For the first time in nearly a decade, most Nepalis have been able to celebrate their greatest festival in their villages without fear, as the ceasefire that resulted from the success of the April uprising has seen more people flocking to their homes for Dashain reunion, merry-making and tika. Virtually every Nepali prays for the success of the SPA-Maoist effort to find a political resolution of the conflict and a lasting peace. In this context, it is only fitting that political leaders, including Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and CPN-UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, should address this popular desire in their Bada Dashain messages. Koirala called for the ‘cooperation of all in making the peace process successful in the larger interest of the Nepali people’. Nepal and the leaders of other political parties worked the same theme. King Gyanendra, in his customary message to the people, said that making the peace process successful was the “need of the nation and the desire of the Nepalis” in order to “guarantee security to the people”. He also wished all to move ahead “in the spirit of national unity and reconciliation during this difficult period in history”.

Breaking with the past, ministers and leaders of the major political parties refrained from going to the palace to receive tika from the King, while army chief Rookmangud Katawal chose a middle path by receiving it without donning military uniform. The question of whether a ‘ceremonial king’ should give Dashain and other messages with prior Cabinet approval, as in many democracies with a figurehead, is perhaps necessary to avoid possible future controversy. Meanwhile, those who may have expected such a message also from Maoist chairman Prachanda were disappointed, as a kind of the rebels’ own ideological dogma seems to have prevented it. According to Maoist spokesperson Krishna Bahadur Mahara, “we do not believe in celebrating the festival as a form of religious dogma” even as we “respect” its cultural aspect and the people’s sentiment. Instead, Mahara added, the Maoist leaders intended to utilise the holidays to prepare for the October 8 SPA-Maoist summit talks.

If the SPA and the Maoists can indeed achieve a final agreement on the interim constitution, paving the way for an interim government and the constituent assembly (CA) elections soon, they will have fulfilled an important part of the Jana Andolan’s mandate as well as of their own commitment to the people. Given that the two sides have agreed to hold the CA polls as the settler of all political disputes, along with their commitment to such values as competitive politics and respect for human rights, a lapse of six months without delivering the goods means precious time wasted. Signing an agreement and then making an issue of something the agreement has already covered or holding an inconclusive meeting and then letting weeks pass fruitlessly can only give rise to public suspicions about the intentions of the parties concerned. How they perform in the days ahead will be the real test of the sincerity of the messages the politicians have sent to the people on the occasion of Bada Dashain.