Siddhi B. Ranjitkar: Peace still Elusive in Nepal
Peace still Elusive in Nepal
By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar
The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) laid down its arms but its splinter party called Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM) picked up the arms from where its parent party had left behind. As a result, peace has been as elusive as had been in the past. The CPN-Maoist has achieved its goal of tearing down the monarchy and of an election for a Constituent Assembly (CA) but it has left behind the ethnic communities for grabbing the power at the center. It indicated that political parties would not fight for the welfare of the ethnic people. They are simply for replacing one regime with another. So, the ethnic communities have to fight until they get the autonomy of their respective ethnic area. That is what going to happen in Nepal making the political chaos, violence and strikes to continue if the Government of Nepal led by any party cannot properly handle the demand of the ethnic people for their autonomy.
In the protest against the promulgation of the Interim Constitution, a three-day Terai bandh imposed by JTMM brought the life to standstill in Terai from Jan. 12 to 14, 2007 reminding the bandhs called by the Maoists to overthrow the monarchy. The JTMM also resorted to violence before and during the bandh. On the night of Jan. 11, 2007, a bomb reportedly planted by the JTMM cadres went off at a shop of a businessman named Dinbandhu Shah in Siraha. On the evening, Jan. 11, 2007, the JTMM cadres damaged one empty tanker heading to Dhalkebar in the Dhanusa district. On Jan. 12, 2007, they set fire on the Jagadamba Paperboard Industries in Lahan, Siraha district, causing damage to the property worth of Rs 2 million.
Addressing the historic session of the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala urged the lawmakers to endorse the Interim Constitution without any amendment. "As the Prime Minister, I pledge before the parliament that the Interim Legislature will carry out the necessary works to amend it. So, I request all Members of Parliament who have proposed amendments to the Interim Statute, to drop them," he said. "During the eight-party meeting, we realized that the Interim Statue needed amendments but we were more focused on bolstering the peace process and holding the CA polls in the given time frame," Koirala said. Amid protest against it, the House of Representatives promulgated the Interim Constitution imposing the will of the seven-party alliance (SPA) and the CPN-Maoist on the people of Nepal.
After 11-hour long intense deliberations, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Interim Constitution with 167 Articles though some House members had registered 17-amendment motions. None of 187 House members present voted against the Interim Constitution when Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala tabled it for vote. The Interim Statute is a compromise between the royalists and the communists. So, it does not represent the ethnic communities.
The House of Representatives promulgated the Interim Statute in the name of the people making Nepal a secular, sovereign and inclusive democratic country. The Interim Constitution has effectively suspended the king and transferred the powers of the Head of State to the Prime Minister making the Prime Minister the most powerful. The Constituent Assembly to be elected by mid-June will decide the fate of the king.
The Interim Constitution has made the entire king’s property inherited from his predecessor the public property and put the late King Birendra and his family's assets into a trust to be set up for the welfare of the Nepalese people. “The Kathmandu Post” of Jan 16, 2007 termed the king "Poor and powerless overnight" analyzing the property left to his disposal. Certainly, the king has been powerless pursuant to the Interim Constitution. He can join the ethnic communities and fight for his rights. However, he has not check out of the palace yet. He also might not be as poor as “The Kathmandu Post” has portrayed him because most of the Nepalis believe that his father King Mahendra had stashed a large sum of money in the Swiss Bank.
On Jan. 15, 2007, Maoists’ delegates triumphantly entered into the glittering parliamentary hall at Singh Durbar in Kathmandu. They wore gray jacket either for identification or for the show of their presence. However, one of the Maoists’ Central Leaders, Matrika Yadav was in his own outfit. "I am entering parliament in my own dress. I don't think dress code is suitable at a time when we are entering another war of equality," he said. Either Matrika Yadav did not like the jacket or it did not reach him as the number of jackets made was only 41 out of 67 ordered for 73 Maoists legislatures according to the Ekantipur.com news. He is correct as equality is more important than the dress codes. However, dress code is sometimes is for apparently making everybody wearing the dress looks like equal. This is exactly what the CPN-Maoist must have been trying to do.
