The recent attack upon a police station in Banke district by armed Maoists should convince Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala that it was a mistake to accommodate Prachanda'smen in the interim regime, without ensuring a complete surrender of arms. If the aged Nepali Congress leader now wishes to salvage his reputation in the Himalayan kingdom, he would do well to ensure no further surrender on the issue of proclaiming Nepal to be a Republic prior to the elections to the Constituent Assembly which is to take a final decision in the matter.
Prachanda probably lacks confidence in his ability to perform even marginally well in free and fair elections; hence his insistence upon a Republic?which the interim regime is not legally or morally empowered to proclaim?and pressure to go in for a Presidential as opposed to a parliamentary form of government. In a recent visit to New Delhi, the Madhesi People'sRights Forum (MPRF) chairman Upendra Yadav warned the Indian government of a hostile takeover by the CPN (Maoist). However, given UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi'sindifference to India'slegitimate interests in the region, it is not known how the Centre responded to his visit.
The Madhesi Forum is seeking an equitable share of political power in the proposed newestablishment, along with protective guarantees against an illegitimate takeover of the government by Prachanda and his armed goons. Indeed, Mr. Yadav came to Delhi precisely to seek India'ssupport for the twin objectives of statehood for Madhesis and a parliamentary form of democracy. Like many in Nepal, the Madhesis too are not in favour of an arbitrary end to the monarchy. Ordinary citizens of that country feel that the monarchy has kept the country together, especially as political parties as repeatedly failed to win parliamentary majorities or to cobble stable coalitions.
After joining the government through pressure tactics, Prachanda has begun to advocate the Presidential form of government, with a view to monopolising political power in his own hands. The threat is credible, particularly since the arms surrender by the Maoists is extremely suspect. According to the Maoists? own claims, their cadre strength is 37,000, but they have so far deposited only 3500 arms. Assuming that there is only one firearm per Maoist foot-soldier, this is less than 10% of the armoury available with the rebels.
It is significant that even before the Maoists formally ended the peace with the attack upon the Suiya police post in Banke district, and the capture of five policemen (later released through prompt police action), realisation had been growing in informed circles that Prachanda could not be trusted. As I perceive it, the Nepal Army is now the country'sonly hope against total chaos and civil war. Little wonder that this institution is also under attack for its ?commitment? to democracy.
This has angered Chief of Army Staff Rukmangat Katwal, who has been grilled following unsubstantiated reports that he had a 90-minute secret meeting with King Gyanendra recently. Army headquarters has denied such a meeting, but the army'sveneration of the king is well known, and was the subject of criticism when it gave the deposed monarch a 21-point gun salute. The army is also expected to resist integrating the Maoist guerrillas into the force. This is an issue that is also agitating civil society, and the parents of several army personnel, including those of servicemen who died fighting the Maoists, have complained to the PM that their wards are being treated like ?traitors? posthumously. All these factors are going to adversely affect the Maoists in a free election.
The Madhesis, who comprise 48 per cent of the population, do not trust the Maoists at all, and are demanding that the judicial probe into the Terai unrest which killed several persons be headed by a retired judge from the Madhesi community, which has been accepted by the interim government. The Madhesis are now pressing for a Madhesi chairperson to head the Election Constituency Delimitation Commission (ECDC), which will delimit new parliamentary constituencies prior to the elections that are now expected to be held around September.
Maoist chairman Prachanda, meanwhile, is trying to build support for a republic with immediate effect. He has secured the support of UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal, who favours complete abolition of the monarchy, but other members of the Eight-Party Alliance, particularly the Nepali Congress, do not favour such hasty action without a people'smandate.
That the CPN-Maoist has scant respect for rule of law, however, is evident. Even before the unprovoked attack upon the police station, cadres of the Young Communist League (YCL) were intimidating people and extorting money, leading to the exodus of Indian business from the country. They have also refused to return property seized by the cadres in the past to the rightful owners. This has caused acute embarrassment to other parties in the interim government, and many leaders have urged prompt implementation of all agreements and understandings reached among the eight political parties at the central level.
Facing pressure on this issue from his own party MPs, Prime Minister Koirala promised to take up the issue to return of seized properties with the Maoists, but the deteriorating situation in the kingdom, and the growing suspicions among the Eight-Party Alliance, not to mention the clearly divergent goals, make a solution highly unlikely. Little wonder the Nepali Congress MPs sharply criticised the PM for bringing the Maoists into the interim regime without ensuring the return of seized properties. These include the properties of even central leaders of the Nepali Congress.
The Maoists have retaliated via their new friends, the CPN (UML), whose standing committee member Jhalanath Khanal has called for a new interim Prime Minister as Mr. Koirala is in poor health, and this keeps the nation in ?the bondage of indecision in the name of a particular person.? The last nail in the coffin of this demand came with the Maoists running amok and seizing the royal properties in Kathmandu. It looks like a long night for the Himalayan kingdom.