the future integration of the PLA into the Nepal Army would be dealt with by a special cabinet committee, the Maoists are very wary of relinquishing such an important ministry. Paudel also claimed that the CPN-Maoist had not yet transformed itself into a democratic party and stressed strongly the desideratum of forging strong unity among the “democratic forces” in order to end the authoritarian attitude of the Maoists. These are all indications pointing to the formation of a government excluding the Maoists, or one that only grants them a junior role. The latter would be a complete loss of face to the Maoists and it is not at all clear that they would be able to stomach such a position.

The Maoists seem to be loosing the power tug-of-war, and as the President has already indicated, the next PM will be elected by a simple majority vote in the CA (now set for Friday), since the four major parties failed to come to an agreement. If the three-party alliance (NC,UML,MPRF) still holds, the creation of the next government is a foregone conclusion. In order to gain the upper hand, Maoist boss Prachanda-Dahal did announce that confiscated property would be returned and that the “paramilitary structure” of their youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL) would be dissolved. This was apparently too little, too late for the other parties. The Maoists are to blame for not speaking with a united voice in matters of national concern and for not presenting a democratic and mainstream face. This is as much a failure and weakness of the cadres as of the regional and central leadership and could result in their fall from grace in the national agenda.

As an example, the Maoist-affiliated “Autonomous Council of Karnali” (ACK) has warned the government and the developers not to promote major hydroelectric power projects in the region. The ACK chairman Gorakh Bahadur BC has brazenly warned that all persons entering the far-western region towards this purpose would be “murdered, attacked or drowned”. In the face of such wanton lawlessness, the Maoist leaders remain silent. In fact, a senior leader, Mohan Kiran-Baidya made the Delphic pronouncement that the political revolution was yet incomplete, since revolutionary changes had still not taken place. This indicates that the Maoists still hold on to their antiquated, ideological mind-set and antediluvian social, economic and political agenda. In the meantime, Baburam Bhattarai, Maoist ideologue and presumptive No. 2, contended that they would establish a “corruption-free society”. If they do lead the government against all odds, we are in for times that could be both interesting and turbulent.

In the corridors of power, there was an intense tussle between the NC and the UML as to which party should provide the PM. This was the main bone of contention. The latter has made a strong claim and the Indians, Americans and the MPRF would have no quarrel with such a choice. Last Friday, the UML standing committee member, K.P. Sharma Oli let the cat out of the bag by laying claim to the leading role in the new “all party” government. He underlined the fact that the UML in the “transitional phase” would give solid direction, institutionalize the democratic republican system and restore lasting peace and security in the country. This was a clear hint that the UML considered Koirala not fit to supply the necessary leadership. He also reiterated that if the UML collaborated with the CPN-Maoists under UML-leadership, even then the home ministry must be theirs. That makes this coalition a mission impossible, with the Maoists having to sacrifice the home ministry to the UML and the defence ministry to the NC-in a lose-lose situation.

In the meantime, since the smaller parties in the CA have been side-lined, there are all-round complaints. The CPN-United blamed the four major parties for the current political deadlock and stated that they were only interested in a power-sharing deal. He suggested that a national government should be formed incorporating all the parties in the CA. The chairman of the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N/National Democratic Party), Kamal Thapa has said that if the President were now to call upon the NC to form a coalition government, it would be a black day in the nation’s history. He cannot be clearer in expressing his very poor opinion of Koirala and the NC under his leadership. Thapa was of the firm opinion that the Maoists should definitely be given the opportunity to lead the government and, if necessary, be allowed to make mistakes (like other political parties) if necessary. He claimed that the other parties were playing a dirty game by setting impossible demands. He also maintained that the Maoists had indeed recognized the political ills facing the country, but had prescribed medicine that had already expired. This is indeed a telling analogy, but a pertinent question is surely permitted: can we allow such quacks and half-educated to practice without let or hindrance?

The writers can be reached at:[email protected]