With the formation of a three-member negotiating team by the CPN-Maoist, the first round of talks between the government and the Maoists appears to be close at hand. These talks will mark the start of a phase of transition crucial to the realisation of the people’s mandate. This time around, the talks hold out the real possibility of success, as both agree on constituent assembly (CA) as being their bottom line, which provided the basis for the historic mass movement. With the terrorist tag and the Red Corner notices already withdrawn, the process of releasing Maoist leaders and cadres in jail at home and in India has begun — the Cabinet has, for example, withdrawn all criminal cases against Maoist central leaders Matrika Prasad Yadav and Suresh Ale Magar, held in detention since February 2004. The government is reported to have viewed positively the contents of the Maoist draft of the code of conduct aimed at governing the period of negotiations.
The Maoist team, headed by the party spokesperson Krishna Bahadur Mahara, includes Dev Gurung and Dinanath Sharma, both central leaders. The Maoists will doubtless insist on interim government and interim constitution, which are also included in the 12-point road map passed by the party’s ongoing central committee meeting. While the rebels are demanding the abandonment of the baggage of the 1990 Constitution in the run-up to CA, there are those in the seven-party alliance, particularly in the Congress and the CPN-UML, who want to retain the existing constitutional order, with some changes, and to give the amended constitution an interim character, to retain this House, as well as to induct Maoists into such a government. But the rebels are unlikely to go along with this idea.
The need of the hour is to take all measures necessary to hold free and fair CA elections, including action against or, in any case, sidelining of those who went against the people’s movement. As both the alliance and the Maoists are committed to CA, other issues should not be allowed to dilute this goal, which is the main mandate of the Jana Andolan. The Maoists see the possibility of conspiracy in sticking to the existing Constitution, as, according to them, the elements of the previous regime may yet try to resurrect themselves with a slowdown in the public fervour of the recent mass movement by invoking the provisions of this very Constitution. In their view, there is a further need, therefore, besides the 12-point understanding, to take steps, such as making a common slogan, common front and common programme. At a time when alliance partners are rowing over ministerial berths, the Maoists seem to be playing down the issue of who should lead the interim government as being a ‘secondary’ issue, while the primary issue, according to them, is a political settlement. Indeed, an interim constitution will act free of the inhibitions that may arise from the existing Constitution during the transition period. When the talks begin, the need to announce the timeframe of the CA poll also becomes highly important. So does the management of the weapons of both the sides, including the future shape of the security forces. In facilitating progress and providing a guarantee of compliance with agreement, the role of a credible international agency, such as the United Nations, still appears to be a sound idea.