Nepal’s peace process, which began in April 2006, will be deemed to have reached its logical conclusion the day a new constitution, acceptable to all sides, is delivered. The decade-long civil war that claimed almost 17,000 lives came to an end with the beginning of that peace process. Since then, the Maoists have let their combatants settle down as civilians, with financial assistance from the state, or symbolically join the army.
But as a constitution acceptable to all appears nowhere in sight, Netra Bikram Chand, a powerful guerilla leader during the insurgency, has warned that he would soon launch an “armed struggle” to take the erstwhile revolution to its “logical conclusion”. Chand was associated with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), which broke away from the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) in June 2012, on two main grounds: whether India ceases to be a “enemy country”, and whether Maoist combatants should be “civilised” and integrated with society so that future peace is not threatened. The breakaway group differed with the mother party on both counts.
But more than two years later, Chand has put the two parties and their leaderships in the same bracket and declared that the peace process has already collapsed.
Chand’s closed-door meetings, slogans and gestures suggest that the “revolution” that began in 1996 and ended in 2006 must be resurrected, not with peace but arms, to achieve the rule of the proletariat. There is concern that some old combatants and new recruits have already been given guerilla training by Chand. Although the decade-long insurgency and its leaders, including Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai, are now as discredited as the other “bourgeois” leaders, Chand probably assesses that an almost invisible state will be easy to defeat.
It is too early to say how the Nepali state and its leaders will deal with a second round of armed insurgency, if it arrives. But there is a sense of panic in government and the Constituent Assembly (CA), where it’s now known for certain that the constitution will not be ready by the January 22 deadline. The process has stalled, with its key actors indulging in a blame game. Prachanda has given a call to the Newar community, the ethnic group that dominates the Kathmandu valley, to rise up in revolt as the ruling coalition partners, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), are not willing to concede to the demand for an ethnicity-based federalism. Prachanda, who leads the UCPN-M and a 22-party alliance for ethnicity-based federalism, is approaching ethnic and caste groups for a “revolt” against the regime.
The UCPN-M, the third-largest party in the CA, is the main opposition. But it convincingly argues that it cannot be treated in that capacity alone, as Nepal’s shift to a federal democratic republic was an outcome of its “revolution”. Although Prachanda’s appeal has been met with lacklustre public response, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala refuses to accept the emerging situation. “There is no other alternative to a consensus-based constitution, and we will deliver it at any cost on January 22,” he said last Wednesday. But neither his party nor others involved in the constitution-making process believes that any more. The international community and the Nepalese people know that the parties have not budged an inch, while the number of people opposing “federalism, secularism and republicanism” is increasing by the day.
It is not only the extremist Left that threatens to derail the peace and constitutional process. Last Thursday, the campaign in favour of a “Hindu Nepal” got off to a start, with the organiser threatening to launch a nationwide movement that will assert Nepal was declared a “secular” country under the design of “Western churches and Nepali revolutionaries”. A weak state, under threat of war from two political extremes, is a scenario that doesn’t dishearten the Nepalese alone.
A joint statement by EU countries last Thursday appealed for the constitution to be delivered by January 22, but with the guarded comment that it’s entirely for Nepal’s leaders to decide what kind of constitution they would have. India, which often says Nepal’s stability is in its own interest, appears no less concerned.
Deposed king Gyanendra suddenly left for New Delhi last Friday, fuelling speculation that India’s new regime is making an objective assessment of a process it has unconditionally supported since 2006, but that failed all along. The situation will only worsen unless Nepal’s politicians realise that the solution lies in pursuing a policy of national reconciliation.