THE failure of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal to elect a new Prime Minister to fill in the vacancy caused by Prime Minister Madhav Nepal’s resignation and to make any substantial progress in writing the Republic’s constitution has plunged the country into a deep constitutional and political crisis.
Unfortunately, the entire political class is insensitive to public outrage over the leadership’s failure on all fronts and refuses to factor in compelling ground realities to resolve the crisis. It also lacks flexibility that is essential to hammer out a broad consensus on critical issues. Political outfits, particularly the Maoists, are in confrontational mode and have threatened “rebellion”. These tactics have stalled national reconciliation and undermined the fragile peace process set in motion in 2008. Instability that stares the nation in the face is worse than what the country went through in the year 2006 during the massive street protests against the misrule of the-then Monarch. The situation is so grave that it is causing deep concern to the discerning citizens of Nepal and its sympathizers in India and other parts of the world.
Maoist leader Pushap Kamal Dahal alias Parchanda’s obduracy and insatiable hunger to regain the office he lost because of his own blunders and incompetence has prevented the Constituent Assembly from electing a new Prime Minister even after countless rounds of voting. The idealistic provision in the interim Constitution that a candidate must have the support of a simple majority of the total membership of the House and a 2/3rd majority of those present and voting to become a Prime Minister is a major factor for the logjam. The Assembly needs to consider amending the interim constitution to overcome this perennial problem. Law makers as well as other organs of the state are so desperate that they are coming up with bizarre and extra-constitutional suggestions. Care-taker Prime Minister Madhav Nepal’s threat to hand over executive powers to the President of the Republic if the stalemate over electing a new Prime Minister is not resolved is a measure of his desperation. There is no provision in the interim constitution to that effect. Another out of box suggestion is to amend the law to annul the candidature of Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel, who is the only candidate for Prime Minister’s office after Parchanda withdrew his name after the fifth round of voting. This demand is based on the premise that he had failed to secure the required 2/3rd majority despite 17 rounds of polling.
Maoist Supremo Parchanda took over as Prime Minister in 2008 after a lot of hard bargaining in the wake his UCPN (M) emerging as the single largest party in the election to the Constituent Assembly held that year. He suffered a huge loss of public support within months of his taking over because of running a corrupt government and his incompetence to handle sensitive state issues. He resigned in a huff after an unnecessary tiff with the President over the controversial sacking of the army chief in the belief that he would soon be back as PM because of TINA (There is No Alternative) factor. That was not to be. Most non-Maoist parties joined hands to elect Madhav Kumar Nepal as his successor. Maoists created political instability by violent street protests and stalling parliamentary processes. They created a situation in which Madhav Nepal found it impossible to continue in office.
Maoists’ insistence to integrate its former insurgents – trained in guerilla war and ideologically committed to Maoism – into the Nepalese army is a major stumbling block in the process of national reconciliation. Participation of more than 1900 of its cadres housed in 28 cantonments and getting salaries from the public exchequer in a recent conclave of the UCPN (M) has sent shock waves in political circles. The Maoists want to have a share in power as a political party even while it continues to have former insurgents within its ranks and want them to be integrated into the army. There are grave apprehensions that in the event of the Maoists succeeding in integrating its ideologically committed former insurgents into the nation’s army the nation’s security would be in peril and the Maoists would convert the nascent democracy into “people’s republic” where there would be no space for other parties and fundamental rights of the citizens. Non-Maoist parties are opposed to this dangerous and illogical demand. However, they stand by their commitment to integrate the former ultras and provide them jobs in the police and civil services. They have a point. How can they allow 19,000 former insurgents belonging to a political party joining the armed forces? Maoists can always use this to over-throw any democratically elected government. Further, the top brass of the Nepal Army is dead set against the integration of these cadres. To strengthen their argument, they quote Independent India’s refusal to integrate Subash Chandra Bose’s INA personnel into the army even though they were declared freedom fighters and given several benefits in various walks of national life. Moist foiled all attempts by the care taker Prime Minster to present a budget to avoid a constitutional crisis. Ultimately, the budget was presented and adopted amidst disruption of proceedings by Maoists members of the Assembly. They snatched the briefcase containing budget papers from the Finance Minister and manhandled him on the floor of the House. A scuffle followed in which several ministers and law makers were injured.
New Delhi is deeply concerned over the deepening constitutional and political crisis in Nepal. Its concerns have other dimensions as well. The Indian Government has credible reports that Nepali Moisists are running camps to train Naxal cadres in insurgency and use of lethal weapons. Not surprisingly, Maoists deny it but the Nepal Government has assured the Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood who presented concrete evidences about the training camp to the Foreign Secretary Madan Kumar Bhattarai that it would investigate into the complaints and take appropriate action in the matter. He assured the Indian Ambassador that Nepal wouldn’t allow its soil to be used for activities prejudicial to the interests of India and other friendly countries. Maoists’ duplicity has been thoroughly exposed by what Parchanda told the party plenum recently and what he had been saying publicly. In his address at plenum, he is reported to have described India as an “arch enemy” and accused India of planning to attack Nepal. There is not even an iota of truth in this allegation that is intended to fuel anti-India frenzy in the country. He is also reported to have asked party cadres to be prepared to brace for an all-out war with India.
Nepal’s stability and security is of great concern to India, particularly because we have an open border with that country. Maoists got a boost during the UPA I Government when it virtually outsourced our Nepal policy to the CPM. Yachuri played a big role in projecting Parchanda as the most popular and powerful leader of the nation. We are paying a heavy price for this blunder. Since the Congress is no longer dependent on Communist parties for its survival, it would do well to review its Nepal policy to act as a facilitator to strengthen democracy and restore normalcy in the crisis-written Himalayan country. Will Dr Manmohan Singh, who is too busy defending countless scams, find time for this national cause?