Ajit N S Thapa

The genesis of the constituent assembly to frame Nepal’s Constitution dates back to 2007 BS after King Tribhuvan, triumphant on his return from exile in India and grateful to the people for helping him to overthrow the 104-year-old autocratic Rana regime, declared that the people would henceforth live freely in a democratic regime guided by a Republican Constitution framed by the people’s own representatives. In a country still gripped by feudalism and a political leadership squabbling within themselves for partisan and personal gains, King Tribhuvan and his ambitious successors managed to renege on their promise and decided to keep sovereignty and state executive authority in their own hands. The leaders, weary of the wrangling with the Crown on this issue, decided to adopt the Constitution given by King Mahendra, in which he had kept emergency powers to himself. Using this executive authority, King Mahendra dismissed the elected government of B P Koirala and ushered in a highly centralised and elitist regime called Panchayat democracy, which lasted a full 30 years. King Birendra wisely relented to the demands of the 1990 people’s revolution to restore democracy and formed a committee comprising representatives of the political parties and the palace to recommend a new Constitution. Thus, a new Constitution has been in place since November 1990, which has four basic tenets: people’s sovereignty, multiparty democracy, parliamentary system and guarantee of basic human rights.

Since October 4, 2002, when the King dismissed PM Deuba for failing to hold elections and assumed executive authority upon himself, the nation had been locked up in a triangular power conflict — the palace attempting to consolidate authority, the parties desperately seeking to find a place for themselves by putting pressure on the King to relinquish power and hand it over to the people’s representatives and the Maoists seeking to establish a republican totalitarian state with the power of the gun. This scenario has been changed after the King appointed Deuba as PM under Article 127. The NC (D), which had also taken to the streets withdrew its protest and even the CPN-UML, the largest party in the five party anti-regression alliance, accepting that the King’s action had been a partial correction of regression, decided to dissociate itself from the coalition and to join the government headed by Deuba. The remaining four parties have deemed Deuba’s appointment as a continuation of regression and have decided to carry on their agitation. While appointing Deuba, the palace assigned him with three important tasks: to form an all-party government, to reach a peace settlement with the Maoists and to commence holding of elections by mid-April 2005. Such is the relationship between the remaining four-party coalition and the King that even the mention of such desirable national objectives causes a negative reaction of “interference by the King” from them.

Today, almost 80 per cent of the country is under the Maoist control and their influence seems to grow by the day. The army too, along with other security forces, have now been engaged in battling the Maoists for over three years. During this time, the security forces have done a creditable job of containing their onslaughts and mayhem. However, the forces have not been able to make pre-emptive strikes and break the backs of the insurgents to force them to come to the negotiating table. It is clear that neither side can achieve a decisive military victory in the current battle mode. The nation is going through the most excruciating time. The current conflict has caused incalculable damage to the nation’s health, its psyche and its future. There is an urgent need to restore peace and start the process of national regeneration. Under these circumstances, it is important that we, as a nation, define what our genuine national interests are. In this process, we are currently engaged in an animated debate over the issue of constituent assembly. Notwithstanding the fact that this is also a Maoist demand, a large section feel that, as this is both a democratic and potential problem solving step, the nation should go for it. Others feel that in the present context only the groups with the guns will gain by such an exercise.

However, this view fails to appreciate that with adequate preparation and support from the UN and proper agreement between the state and the Maoists, it is possible to hold free and fair elections. Thus the real issue of the constituent assembly is not whether it is desirable or fraught with dangers, but that, this is the only viable option of solving today’s national crisis. Therefore, we should be more concerned about whether it can be conducted freely and fairly and whether it can achieve permanent peace and provide the nation much needed respite. This issue could, however, be perplexing to the King, who might feel threatened of being “voted out” of his traditional roots. It is the job of supporters of constitutional monarchy to assure the King of their unflinching support to enable him to take this historic decision.

The present government should take proactive measures to bring the Maoists to the negotiating table and organise a political conference, including them, to chart out a road map for this beleaguered nation without further ado. Thapa is a Mahasamati member, NC (D).