CA elections Too much emphasis on arms issue

Let a referendum decide the future of the monarchy and let the UN deal with the issue of arms.

There is a clear indication that the talks between the SPA and the Maoists have reached the final stage and as soon as the issues of monarchy and arms management are agreed upon, the road to the formation of an interim government, including the Maoists, will open up and all energy will be directed towards the CA polls. This is akin to saying that the climbers are only a few hundred metres from Everest. But the remaining height is where most failures occur.

The biggest hurdle remains the issue of monarchy. The issue will be decided either through a referendum or by the CA. This question of either/or has driven a wedge not only among the SPA components but within the NC itself. Some NC leaders are for a republican front while the PM and others are more cautious. The CPN-UML, backed by other leftist parties and the NC, aim at a final decision through a referendum. The CPN-UML formula bestows people with the responsibility to decide the issue while the NC position is to express people’s verdict indirectly through elected representatives. In any case, the issue of monarchy will not be settled easily. The CPN-UML with its position look more democratic as it involves the people to express their desire. But the NC position leaves space for unjust claims. In case the monarchists win, the republicans would brand it as foul play and in case the republicans win, the monarchists would claim that the majority were for monarchy.

In a referendum, whoever gets a majority will have to be recognised. No doubt there will be a section which will argue in favour of their case but the verdict of the majority should prevail. The claims of the minority are bound to brew other conflicts. So, a referendum seems to be the only option.

The fate of monarchy must not be left to a few persons. The elected representatives might be very sensitive to popular wishes, but their individual temperament cannot be totally neutralised. Public interest issues should be left to the people. Everyone will have the right to express opinion and attract support but, ultimately, the majority decision will have to be accepted.

The question of arms management isn’t in the limelight as uncertainty over its mechanism persists. The masses, the parties and the civil society are unanimous that as long as the threat of use of arms by any side remains, there can be no free and fair expression of the people’s will. In their letters to the UN, both the SPA and the Maoists have expressed the need to abolish any threat of arms prior to elections. Therefore, the question revolves around the modus operandi. First, the Maoists have to declare a permanent ceasefire, followed by an agreement between the government and the Maoists. The two sides should also sign a human rights accord and pledge their allegiance to the letter and spirit of the decisions made by the CA. After that, the arms of the Nepali Army and the Maoist People’s Liberation Army should be put under the scrutiny of the UN so that they do not fall into the hands of either side. Many discriminate between the two armies and emphasise the need to separate the arms from the Maoists only. They fail to acknowledge that there are vested interests who could take advantage of the arms of the state, too.

Recently, a retired high-ranking army official said that the army would defend “Hindutwa”. Others have threatened with an armed uprising in favour of the King. These threats should not be taken lightly. There are other traditionalists who are equally resistant to change. The recent incident in Doti against the Dalits by so-called high-caste people, those who have expressed anxiety over the issue of equal rights for the women, those not ready to reconcile with the expression of ethnic rights, among others, could penetrate the state’s armed forces that have largely been a traditional unit. Therefore the question of arms management has to be dealt with seriously.

The SPA and the Maoists have agreed to hold the CA polls by May-June, 2007, and the government has activated the Election Commission. An interim government, inclusive of the Maoists, should be formed at the earliest and the issues of monarchy and arms management settled soon. The PM has raised the public hopes by speaking in favour of reaching an agreement at the earliest, which would pave the way for an interim government. Let him now not raise questions that help create a gulf between the parties. For the common people, the issue of monarchy has been settled. Except a very thin minority, the people are either in favour of a powerless ceremonial king or a republic. Let a referendum decide this.

On the issue of arms management, whatever minimum provisions that can satisfy the people that they will be free of the threat of arms will be welcome. The Maoists and the government have agreed to accept the UN role in arms management. The UNhas vast experience and it might not prove too difficult for UN experts to resolve the issue. We have to hasten the talks to prepare for the CA polls. We only have seven months.

Upadhyay is a former foreign minister