Deadlock with parties Political settlement with Maoists is a dream

Bijay Aryal

While King Gyanendra was enjoying felicitation programmes organised in his honour, listening to eulogies read out by loyal organisers, gladhanding the local people, holding aloft babies and fondling their cheeks, and signing autographs, the Maoists were hitting their targets across the country almost at will, killing or abducting dozens of security personnel, among other things, and, in the capital, many thousands of demonstrators led by the five political parties were, and are still, chanting anti-monarchical and pro-republican slogans in the vicinity of the Royal Palace in order to force the King to return the executive powers of the State he had usurped on 4 October 2002. Though the political leaders have declared that they will carry on their movement unless the King corrects his October 4 step, he has, however, not demonstrated any willingness to oblige so far.

Anybody who earlier expected, or still expects, such a good gesture from the King, easily, is living in a fool’s paradise. The King’s interviews, addresses and messages, and above all, his actions during these 18 months do not give the slightest hint of restoring the 1990 Constitution in its letter and spirit again. He no longer talks of constitutional monarchy, but he stresses multiparty “democracy” over and again, as he did in his New Year’s message. He has made public his determination to play the role of a “constructive” (read active, which has carefully been avoided as it carries bad connotations) role, instead of a constitutional one prescribed by the 1990 Constitution. His expressions of commitment to mulitparty system are an expression of compulsion, because foreign support, on which the regime so heavily depends, is hard to get without a multiparty facade. Without this, even the regime’s most staunch backers, particularly India and the United States, would be hard put to continue their support. During these 18 months of his active rule, with his handpicked puppet government in Singha Durbar to do his bidding, the King has disappointed even those who had been disenchanted with the political parties. To begin with, he could not win popular backing for his virtual coup, except for the support of a handful of people of the former Panchayati hue. It is another matter that the people were not happy with the political parties, either. This is clearly changing in favour of the political parties. The people do not want authoritarianism; times have moved on. Moreover, the Royal rule has failed to do better than the Deuba government which the King threw out as incapable of holding elections within six months.

The King, in his address to the nation while sacking Deuba, had assumed all executive authority by promising to forge a national consensus, restore peace and hold the elections. And mind you, he had distorted the Constitution by claiming that he had taken the step by using the executive power of the state vested in the throne. But what he lacked in legitimacy, he has been unable to make up for in performance. He has achieved none of his October 4 pledges.

Besides, he has unfortunately turned the two-sided conflict into a triangular one. Instead of forging a national consensus, his attitude and actions have led to dissensions among the major political players. The possibility of a political settlement with the Maoists has become even more remote because of his ambitions. As a result, the rebels withdrew from the peace process and resumed violence. As for the military means, those in power had, till recently, been boasting that the Maoists had “shrunk” so much as be reduced to laying ambushes only, but Bhojpur, Beni, Pashupatinagar, Jadukoa and the largely effective Maoist simultaneous blockades of several districts have punctured that claim. Military means have proved ineffectual, as the Maoists are spreading their reach and boosting their firepower. Prime Minister Thapa, and reportedly the Royal Palace too, had held the view after Deuba had dissolved the House that elections were impossible in the circumstances that prevailed. Lokendra Bahadur Chand, while prime minister post-October 4, had gone on record saying that without an understanding with the Maoists, elections were possible only if the ballot boxes were kept at Tundikhel, the heart of Kathmandu. When even district headquarters are unsafe from Maoist onslaughts, the harping on elections by the King and the Prime Minister raises legitimate questions about intention.

The King’s government has been unable to announce a date, let alone hold elections. Free and fair balloting is even more distant. In his New Year’s message, what the King spoke of was the need to create a congenial climate for the polls to be initiated in 2061 BS, leaving the date for their conclusion to hang in the balance. What Deuba could not do in six months the King has failed to do in 18 months. In that sense, Deuba may be said to be at least three times less incapable than the King. Deuba had to lose his job, what would the King do himself?

The King’s refusal to return people’s sovereign powers to the political parties, of course as an interim arrangement till the new popular mandate is obtained, shows that his agenda is other than democratic, not even within the 1990 Constitution. In such circumstances, how can he be expected to seek a political settlement with the Maoists whose minimum demands are constituent assembly elections and the creation of a new constitution?