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    South Asia
     Apr 11, 2007
Page 1 of 2
Maoists face up to political reality
By Dhruba Adhikary

KATHMANDU - The choice of April Fool's Day or All Fools' Day appeared unintended, but Nepal's first interim government with Maoist participation could turn out to be a bad joke.

It is unclear whether a new chapter has actually begun, as claimed by re-elected Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala; it is equally uncertain whether the landmark event will eventually turn out to be "historic", as claimed by Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal

Dahal (aka Prachanda).

In 1990, under similar circumstances, the government then-king Birendra constituted on April 1 lasted for only six days. Pro-democracy demonstrators suspected a king-size conspiracy to deprive the people of their civil rights and carried forward their agitation until their demands were met later that year.

The situation this time, a year after an uprising in April 2006, is qualitatively different. The challenges are formidable and varied, ranging from converting Nepal into a secular republic to addressing the demands of women, ethnic/sub-ethnic groups and those who belong to the country's southern plains, called Terai.

That Nepal should now opt for a federal system and offer autonomy to provinces formed on an ethnic basis and on regional aspirations are issues that, if not tackled conscientiously, could lead to the disintegration of the country.

Many blame the Maoists for issuing slogans that sound catchy but are unhelpful in preserving Nepal's unity in the face of its ethnic diversity. King Gyanendra, who is currently a "suspended" head of state under an interim charter enacted on January 15, has to take his share of the blame. Had he agreed to restore the democratic rights of the people he snatched through a coup in February 2005, last April's uprising would not have gone so far and created room for new demands. These included the abolition of the monarchy, removal of Nepal's identity as the world's only Hindu country, and insertion of a legal provision requiring the state to transform itself from its unitary character to a federal structure.

"It is still debatable whether Parliament had the mandate to declare Nepal a secular state," Devendra Raj Panday told the Kathmandu Post newspaper. He was alluding to a declaration the interim parliament adopted last May 18. Panday, a former minister, currently leads a citizens' movement that monitors the activities (or lack of them) of the political parties. Panday's view broadly represents opinions of those who are keen to see Nepal as a republic, but are in favor retaining the country's Hindu identity. They cite a 2001 census indicating that more than 80% of the population follow the Hindu religion.

One other issue that the controversial declaration included (and subsequently incorporated in the interim charter) relates to the government's proposal to liberalize citizenship laws, thereby opening the door for millions of Indian migrants to qualify for Nepali citizenship. It is a belief that Koirala agreed to back the proposition to drop Nepal's Hindu identity on the suggestion of a powerful Western lobby, and listed the subject of liberalized citizenship laws at the behest of India. Two of India's most populous states, Bihar and Uttar Pradhesh, share a porous border with Nepal.

A panel of eminent citizens is already working to force the government to cancel all citizenship certificates issued after the adoption of the controversial declaration made through the interim parliament. "A mass awareness campaign to foil the 'demographic invasion' from the south has become a must," said analyst Madan Regmi, who is also associated with the panel.

Ever since they launched their "people's war" in 1996, Maoist leaders have told Nepalis about their dream to make a "new Nepal". What does it exactly mean? Does it mean a truncated country? In the absence of any credible scheme for a federal state, the Maoist leadership's ability to convince the public is rapidly receding. And some prominent ethnic and regional groups have gone to the extent of accusing the Maoist leadership of outright deception.

And the tendency to express wrath through violent attacks is on the rise. An incident in the border town of Gaur in the southern plains, for instance, on March 21 resulted in the deaths of 29 Maoist cadres and sympathizers. Their leaders in Kathmandu alleged that a splinter group carried out the assault, using armed goons hired from across the border in India.

Anyhow, the peace accords and concomitant undertakings finally paid dividends for the Maoists. On January 15, they took a sizable number of seats in Parliament, and on April 1 they became the eighth party of a ruling alliance, securing five of the 22 ministries through which the government functions.

Despite strong reservations from the West, particularly the United States and the European Union, Koirala formed the interim government just hours before he left for New Delhi to attend a summit of South Asian countries. While Maoist ministers headed toward their assigned ministerial offices, US Ambassador James Moriarty's office issued a statement extending full support to the peace process, simultaneously expressing doubts about the Maoists' sincerity. This is how the statement read, in part: "The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which to date has refused to abandon violence, must finally do so. As a partner in the interim government, the Maoists must now be held fully accountable for their actions."

Recently, a senior US diplomat, Richard Boucher, met with Koirala during a regional conference in New Delhi and shared his view that the Maoists, although a part of the government, could not be trusted yet. "Our stance on the Maoists has not changed," Boucher said. The Maoists are still on the US watch-list of 

Continued 1 2 

Time to step down, Nepali king urged (Mar 20, '07)

Nepal: The king speaks his mind (Feb 27, '07)


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