Ten days of political exercises aimed at forming a consensus government under Article 38 (1) of the Interim Constitution came to nothing, as the deadline passed on Friday. However, some of the important political leaders are still saying that they continue their efforts at building consensus. Now the government will be formed under Article 38 (2), a government based on a simple majority, whether all the major political parties participate in it or not. President Dr Ram Baran Yadav has sent a letter to the Constituent Assembly (CA), asking it to start the process of government formation under Article 38 (2). At present, the deadlock does not persist over the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) or the conditions set for the CPN-Maoist to fulfil for government formation. Currently, it hangs over whether the CPN-Maoist agrees to give the NC the Defence portfolio.

The CPN-UML, which finds itself in the advantageous position of a swing party, has not made its stance clear, still publicly saying that it favours consensus. It has claimed the Home portfolio, and the Congress is reported to be insisting that Home and Defence must not go to the Maoists. During the time the CPN-M was busy trying to build consensus according to the President’s invitation, the NC was also consulting the top leaders of other political parties exploring the possibility of a (Congress-led) government without the Maoists. The seed of this had indeed been sown when, after the CA election outcome, the requirement of a two-thirds majority for making or breaking a government was changed to a simple one. Though short of a majority in the CA, the CPN-M is by far the largest political party, boasting a numerical strength larger than the combined NC and UML seats. Whatever way the things may turn out eventually — a consensus or a majority government, with the CPN-Maoist, or the NC or the UML heading it, or agreement or lack of it on the distribution of the ‘powerful’ portfolios — some home truths stand out.

The disagreement is largely the result of failure of some of the big parties to realise the relative positions they have been assigned by the sovereign people in the CA election. From this has arisen the tendency to apply double standards for power sharing when one party heads the government and when another party is likely to lead it. The NC, when at the head of a coalition, has hardly ever relinquished the three ‘powerful’ portfolios of Finance, Defence, and Home to any other party, and more relevantly, after Jana Andolan II, on the grounds that it will be difficult to govern if these portfolios do not go to the party of the Prime Minister. On moral and practical grounds, the NC claim on Defence, therefore, appears untenable now. Moreover, both the NC and the UML had their popular bases drastically cut, as the CA results demonstrated. The NC, for instance, now holds about the same number of seats in the 601-member House as it did in the 205-member parliament elected in 1999. But, given the hugeness of the tasks ahead, a consensus government is still the best. The prospect of consensus will brighten immediately even at this late stage if attempts to move the goalposts are given up.