Whispers out of time

The dialogue teams of both the government and the CPN-Maoist on the one hand and leaders of SPA constituents and CPN-Maoist on the other have intensified follow-up efforts since Prime Minister G P Koirala and Maoist chairman Prachanda met the other day after some seven weeks to “clear up the mist of misunderstanding”. They agreed to “do the homework necessary to resolve the contentious issues”, such as interim constitution, interim government, interim legislature, arms management, and the status of the King. According to Krishna Prasad Sitaula, home minister and coordinator of the government talks team, the two sides agreed to sort out their differences “before Dashain as far as possible”, and, in the words of CPN-UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, to finalise the interim statute and CA. It inspired hope in a political atmosphere otherwise charged with uncertainty and distrust.

On Saturday, the top leaders of the CPN-Maoist, the CPN-UML and the NC-D agreed to decide the fate of the monarchy by holding a referendum alongside the CA polls, at a meeting held to discuss the political package for the Maoist-SPA summit, expected to take place towards this weekend. According to Nepal, the meeting also agreed to finalise the interim constitution at the summit. Maoist politburo memebr Dr Baburam Bhattarai said the three parties discussed issues, including the future of the monarchy, dissolution of the parliament, and composition of the interim legislature. To Deuba, the “comrades displayed high flexibility today, including on the issue of the monarchy”.

At a time when Nepal has decided to become part of the globalisation process by joining WTO and when, at home, the talk centres not on piecemeal reforms but on an entire restructuring of the state, involving fundamental questions relating to unitary or federal system, economic and social relationships, and an overhaul of the political process, there is not one issue but several vital ones that are crying out for resolution through the people’s verdict. That is exactly what the constituent assembly is supposed to do by writing a constitution. If all these changes of far-reaching importance can be made by the elected assembly, the question arises why the fate of the monarchy alone should be decided through a simultaneous referendum. The idea smacks of political horse-trading. This is cause for concern. In ordinary times when only one issue were to be decided, for example Panchayat or a multiparty system in the past, referendum would become appropriate. Moreover, it would be another matter if the people were asked to decide directly any major issue on which CA happened to be more or less equally divided. Besides, the need for a breakthrough before Dashain, or perhaps latest by Tihar, is all the more necessary for an SPA government which is serving its sixth month in power, if unpleasant developments are to be avoided. For a war-weary people, this would constitute the most cherished Bada Dashain message and a gift as well.