ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Significant Turn

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY A Significant Turn The Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)

A Significant TurnThe Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) – CPN(M) – have reached an historic agreement on the fundamental demand of the Maoists for an elected constituent assembly (CA) and a “restructuring” of the state. There continue to be irritants between the two parties, but these are unlikely to result in a complete breakdown. For a revolutionary party which initiated a “people’s war”, to succeed in less than 11 years to place its demand on the national agenda and to do so by opting for a democratic closure is a tremendous achievement. The agreement became possible because the two sides were able to reach a compromise. For the SPA the main issue was to ensure that the Maoist army and their people’s militia were barracked and the parallel structure of government run by the Maoists was dismantled. The Maoists, for their part, wanted to ensure that the Nepal army, the main bastion of feudal monarchy, was simultaneously tied down, the monarchy kept in a state of “suspended animation” until elections to the CA were over and the parties committed themselves to a “restructuring” of the state. However, in order to achieve this the Maoists may have conceded more than what they had bargained for. The agreement ensures that the armed cadres of the Maoists would be kept in seven cantonments. Security of the cantonments will be looked after by the Maoists “in coordination” with the government. While the United Nations teams will monitor the cantonments, all UN inspections will be undertaken in the presence of Maoist officials who will also retain the keys to the locks where their weapons will be kept. Similarly, the Nepal army will be confined to barracks with the number of soldiers and guns secured under UN monitors to be in proportion to the number of Maoist combatants and weapons. The Nepal army has also pledged not to use its weapons for or against any group. A new Military Act will be prepared to ensure that control of the army will be with the elected representatives. The CPN(M) succeeded in placing the property of assassinated king Birendra and his family under a trust to be used for national welfare. The property of king Gyanendra, acquired during his reign, will be nationalised and the king himself would remain powerless throughout the period when the CA is to decide the future of the monarchy. Moreover, king Gyanendra’s fate will be decided by a simple majority of the elected CA. In the agreement, the Maoists have managed to incorporate as directive principles, a commitment for socio-economic transformation and restructuring of the state to abolish class, ethnic, regional and gender discrimination; an end to unequal landownership through “scientific” land reforms; and to build an “inclusive democracy”, etc. Nevertheless, by agreeing to an allocation of just 73 of the 330 seats in the interim legislature, to dismantle their government and to speed up the process of returning seized property, the Maoists have made tangible concessions. Whereas the armed struggle made them a force to reckon with, the last six months have shown the limits of translating gains on the ground into encashable chips in negotiations. In a sense, the Maoists overestimated their capacity to influence the post-April 2006 (when Gyanendra was forced to restore a civilian government) politics. This is despite the self-confidence acquired through “people’s war” and in making a “democratic republic” the most popular slogan in Nepal. However, control over formal structures of power by the SPA and the backing of outside powers tilted the balance of forces against them. Both India and the US helped the SPA dilute the November 2005 and June 2006 agreements between the political parties and the Maoists. These external powers also succeeded in placing the onus on the Maoists to reach an agreement. Had an agreement not been reached, a civil war could have flared up and outside machinations, especially by US administration, would have been likely. The ensuing frustration among people would have allowed the forces of monarchy to regroup. However, the Maoists do have a clear lead in terms of reaching out to the people with their vision for transforming the Nepali state and society.

As opposed to this, there remains popular cynicism about political parties and a lack of trust in their promises. It remains to be seen if what they have lost in the “swing they can make up on the roundabout” by winning a popular mandate in elections to the CA.

Ultimately, the historic agreement offers Nepalis a rare opportunity to participate in a unique electoral process that can radically transform their lives. Therefore, much depends on maintaining the integrity of the electoral process. Entrenched class interests and outside powers will not be averse to manipulate things. A lot is demanded, therefore, from all the eight parties (the SPA and the Maoists) to ensure that the process is not derailed. As for India and China, it is in their enlightened self-interest that this political experiment is not subverted and Nepal evolves into a peaceful buffer zone between the two countries. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006

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