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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

Nepal : The churning resumes

By Vnod Vedi - Syndicate Features

The decision by the Maoists of Nepal to quit the eight-party government has plunged the country into a constitutional crisis when it appeared that the crux of the problem -- the monarchy -- could have survived under a Nepali Congress formula that would have a grandson nominated as king.

The two-day visit by Indian foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon could not avert the crisis caused by the Maoists' insistence that a republic be proclaimed prior to the elections to the Constituent Assembly. The suggestion that King Gyanendra abdicate in favour of his grandson came from both the Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala himself as well as his daughter who is a Member of Parliament.

Maoists also suspected that India too was in favour of retaining the monarchy in some form or the other and this factor tended to undercut whatever Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and Indian Ambassador Shiv Mukherjee intended by their weekend diplomacy. Things began to unravel because the Maoists felt that the several steps taken to strip the King of his powers and his property were merely cosmetic and that as long as the power behind the throne -- the Royal Nepal Army -- was not curbed elections could be influenced in favour of the monarchy.

In the run-up to the elections to the Constituent Assembly on Nov 22 the Maoists has posited 22 demands. Toping the list is the demand for declaration of the Republic. This is despite the fact that the Maoists are a party to the resolution laying down the sequence of events intended for the burial of the 238-year-old monarchy leaving King Gyanendra to choose his own fate thereafter.

In other words unless a miracle takes place, Nepal is set to plunge into another round of instability and possibly violence. In fact violence has already erupted in southern Nepal where the community known as "Madheshis" had insisted on adequate representation for themselves in the Constituent Assembly through a system of proportional representation. Tension erupted and dozens of families are reported to have fled their homes, some of them making their way across the Terai into India.

The Madheshi factor has also tended to raise suspicions among the Maoists that India is involved in a sideshow that could help the monarchy retain some kind of presence. Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai did not name India but did not leave any one in doubt when he warned "foreigners" not to pressure or dictate of Nepalis. He said: “They should remember their own history and how they fought for their freedom from colonialism".

Not surprisingly, Bhattarai comment invited immediate response from the Indian foreign office. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was in Seoul, South Korea, issued a statement that the current developments were the internal matter of Nepal. Soon thereafter the Maoists quit the Cabinet they had shared with the seven other parties for the past several months.

Some developments within the Nepali Congress have since raised hopes that Kathmandu can put the days of turmoil behind and participate in the comity of nations as sovereign, democratic republic. The first of these was the reconciliation between the two dominant factions of the Nepali Congress -- the Nepali Congress led by Prime Minister G.P. Koirala and the Nepali Congress (Democratic) led by former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. They ended a five year separation to create a powerful phalanx that could make significant gains if elections are held as planned in November without any hiccups.

Also, the Nepali Congress decision to go to the polls on a platform for a "federal democratic republic" which is a far cry from its earlier position could be the basis for a rapprochement with the Maoists. Yet the sticking point will be whether a parliamentary proclamation announcing the establishment of a republic or a post-election resolution in the Constituent Assembly should be the method of this momentous transformation. The eight-page resolution adopted at united Nepali Congress party’s Lalitpur conference mentions that the monarchy and democracy cannot coexist.

Such a declaration in favour of the republic should, on the face of it, help to defuse the confrontation with the Maoists. The resolution also supports the electoral manifesto which states that the future Head of State would be elected by the elected members of the national and State assemblies

Yet doubts persist. Reasons are not too far to seek. Maoists have already begun their campaign to "proclaim a republic on the streets of Kathmandu". This door-to-door public awareness campaign would be intensified by the end of the month to expose corrupt persons named by the Raymajhi Commission. The Maoist cadres are asked to surround and prevent entry and exit at administration offices at the district headquarters throughout the country. Later this campaign would be raised to the level of a statewide strike to prevent any candidate from filing his nomination papers on October 5.

The last time the Maoists had executed a bandh in Nepal the nation was cut off from the rest of the world. Internally, a disruption of the poll process or, conversely, a truncated participation could rob the elections of both legitimacy and credibility and only play into the hands of the monarchists. The disruption of road transportation will adversely affect the availability of essential commodities throughout the country, more particularly in the Kathmandu area.

Another factor that could have far-reaching consequences would be the role played by the erstwhile insurgents, Maoist People Liberation Army, which as per the agreement with the government and the UN is required to be confined to specified cantonments. The Maoists have insisted that their movement will be a "peaceful mission" but any attempt by the PLA cadres to move out of the encampments could be sought to be prevented by the Royal Nepal Army and that could put the fat in the fire because the Maoists have always been touchy about the attitude of the RNA personnel who are loyal to the king.

- Syndicate Features -

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