On Dec. 29, most of the newspapers carried two headlines — that of the historic parliamentary declaration of Nepal as a federal democratic republic and Mahanta Thakur’s announcement of the launch of a new Madhesi party. While the former has been welcomed as a move to pacify the Maoist demand to ensure election to the Constituent Assembly (CA), the latter raises doubt on the possibility of holding free and fair election in view of the strident demand of Madhesi community for an environment wherein all may participate in a meaningful and justifiable manner.

The question raised by the leaders of the Madhesi community indicates that though the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) has been able to retain cohesiveness, it has failed to address the grievances of the Madhesis. Thus, the law and order situation in the area populated by 50 per cent of Nepalis has become volatile and unpredictable.

The Chief Election Commissioner has clearly stated that the Election Commission (EC) needs at least 90 days to conduct the election. If the SPA declaration to hold it wit-hin the Nepali year 2064 is to materialise, the government ought to announce a fixed date for CA election, within a week if possible. However, mere announcement of a date without addressing grievances of the Madhesis and janajatis would hardly be enough to ensure polls.

The reluctance of Nepali Congress (NC) to convene a political conference to address issues raised by different political parties, ethnic organisations and marginalised co-mmunities has given rise to a new problem. It seems the government is determined to use state security machinery to suppress the dissenters. The SPA and the government ought to review the history of 10-year-long civil war. NC might have kept away from the communists even during peaceful agitation but the 10 years of the Maoist saga has convinced NC rank and file not to ignore the important issues raised by fellow Nepalis.

In the last quarter of century the world has witnessed great political upheavals. The communists did believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat, which, in fact, meant the dictatorship of the communist party. The successful revolution in China under the leadership of the communist party introduced a new element of tolerance — in recognising the role of other political parties but to the extent that the parties accepted leading role of the communist party.

The story in Europe was totally different. The communist parties in Europe, particularly in France and Italy, have sent a good number of members to the parliament. During their bid to capture the parliament through democratic elections, they came to realise that belief in democracy in the European continent was so deep-rooted that allegiance to a foreign communist party (the Soviet Communist Party) would not be appreciated by the masses. This gave rise to Euro-Communism — communism that is truly independent, nationalist and democratic in its ideals.

Latin America was another lesson for the world. As the dictatorship in Nicaragua collapsed, a communist was elected the country’s president, who was later defeated in the upcoming election. However, he continued to remain the leader of opposition and an ardent democrat. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave another jolt to the hardliners who still advocated supremacy of the communist party and one after another the communist parties the world over turned into enthusiastic democrats.

The CPN-Maoist has pledged to go for peaceful agitation, if and when necessary, but never to take up arms again. This development in Nepal is one of its kind. We must give the Maoists the opportunity to convert into a peaceful democratic party that believes in people’s power and the power of persuasion. A review of world history of the last 50 years of democratic excercise shows that no means of suppression of genuine grievances of the masses succeeds. The people of Tarai have been discriminated against for a long time. Be it civil service, police, army or judiciary, the Madhesi people have not received due attention and justice. The leaders of Tarai want to ensure that the promise of inclusive democracy is fulfilled. They have a very valid claim. In order to have an equitable share in the state apparatus, the Madhesi community ought to have an equitable representation in the CA.

The statement of the Prime Minister or other leaders that totally ignores the formation of new political parties in the Tarai or elsewhere is only going to hurt the sentiments of Madhesi leaders and followers of these newly-emerging political outfits. The so-called strengthening of security in Tarai has to be a measure directed against criminals and hooligans and the political cadres have to be dealt with carefully and honourably. If the CA polls have to be held within 2064 BS, it is indispensable that the law and order situation in the Tarai improves. There is not much time. The political dialogue must be started at the earliest.

Upadhyay is ex-foreign minister