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Republic of disquiet

PM Madhav Nepal has his hands full as political ambition threatens to pull the country apart

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire |
June 4, 2009 12:23:06 am

Nepal’s major political festival — the first anniversary of the Republic —was officially celebrated with little fanfare. President Rambaran Yadav hosted a reception on May 15; the day monarchy was abolished last year. Interestingly,the Communist Party of Maoists (CPN-M),the party which was in government until a month ago,and in the forefront of the struggle for the Republic,boycotted the official function. Even the deputy speaker of the constituent assembly who belongs to the CPN-M skipped it. This is certainly an ominous sign.

At a parallel function,Maoist leaders accused other parties of trying to restore monarchy with the help of ‘all-pervasive’ India. CPN-M chief Prachanda said former King Gyanendra’s visit to Delhi was not without motive,implying that Delhi and other political parties had stuck a deal,first to restore Gyanendra as the monarch,and then get him to abdicate in favour of his 8-year-old grandson Hridayendra.

If he is to be believed,Madhav Kumar Nepal’s success as prime minister is part of that understanding. The 61-year old former king moved to the Narayanhiti royal palace after succeeding his brother Birendra,a victim of fratricide,in a palace shootout on June 1,2001.

But in less than seven years,his attempt to convert the palace into the centre of all state power brought down the 240-year old institution of monarchy,pitted against a 19-day mass movement,backed by the international community. But now,political instability and the fragmentation of pro-republic forces have eroded the credibility of Prachanda and G.P Koirala,who led the transition government, and brought their reputations to the level of Gyandendra’s in his absolute monarchy years.

While worried representatives of the international community keep calling them asking them to take the Constitution writing process to its logical conclusion, Gyanendra remains reclusive,persona non grata to the international community.The only diplomat who has met him in the past year is Rakesh Sood. But once China,(which has now given up the position that India has primacy of interests vis a vis Nepal) realises that Gyanendra is back in the political centrestage,the Chinese ambassador’s meetings with him could match Sood’s.

In fact,greater instability,anarchy and infighting among the political forces on one hand,and growing demands for ‘autonomous provinces’ with the right to self determination,and growth in the number of armed groups are challenges that the new government will face. The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) has already said the demand for ‘entire madhesh as a single province’ (Nepal’s plain area comprising 24 per cent of geographical area and 48 per cent of the total population) is not acceptable to the government. Moreover,there are powerful agitations being spearheaded by the Tharus,the country’s dominant indigenous groups and other minorities against the single madhesh province,saying it will erase their identity,and take away their land.

Madhav Nepal’s failure to form the government even a week after he took the oath of office,Maoist pressure,and G.P. Koirala’s possible emergence as extra-constitutional power centre are indicators that Nepal’s days as PM will not be easy. Koirala bulldozed all protest from the Nepali Congress and nominated his discredited daughter,Sujata Koirala,as the leader of the party. Sujata,mired in controversy through her father’s stint in power,is perhaps the most hated figure in the party. She was the lone voice supporting monarchy when all parties were out to abolish it,and recently,she backed Prachanda when he sacked Nepal army chief R Katawal . Gen Katawal’s reinstatement by President Yadav not only led to Prachanda’s resignation as PM, but also his vow to fight the president from the street and from the House .

Interestingly,his latest ally Sujata will be in the government. All these indicate that the government is a mixture of ambition,without a collective sense of direction. There is also a rumour that the older Koirala keeps open the possibility of aligning with the Maoists (through his daughter) and snatches leadership from Madhav Nepal in a few months. This has led to more intense speculation: will the monarchy stage a comeback,will the Maoists resort to armed insurgency,will peace and democracy survive at all or will the country be fragmented on ethnic and caste lines,what will India’s and China’s roles be,in that event? The new government perhaps even does not know where to begin addressing these fears.

yubaraj.ghimire@expressindia.com

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