National politics: Time to seize the opportunity
The management of arms and the issue of monarchy seem to have become the stumbling blocks to the success of the talks between the seven party alliance (SPA) and the Maoists. The other political parties are presenting the Nepali Congress as the villain of the talks because of its alleged rigid position on monarchy until the constituent assembly (CA) elections are held in June 2007. The Maoists would naturally lead to the management of arms of the insurgents.
The major point of divergence between the SPA and the Maoists is that the former wants to clinch the issue of monarchy during the referendum or by the CA, while the latter wants to settle it for good by accepting the end of monarchy now.
PM G P Koirala and Maoist supremo Prachanda have sent a similar letter to the UN Secretary General vowing to keep the Nepal Army and the Maoist guerrillas in their respective barracks or camps to be monitored by the UN in order to neutralise them during the CA elections, thereby creating a free and fearless atmosphere in the country. As the people are tired of atrocities committed by both the erstwhile RNA and the Maoists for over ten years, such a commitment was hailed by national and internal communities. Moreover, the letter was also an extension of the 12 and 8-point agreements, reached earlier between the two sides for the establishment of a lasting peace and democracy in the country.
The arms issue is being made out as the key to any settlement to be reached between the two sides, despite the Maoists’ commitment to be under the United Nations. Today, the Maoists are freely trotting their guns across the country and are running their armed camps. The Nepali state has reconciled to the emergence of this new power hoping that it would soon transform its role into a legitimate political party as promised by the Maoist leaders. If the Maoists continue to abide by the letter sent to the UN Secretary General, then why some constituents of SPA are trying to push the Maoists to give up arms before the elections to the CA? Today’s armed guerrillas are more dangerous than those who will be under the UN after the agreement.
Since the Maoists have committed themselves to multiparty democracy and human freedom, further trust and confidence building measures can help settle the existing political crisis. So any hardline approach that tries to magnify the arms issue would not be able to extricate the country from the quagmire of ensuing conflict.
Tactically, keeping the People’s Liberation Army in camps and under the strict supervision and monitoring of the UN and the SPA would be a wise decision. Such an arrangement can be made for a certain timeframe in order not to allow the regressive elements to fish in troubled waters. Any rupture in SPA-Maoist relationship cannot be ruled out if some SPA constituents do not show courage and determination to steer the course of future Nepali politics. Still placed as they are on the slippery ground of politics, any attempt at straining the SPA-Maoist tie would be counterproductive for them and democracy.
The SPA leaders cannot squander the gains of the Jana Andolan II by not being flexible on the arms issue as more trust and confidence between them and the Maoist leadership alone can lead to the resolution of the crisis. The Maoists too have not been able to convince the SPA and the public with regard to ending extortion, abduction and other activities considered to be detrimental to building trust and confidence.
The political parties’ single biggest failure is to waver on the agenda of monarchy despite unprecedented public opinion observed against its continuation. Parties’ members whose political careers are likely to be affected by the radical transformation of Nepali politics due to the socio-economic measures to be taken in the future think that once the Maoists destroy the monarchy, the embodiment of feudalism, the next target would be the middle class base of the parties. Since the parties’ leaders have their feudal bases and their attitudes continue to be shaped by feudal values, they are the least prepared for radicalisation of society and polity.
But it must be admitted that democracy in Nepal would not survive if the political parties are not prepared to embrace the progressive agenda of nation building.
Unless the parties’ leaders do not free themselves from the conventional thinking that, without the existence of the middle class, democracy would not be sustainable, another round of struggle would be imminent. For the society is already radicalised due to continued Maoist presence in villages and because of the realisation among the people that Nepal’s democracy needs to be humane and broad-based. Restructuring in the new context would therefore be essential for changing the existing discriminatory state. For attaining such an inclusive objective, both the SPA and the Maoists should work together till the spirit of the Jana Andolan II is consolidated.
Prof Baral is executive chairman, NCCS