Friday’s deal with CK Raut sends the message that democracy offers equal space to all those who want to engage in peaceful politics
While addressing the Federal Parliament on Sunday, Minister for Home Affairs Ram Bahadur Thapa allayed fears that a referendum would be held on issues related to “territorial integrity, sovereignty and Nepal’s independence” as per the 11-point agreement reached between the government and CK Raut on Friday. The government and CK Raut, who had been campaigning for a “free Madhes” for the last seven years, had inked the deal, the second clause of which reads: “Dissatisfaction in the Tarai-Madhes and other parts of the country would be resolved through a democratic process based on people’s opinion.” Shortly after the deal, Raut had twitted that “people’s opinion” meant “referendum”. The government and Raut had interpreted the agreement, especially the second clause of the deal, in their own terms and convenience. Replying to queries raised by lawmakers from within the ruling and opposition parties, Minister Thapa clarified that Raut misinterpreted the term “people’s opinion” as a “referendum”. He further went on to say that if Raut was spreading the message of referendum, then it was against the letter and spirit of the agreement. He also clarified that Raut had not been forced to reach the deal under any pressure.
A constitutional provision has it that the government can hold a referendum on a national issue only after it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Federal Parliament. However, a referendum cannot be held with a view to causing division of the country. The first clause of the deal clearly states that it is the duty of all citizens to safeguard the territorial integrity, sovereignty and country’s independence. Thapa also warned that (Raut) “would be (politically) finished if the deal is misinterpreted”. After signing the deal, Raut, coordinator of Free Madhes Alliance, had said he was renouncing the separatist movement and joining mainstream politics. However, on reaching Janakpur airport three days later on Sunday, hundreds of his supporters welcomed him chanting slogans of “Free Madhes”. This was a clear violation of the deal, which says he would not distribute publicity materials by going against the deal.
Only time will tell whether Raut has really agreed to renounce the secessionist agenda and has decided to join mainstream politics. Should he breach the deal, the State will have every right to take legal action against him and his cadres. Now onward, he needs to reorient his outfit into peaceful politics. The sudden deal, that too with a person doing time in jail, definitely came as a surprise to many. Some have even questioned if it was a mere coincidence or if there was a tacit understanding between the executive and the judiciary behind his release and immediate signing of the deal. If Raut was freed at the executive’s request, it would not augur well for the judiciary’s independence. The government deserves a pat on the back for striking a deal with Raut, and the government should now do the same to have the Netra Bikram Chand-led CPN join peaceful politics. Friday’s deal with CK Raut sends the message that democracy offers equal space to all those who want to engage in peaceful politics.