Parties-Maoist deal: Polarisation for a new power structure

The latest political developments, though unexpected, have come as a surprise to many. The polarisation of politics was almost a foregone conclusion following the King’s February 1 takeover. The seeds of royal ascendancy had been sown in 2002 when the hiring and firing of prime ministers had begun under Article 127. Both nationally and internationally, the February 1 move has been censured so much so that even the monarchists have shown their exasperation of the royal rule bereft of any mission. It has been amply demonstrated by paranoid behaviour and utterances of the absolute monarchists whose display on the television screen contributes to the process of the regime’s decline. Now the conscious Nepalis feel that even in the 21st century, they are forced to listen to the sermons of the divine right of the King. What an irony?

The Maoist-parties’ 12-point understanding has also dealt a blow to the regime because of two factors. First, internal political dynamics has taken a new turn with the Maoists turning into an ally of the parties. The three-month long ceasefire declared unilaterally by the Maoists did provide an opportunity to party cadres to mix up with the people at grassroots level and further helped spread disaffection for the royal rule. As the King’s assertion that his mission is to eliminate Maoists is interpreted as a means for seeking legitimacy of his action, the objective of the Maoists’ People’s War and the seven parties is made one by the recent agreement. It means that even if the Maoists are eliminated by force, elimination of parties’ demand is impossible unless the King is prepared to shed his absolutist skin (turning into a ceremonial institution). The minimalist parties’ position is to include the Maoists as one of the principal players in competitive politics. But, it would not be politics as usual. In either ceremonial kingship or republic, there would be a qualitatively different power structure in which popular sovereignty would prevail.

Second, the prospect of Jan Andolan (people’s movement) has tremendously brightened with the clubbing together of the Maoists and political parties. Now the front is against the monarchy believing that monarchy and democracy are incompatible both in theory and practice. Thus, any analogy drawn from other countries with limited monarchies is misplaced. Since the slogan of republic has already gone into the heads of the people in general, and whatever uncertainty and illusions they have would soon vanish. The level of people’s participation in parties’ rallies along with the erosion of the capacity of regime to cope with the emergent demands seems to be changing. What extra-capacity has the regime demonstrated but to besmirch the image of parties and others opposed to the royal move? The regime could have reciprocated the Maoists’ ceasefire to prove its own credibility to the world.

Regimes based on force have shown sustenance for sometime. Some military dictatorships have managed to prolong their life either intermittently or continuously but the fall is also predictable because of their eroding support base. However, in Nepal, the prospect of sustainability is dim, given the combined mobilisation dynamics of political forces and civil society. Very few countries have shown a mix or coordination between parties and other professional groups. Compared to the opposition, the regime’s ability to mobilise seems to be dwindling. On the contrary, the Maoists branded as terrorists have gained much by their unilateral ceasefire as well as by their desire to be partners with other parties.

Internationally, the regime is isolated even if it tries to court some powers. On what basis should these outer powers support the regime whose mission is merely to sustain personalised traditional rule? Since democracy and human rights are inextricably linked to the globalised world, any anti-people move is subject to international scrutiny. It is also interesting to note the interconnectedness between Nepal’s developments and events taking place in other parts of the world. In 1979, in the wake of Iranian revolution, student agitation in Nepal forced the King to proclaim a national referendum to choose between multiparty system and Panchayat system with reforms. In 1990, the wave of democracy blowing across Europe and other parts had its reverberations in Nepal, eventually leading to the collapse of the Panchayat regime. It has been proved that democracy has gone into the minds of Nepalis. It cannot be easily snatched away on any pretext. Lack of political institutionalisation does not mean lack of consciousness. And twelve years’ exercises of freedom have contributed a lot to developing the people’s evaluative power. The recent agr-eement reached between the political parties and the Maoists and the wider acceptance and applause received by it — both nationally and internationally — is a proof of strong desire for peace and democracy.

Prof Baral, ex-ambassador to India, is

executive chairman, NCCS