The prospects of being tried for human rights violations is pushing the two Maoist parties closer.
The general debate in Nepal has had three constants for the last eight years. One, the key parties and leaders promise to deliver the constitution within a timeframe, followed by their prompt announcement of a new deadline upon failing to meet the earlier one. Two, the international community expresses hope that Nepal’s actors will succeed each time they announce a new deadline. Three, public indifference, anger and frustration grows as the leaders continue to “lie” and not perform.
Nepal’s new government, made up of the two largest parties in the Constituent Assembly (CA) — the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — has reiterated the same promise: a constitution within a year; better investment opportunities; reduction of power-cuts substantially from the current 12 hours a day; elections to local bodies, after a gap of 16 years, in the next few months; and investigation and trial of human rights violation cases during the decade-long armed insurgency led by the Maoists (1996-2006) by an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
But the last two “promises” have hit an obstacle already, on a scale difficult for the coalition to ignore. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) and its breakaway group, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), came together for the first time since their June 2012 split to oppose these.
They say an election to local bodies before the new constitution is delivered is aimed at derailing Nepal’s transition to the promised federalism. And the move on cases of human rights violation is directed against the Maoists. In fact, CPN-M chief Mohan Baidya Kiran has already asked UCPN-M chief Prachanda to dissociate his party from the CA, which is dominated by what the Maoists call “regressive and anti-revolutionary” forces.
For Prachanda, joining hands with the CPN-M that boycotted the CA polls in November has become a tactical necessity, as his once trusted comrade Baburam Bhattarai is asking for his resignation as party chief owning responsibility for the electoral debacle.
The CPN-M has split from the parent UCPN-M, within six months of their plenum, accusing the parent party of being a supporter of “hegemonic” India. The party that had raised arms in Nepal for a “republican order”, resulting in 14,000 deaths, and had treated India as an ally of “imperialistic America and a country wanting to spread its hegemony in the region”, had decided not to treat India “as its principal enemy” at that plenum.
“It is too early to say we are reuniting. But there are issues of mutual concern, which we can raise together,” said Baidya. Prachanda knows that walking away from the CA will discredit his party further. But sticking to it with a much smaller role and size — while the ruling coalition hits him where it hurts most — would be a humiliation he is not used to. “Our going back to the jungle or raising arms is not possible at this stage, but if we are humiliated or denied our due in the political process, some others will resort to that again,” Prachanda told ENS.
To mollify the splinter group, Prachanda told them that an electoral government led by the incumbent chief justice was a wrong move. The CPN-M chose not to participate in the polls, citing the “death” of the principle of separation of powers. Now, it insists that a CA, thus born, cannot deliver a constitution acceptable to the people.
The likelihood of trials of Maoist cadres and leaders for human rights violation has given a new dimension to their fear-driven move for unity. In fact, as prime minister, Bhattarai had forwarded a bill to the president with the provision of a blanket “general amnesty” that is still pending, following objections raised by the international community.
After the integration of Maoist combatants into the army and society, with a substantial financial package and the surrender of arms under UN supervision, Maoist leaders feel betrayed by the stance of other parties. Meanwhile, the chairman of the CA and the government are under pressure to sign the ICC Rome Statute that will lead to mass trials for human rights cases.
While Speaker Subhash Nembang is a lobbyist himself in favour of Nepal signing the Rome Statute, the government appears indifferent. The Maoists are already jittery and isolated. The pro-Rome Statute group enjoys strong external backing as well. All that the Maoists may concede is a toothless TRC that can investigate cases involving both the state and Maoists, but on the understanding that “none from our side” will be punished.
All of these bear upon the constitution-making process. Without a real negotiation or reconciliation among all forces, the old promises and new deadlines will carry no meaning. Besides, that exercise has not even begun.