Nepal faces multiple threats to its fragile peace process and the writing of the constitution. Maoists create one crisis after the other to destabilise the polity so that they can capture power by fair or foul means. Non-Maoist parties’ inability to close their ranks to meet the challenges posed by Maoists has given the CPN-M enough space to create trouble. Continuing unrest in Terai region-because of its age-old grievances-is yet another cause of concern. Masses are getting restive, as the political class has utterly failed to evolve some sort of consensus in the Constitution Assembly. Consequently, the Assembly is in no position to seriously take up the all important and urgent task of writing a new constitution. Cooperation of all parties is essential to ensure that the new constitution reflects the genuine aspirations of all ethnic, regional, linguistic and racial communities. The deadlock is a serious roadblock on the path of establishing a stable democratic polity in the troubled land. Further, the growing Chinese influence and interference in the internal affairs of the country has created problems that are causing deep concern to the patriotic citizens and Nepal’s well-wishers. New Delhi’s failure to read the pulse of the people and its failure to win the hearts and minds of those who matter in the Himalayan country has added to the confusion.
Maoists’ commitment to peace and constitution writing process was suspect from the day one. But statements made by Babu Ram Battrai-one of the top leaders of the CPN-M-implying that Maoists alone would determine the contents of the new constitution have created grave apprehensions amongst democratic parties about the Maoists’ motives. First major fallout of this development was that the democratic parties joined hands to defeat the CPN-M candidate in the election for the chairmanship of the Constitution Drafting Committee. To the utter dismay of CPN-M, the Nepali Congress leader Nilamber Acharya won by 29 against 21 votes. The vacancy was caused by the Madhav Nepal’s election as Prime Minister. Maoists attack on the Pashupatinath temple complex to foil the selection of two Indian priests to fill in the vacancies caused by resignations by senior priests on health grounds has further exposed party’s commitment to peace and democracy. When Prachanda was the Prime Minister, he had approved the recruitment of local priests against the centuries-old tradition of appointing priests from South India to the great and world famous Hindu temple. This led to strong protests by locals, particularly religious leaders, who put up a determined fight. Ultimately, Prachanda was left with no option but to rescind his decision. Now, his cadres are indulging in violence to disrupt the process of selecting priests.
Maoists are on the back foot. Their strategy to capture the country by inducting rebels in the Nepalese army has come to a naught. Initially, democratic parties accepted their demand but they were forced to rethink when they realised the dangerous implications of this proposal. Senior army commanders put up tough resistance to the move on the ground that it would affect the control and command structure of the country’s professional army. Prachanda over-reached and dismissed the army chief-an order that was stalled by the President of Nepal. Prachanda resigned with the hope that no other person would be acceptable to the Assembly as Prime Minister. However, Madhav Nepal secured the required strength in the Constitutional Assembly and took over as Prime Minister. During his recent state visit to India, Prime Minister Madhav Nepal made his intentions clear when he announced that though there was no question of taking rebels in the army, they might be adjusted in the police and other services. Chief of the Nepal’s Military Intelligence, Lt Gen Pawan Jung Pandey recently said in Kathmandu that Nepal could not afford to follow the South African example where Nelson Mandela’s freedom fighters were inducted into the army. He is right.
Maoists’ are raising a lot of hue and cry over the presidential order staying the sack of the then army chief and demanded a discussion in the Constitution Assembly. It was resisted by the Prime Minister and other parties in the government on the premise that head of the state’s conduct cannot be debated in the House. The issue of civilian supremacy was blown up into a political crisis through aggressive campaigning by Maoists. Now, the government seems to have agreed to discuss the issue on the floor of the Constitution Assembly. It may defuse the crisis but will set a very bad precedent in the constitutional history of Nepal. Lurching from one crisis to another appears to be Nepal’s destiny. Even before the crisis over presidential action had subsided, a new-and more serious-crisis has overtaken the country. It was sparked by the Supreme Court’s order that the Vice President Parmanand Jha must take a fresh oath of office in Nepali within one week or relinquish his office. Jha, a Hindi-speaking stalwart of Terai region bordering India, took the oath of office in Hindi in the presence of the President. He refused to accept the court’s order saying it is a “misinterpretation of the constitution by those assigned to deliver justice”. It is a severe indictment of the apex court by one who is a former judge of the Nepal Supreme Court. Jha is credited with the view that the court has no authority to remove him from office and for that the Constitution Assembly will have to impeach him. As a man committed to constitutionalism, Jha has stopped attending office after the lapse of one week the apex court allowed him to obey its order. Prime Minister Nepal did all he could to dissuade Jha from flouting the court’s orders and even promised to amend the interim constitution to allow people to take oath in their mother tongues. Jha’s is firm on his stand that he did nothing wrong in taking oath of office in Hindi, which is the mother tongue of a large section of Nepalese. He has indicated that he would do what he is being asked to do only after the interim constitution is suitably amended. Terai region is on fire over the perceived insult to their mother tongue-Hindi-and denial of an equitable share in power structure to the people of the region. Language is an emotive issue. It unites people but can divide nations if not handled in a spirit of give-and-take. What is required is statesmanship from the political class to resolve the language issue before it leads to separatist tendencies.