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Nepal: Realism And Responsibility Of Realignment

Nepal: Realism And Responsibility Of Realignment

By Madan P. Khanal

After a year of tumult, a sense of realism appears to be spurring a process of political realignment. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala's Nepali Congress has lost patience with the Maoists. The persistence of the ex-rebels' spree of extortion, abduction and outright attacks even after their induction in government was bad enough. The Maoists' penchant for blaming others was bound to provoke a backlash.

Prime Minister Koirala's refusal to let the Maoists redefine the accords with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) by preempting the constituent assembly vis-Ã -vis the monarchy signifies the mood in the party. The Nepali Congress rank and file remains embittered by its constant conflict with the palace on the democracy-nationalism agenda. Still, they have been forced to compare their experience with Panchayat-era oppositional politics with the totalitarianism of a Maoist-dominated polity.

The other major non-communist constituent of the SPA, the Nepali Congress (Democratic), was more distrustful of the Maoists' motives and intentions from the outset. The Terai-based Nepal Sadbhavana Party is additionally incensed by the Maoists' effort to denigrate the movement in the region for greater representation. Outside the SPA, ex-royalists and disgruntled former Congress and communist leaders, among others, remain strident critics of the Maoists. Within the Unified Marxist-Leninists, too, a significant section remains distrustful of the ex-rebels. These groups have failed to rein in the Maoists because of their disunity.

The passions of the April 2006 protests against King Gyanendra's rule may have prevented the country from taking a long-term view. By now, it is abundantly clear that the monarchy cannot be abolished as long successor institutions capable of conducting its multiple roles remain elusive. A broader democratic front including the monarchy, however, would probably take time to materialize.

The SPA and the Maoists have recognized the fickleness of Nepali public opinion. Take the allocation of portfolios in the interim government, something having a direct bearing on the country's political evolution. The two Nepali Congress factions, the UML and the Maoists all needed respectable representation for the credibility of the constituent assembly polls as well as the road beyond. Yet critics, mostly within the eight parties, succeeded in portraying the drawn-out discussions as little more than a demonstration of their utter hunger for power.

The public fallout has been striking. Many of the current problems the nation faces were predicted by many prominent members of the ruling alliance when they consistently opposed the Maoists' demand for constituent assembly elections. Opposition to the monarchy may have converted them, but they certainly have not shed their inhibitions.

The fuzziness between means and ends has resulted in virulent disagreements that have spilled into the interim legislature. Critics here, too, have portrayed these as abject violation of parliamentary decorum. Amid this polarization, the people most capable of projecting the national interest vis-Ã -vis water accords have either been compromised by their proximity to the palace or by their willingness to cultivate foreign quarters.

As the fabric of the nation is torn asunder, the military remains vigilant. In his recent Army Day message, Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal, chief of the army staff, affirmed that the military would keep the "old traditions intact" come what may. It was not difficult to see that Katuwal was referring to the preservation of national unity, integrity and sovereignty. As for the military's ties with the monarchy, the generals and soldiers have not changed their underlying reverence for crown even after King Gyanendra ceased being their supreme commander in chief.

Indeed, the past year has been exacting for the military. The very "terrorists" the mainstream political parties ordered the soldiers to go after in late 2001 ago are today partners in power. By insisting on the merger of former Maoist guerrilla fighters with the professional fighting force of the state, many politicians continue to mock the military. Yet the soldiers have maintained discipline. How long can patience endure when democracy becomes a dance of death performed by those most proficient in murderous steps and swaggers?

When the royal regime pointed to the perils inherent in an evolving SPA-Maoist alliance, they were dismissed as part of an autocratic regime's quest to hold on to power. With many of those perils now in full bloom, it becomes incumbent on people of wisdom to forestall the onset of full-blown totalitarianism.


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