Following the statement of the Maoists’ supreme commander, Prachanda that the CPN-Maoist would soon dissolve the parallel government, Second-in-Command in the CPN-Maoist hierarchy, Dr. Baburam Bhattari declared that all parallel governments set up by the CPN-Maoist were dissolved. This statement implied that all the autonomous regions were automatically dissolved leaving the ethnic communities high and dry. The CPN-Maoist rose on the shoulders of the ethnic communities making the promise that the Nepalese people of the ethnic communities would get an equal treatment. In its efforts to expand its support base, the CPN-Maoist created many ethnic organizations such as Limbu Mukti Morcha, Rai Mukti Morcha, Tamang Mukti Morcha, Tharu Mukti Morcha and so on. These Mukti Morchas (Liberation Fronts) were the armed bases of the Peoples Liberation Army of the Maoists. When they set up their government parallel to the central government, they also set up Limbuwan Autonomous Region, Tharuwan Autonomous Region and so on. However, the CPN-Maoist dissolved the parallel government without preserving the autonomous regions it has once set up. So, it is not a surprise that JTMM has already started the protest campaign against the current Interim Constitution.
"From last night when the old parliament was dissolved, we too have dissolved our government," Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai declared sitting in a small room of a budget hotel in Kathmandu's tourist district of Thamel, ‘The Telegraph (Kolkata)’ of Jan. 17, 2007 reported. "The monopoly media in Nepal exaggerate stories of intimidation and extortion — people forget that in the 10 years of civil war we ran a parallel people's government. We had agreed to dissolve our government along with the old parliament. When that happened last night, the arms management began, our government was dissolved," Bhattarai pointed out.
"We have agreed to a political settlement of which arms management and integration of the People's Liberation Army and the Nepal Army are a part. Our joining the government, arms management and the integration of the two armies will happen simultaneously," he claimed. "People say we have joined parliament. We have not done so. We have joined the Interim Legislature with the Interim Constitution — a transitional arrangement. The kind of parliament and multi-party democracy best suited to Nepal is yet to be decided in the Constituent Assembly. Our commitment is to that and not to joining a parliament based on the Westminster model," Bhattarai pointed out.
The Madheshi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) activists including Member of Parliament Amresh Kumar Singh and MPRF chairman Upendra Yadav burned the copies of the Interim Constitution at Maitighar Mandala, Kathmandu not far from the Singh Durbar where the members of the interim parliaments were taking oath. The police apprehended them after they started burning the copies of the interim constitution. They complained that the Interim Constitution failed to address the concerns of the Madhesi people. On Jan 16, 2007, the MPRF called a Terai strike to protest the Interim Constitution promulgated on Jan 15, 2007 crippled the life across the region. They wanted Nepal to be a federation of autonomous regions so that every autonomous region would have a chance of developing as its people wanted. This was what the Maoists started but they forsaken it going to the center and sharing the power with the political parties including the parties loyal to the deposed king.
The MPRF demanded to scrap the current provision made in the Interim Constitution for the mixed electoral system based on the 205-electoral constituencies, and proposed an election for a Constituent Assembly based on a proportionate-electoral system making possible for the marginalized communities including Madheshis, ethnic communities, women, underprivileged people called dalits and other minority groups to represent.
The history seems to be repeating as some events at the time of the promulgation of the Interim Constitution in 2007 resemble the events occurred in 1991 when the Constitution of Nepal of 1990 was promulgated. At that time the Maoists marked the day of promulgating the Constitution of Nepal of 1990 as the black day and called for black-out in Kathmandu but the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML) celebrated the day lighting candles and displaying fireworks as a historic day.
"We will create a new Nepal," said Krishna Bahadur Mahara, leader of the CPN-Maoist parliamentary party. "We are a new party and we have a new energy." "The Nepali people will now be able to exercise their sovereign rights to elect the Constituent Assembly and decide their own future," Mahara said. However, he ignored the ethnic people’s demand for autonomy and he might have thought that an election for a Constituent Assembly without meeting the demands of the ethnic communities could be held easily. The CPN-Maoist nominated a large number of indigenous people, women, dalits, Madheshis and so on to the interim parliament. However, the communist members of parliament often represent the interest of the communist party rather than the community they belong to.
