It took a couple of months and the martyrdom of about 100 people for the late King Birendra to give up power in 1990. It took far less than that for King Gyanendra to hand over power to the people in 2006. It was the martyrdom of 19 persons in 19 days that forced the king to bow down. It will in that sequence take hardly a few days and death of only one person to throw out Girija Prasad Koirala from premiership if he fails to understand the peopleâ€™s aspirations as expressed in the April movement.
In 1990, the democrats and a united communist front joined hands in launching the Jana Andolan I, seizing power and running a coalition government headed by Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai. In 2006, they were again together to launch similar Jana Anandolan II but would never have been able to create the tsunami movement that they did without the active and decisive participation of the Maoists. In 1990, the agitating parties shared power in the interim government, but in 2006, the Maoists, despite being a rightful shareholder to power, have so far been kept out. There lies the serious problem. However, Fridayâ€™s 8-point pact between the Maoists and the 7-party alliance, which provides for an interim constitution, an interim government including the Maoists, as preparations for the constituent assembly polls, has raised hopes, but it needs to be implemented fully to ensure smooth transition.
Until the announcement of the agreement, it seemed that the Maoists were left with no choice but either to break the ceasefire and restart the war or to launch yet another peaceful movement like the one of April 2006 of which they have gained a first-hand experience. How many people can they mobilise in the capital was amply demonstrated by their first peaceful public meeting at Tundikhel on June 2, 2006. Is the crowd not sufficient to move to Singha Durbar and announce a peopleâ€™s republican government over Radio Nepal and Nepal Television? It is practically more than sufficient to do so, given the discipline and order the Maoist volunteers were able to demonstrate in managing the massive crowds. When the Maoists can seize power with the crushing strength of their volunteers, there is no point for them to use arms.
I am just trying to suggest how fragile the Koirala-led government is irrespective of the fact that it is a coalition of the seven-party alliance. The only rationale Koirala is running the show is that he asserted himself in getting the parliament restored. In this respect, he proved himself right and deserved to head a virtually emergency government. The other and ironical reason is that he emerged as the best acceptable candidate to premiership for the parties overtly and the king, the Maoists and international community including India, the US and the UK covertly. The third and the strongest reason is that the people have granted the benefit of the doubt to him as an opportunity to prove his mettle in securing lasting peace, democracy and prosperity.
Nepalis have given the benefit of the doubt to Koirala and his party several times in the first general elections in 1991 and the last general elections in 1999 with absolute majority in the parliament. He himself is to blame for letting the people down by failing to carry out the popular mandate effectively. In 2006, he has again got the opportunity to rise above personal and party interests and fulfil the peopleâ€™s aspirations. We sho-uld remember the people are not going to spare him if he again fails to satisfy them as they did not spare the king when they found him misusing the benefit of doubt they had granted him on his enthronement in 2001.
The only way Koirala can save his skin is by smoothly handing over power to Comrade Prachanda. Koirala is serving the Maoist agenda of the constituent assembly to write a new republican constitution. In this mission, the more he tries, under internal and external pressures, to keep the Maoists far from power sharing the more he will be in trouble. The more and faster he brings them closer and makes them partners in government he will be safe. Like the king from 2003-05, Koirala is at the giving end in terms of state power. Again like the king in 2006 in the wake of Jana Andolan II, Koirala would be at the receiving end at the hands of Maoist-sponsored Jana Andolan III.
Going by the military strength, the Koirala government looks by far the weakest. It is because it cannot count on the army to deal with popular agitation or the guerrillas. It does not enjoy, despite bringing the Nepali Army under the parliamentary and cabinet control in principle, the absolute loyalty of the army as the king did during his regime. In fact, given a choice between siding with the parties or the Maoists, the army will opt for the Maoists because that will lead to peace with a single command whereas standing by the seven-party government would mean a war, and meaningless bloodshed. With Fridayâ€™s announcement, however, one hopes there will be no need for Jana Andolan III.
Shrestha is a freelance journalist