Policy paper 2007-08: Government ignores realities

The paper spelling out the annual policies and programmes of the government for the next financial year was tabled in the parliament on July 4 by the minister for peace and reconstruction on behalf of the ailing prime minister, who only made a brief speech on the occasion. The new policies have evoked widespread criticism, mainly from Maoist MPs, but also from others. Some of them have even sought amendments. Analysts hold different views about the 45-point agenda.

To some, it an annual ritual observed every year in all democratic systems. The only difference was that previously it was read out by the king, whereas this time around, it was introduced by the prime minster, who introduced the programmes as the head of state. To others, it is a positive document which reflects the spirit of the April Uprising. To still others, it is old wine in a new bottle, signalling nothing revolutionary. No doubt, there are certain commitments made by the government with regard to formation of a comprehensive work plan to democratise the army, look into its size and integrate the Maoist army. It assures that a state restructuring commission would be formed for restructuring of the state along federal lines and a task force would be formed as well to prepare necessary groundwork for proportional and inclusive participation of Madhesis, dalits, indigenous communities, women and workers and peasants in all organs of the state. It has assured that a relief programme will be worked out for the conflict victims. There are several other traditional promises as well which a government likes to incorporate in its annual document.

But there is a widespread feeling that the document falls short of meeting the need of the hour. The peace process appears to be virtually stalled, moving so slow as to cause great frustration among all sections of the society.

The interim government was formed after a gap of four months, following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord. It took a couple of months more to pass the Interim Constitution and form the Interim Parliament. The government was formed on April 1, definitely not with the purpose of fooling people. The document expressed the government’s commitment to activate the National Human Rights Commission, but the reality is that there have been no office bearers in the Commission for the past one year. It seems that the CPA has been pushed to the sidelines. Nobody knows what the government is doing with regard to the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is urgently required to facilitate the peace process. The wounds of conflict victims would have healed by now if such a commission was formed earlier.

Surprisingly, there is no mention of the commission in the document. Explicitly, the document begins with a reference to elections to CA and ends by seeking cooperation from all sections to conduct the polls successfully. It undoubtedly shows the concern of the government towards CA polls, which is, in reality, only one side of the coin. Unless and until peace prevails in the country, the dream of holding the CA elections will remain unfulfilled. There was a time when CA polls were needed to restore peace in the country by bringing the Maoists to peace negotiation, when the latter agreed to stop their insurgency for the sake of holding CA elections. But now, peace is a prerequisite for the CA elections and for sustainable peace and development of the country in the future.

During the last couple of months, the peace process appears to have stagnated. When there was dialogue with the Madhesi Janaadhikara Forum at Janakpur, it was reported that agreement had been reached on 20 of 26 demands. But it seems that the government is not so keen to implement them. Several other armed conflicts are going on in the Tarai. The government has to negotiate with them too by bringing them to the talks table. Similarly, negotiations with Chure Bhawar Samaj have to move ahead. By ignoring the essential peace initiatives, it will be very difficult for the government to create a congenial atmosphere for holding the CA polls.

There is a serious law and order problem in the country. Uprooted police posts have not been allowed back. Occasional exchange of fire between armed forces and rebel groups continues. These problems also have to be looked into. In case the government decides to suppress the just demands of the indigenous communities and Madhesis with an iron hand, not only will it take an inordinate amount of time to suppress public sentiment, but such a move will also have unintended results. Since the date of polling has already been fixed and the countdown has begun, any shift in government’s priority will definitely tell upon the conduct of peaceful and timely elections and the whole peace process will be jeopardised, which will be against the interests of one and all.

Prof. Mishra is ex-election commissioner