"We wish we will continue practicing the culture of collaboration at least for some more time to avert attack from the royalist forces and to fulfill people's aspirations for a new Nepal," Mahara said. He forgot the attacks being launched by the ethnic communities; he also forgot the CPN-Maoist has already compromised on the constitution that does not include the autonomy of the ethnic people. The CPN-Maoist has dissolved its government betraying the ethnic communities. They will not forgive the CPN-Maoist as the CPN-Maoist did not the king.
"(The) Maoists' entry into the legislature is highly significant because the conflict is over and a lasting peace will be established," said Gopal Man Shrestha, the Minister for Physical Planning and Works. What an illusion about a lasting peace. The Minister was clearly under the illusion that the conflict was over despite the ongoing fights of the ethnic communities for autonomy and inclusive democracy.
The 330-seat Interim Legislature is not much different from previous House of Representatives except for the presence of the members of the CPN-Maoist. Even the 48 seats allocated for the ethnic communities, civil society leaders, women and other minority groups in the Interim Legislature, the political parties shared it among themselves in proportion to their strength in the previous parliament. The NC, NC-D, and CPN-UML have not declared yet that their corruption-tainted members of the dissolved House of Representatives were not given the memberships of the Interim Legislature. So, most probably the corrupt personalities are still sitting in the Interim Legislature.
A dedicated royalist, Surya Bahadur Thapa is in the Interim parliament. He had betrayed the Nepalese people in the past, and none can say that he would not do the same in the future. Such people and other corrupt people are in the interim parliament. Girija Prasad Koirala was the dictatorial-minded, if he would be in the position of the Prime Minister of the Interim Government, he would enjoy the dictatorial power. He would send his opponents to hell as these guys do not deserve to be in heaven. Commission on Investigation into Abuse of Authority (CIAA) had once served a subpoena on Girija Prasad Koirala but he had not honored that summon yet. What Nepalis could expect from such a person that wants to preserve the most reviled monarchy? Bidya Devi Bhandari of CPN-UML also continued to be in the Interim legislature. She was against the ethnic culture such as the tradition of “The Living Goddess Kumari.” How could Nepalis expect any tangible things from such a woman?
Nepalis have seen what the Maoists have done, have been doing and could do to serve their own interest. Nobody knows what kind of democracy they have in their mind. Their commitment to democracy has not been tested yet. If the Maoists would continue to believe their power comes from the barrel of guns then Nepalis might have to live in nightmares again.
One thing is clear if the interim government of all the parties is democratic then the chances are there it might meet the demands of the ethnic communities for their autonomy. However, the Interim Constitution and the Interim Legislature have started off inauspiciously amid the ethnic communities’ protests against the Interim Constitution.
If the SPA and the CPN-Maoist together want to solve the problems of violence immediately and in the long-term basis and a sustained manner, it needs to do three things:
1. They need to amend the Interim Constitution to the satisfaction of the ethnic communities, and make Nepal a federal state giving the local people the opportunities of running their areas as they want. The media report on the timber smuggling and the political parties interfering in the business of the police and the forest officers for getting the smugglers released is the example of how the people outside of the area could exploit the natural resources for the benefits of the corrupt politicians and political parties. Local people will not tolerate such things to happen any more.
2. The Government of Nepal needs to implement report of the High Level Probe Commission headed by Rayamajhi, and take legal and administrative actions against the king that had acted as the then-Chairman of the Council of ministers, then-ministers, police and the army men for their involvement in suppressing the people’s movement in April 2006. Possibly, the king and these people are trying to create chaos so that they could escape from the crimes they have committed, and might be even hoping to go back to their old days.
3. The political parties and leaders should be self-disciplined, and should serve the people rather than serving their own interest and taking the power for filling up their pockets by the tax-payers’ money. The political parties should cooperate with the CIAA and get their corrupt colleagues into prison rather than covering up their corruption.
Sunday, January 21, 2007