Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hope that Nepal’s Maoists would leave their history of violence behind and help deliver the constitution mirrors the collective wish of the Nepalese people, now fading. That Modi chose to mention it from the ramparts of Delhi’s Red Fort on August 15 sent a powerful message across the border. Modi issued no appeal to Indian Maoists to come forward for dialogue and shun violence, but he gave enough indication that the success of Nepal’s example would influence the course of Indian Maoism.
Indian Maoists have called their Nepalese comrades — once part of the larger campaign in South Asia under the common banner of CCOMPOSA (Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia) — “revisionists” and “betrayers”. If they do come to a peace process, it will be more under domestic compulsions and their own calculations than inspiration from Nepal’s Maoists.
But Modi’s consistency and focus on Nepal has put Nepal’s political actors in a tight spot. Coinciding with the expression of Indian concern at the highest level, European and other Western donors have scaled down their support to the campaign for ethnicity- and caste-based federalism. That alone, however, does not guarantee the constitution will be delivered on time.
“It will not invite a political disaster if the final draft of the constitution is not ready by the January 22 deadline,” said Sher Bahadur Deuba, former PM and senior leader of the ruling Nepali Congress. Given the speculation about the health of PM Sushil Koirala, Deuba is being seen as a likely successor. Thus, the failure to have the draft ready by January 22 will be to his disadvantage. But the prevailing uncertainty about the government’s leadership and its impact on the coalition is not the only factor raising doubts about the constitution.
During his informal chat with Nepalese politicians, Modi had even suggested that they should not aim at having a complete constitution at one go. His suggestion was that the constitution “can be amended and future aspirations accommodated”. But it is not simply constitution-writing but institutionalising radical changes that continue to divide the political field. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) that led the agenda of change is the third-largest party now, with less credibility and clout. Supporting a parliamentary system that it fought with arms for 10 years will not only be a major loss of face for the UCPN-M but it will also pave the way for its demise as a radical communist outfit. The Nepali Congress, which leads the government, is demoralised by the PM’s health and divided as well. “We will campaign for a Hindu Rashtra Nepal,” said Haribol Bhattarai, a senior party leader. The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), with almost the same numbers in the cabinet as the Nepali Congress, has been taking a public stance against the government. “They should either behave like a government or quit,” says Shekhar Koirala.
The problem of Nepal’s politics is the power-centric agreements among leaders and parties for the last eight years. With parties divided and agreements not honoured, its likely impact on the constitution is not difficult to guess.