Back to Constitution Writing
Srinivasan Ramani, Newsclick, 13th February 2010
The Nepali Maoists' reiteration to focus on Constitution writing is a significant boost to the process.
The recent internal deliberations among the Unified Communist Party of Nepal - UCPN(M) which basically endorsed a full fledged push for the successful writing of the Constitution before the stipulated date of May 28 in Nepal marks a significant occasion since the country became a republic. Since the declaration of a being a republic occurred a year and half ago, observers knew that the job of substantive transformation of Nepal was only half done. For the much onerous job of writing a Constitution through the Constituent Assembly (CA) while negotiating the pitfalls of a contested polity, remained. The still unresolved question of integration of Nepali Maoist combatants into the Nepali army, the wide disparity on the political structure of the newly formed republic, plus of course the ambitions of all the major parties that were part of the CA were seen as stumbling blocks needed to be overcome before a Constitution could be successfully written. And true to those expectations, it took a lot of time for one coalition government to form and which eventually fell, bringing the Nepali Maoists into opposition and a motley group of political outfits into power. This only made the Nepali Maoists go into a fervent agitation mode - with its own internal constituents bickering over the party's political strategy and one section demanding a return to insurrection and therefore a premature ending to the peace process and consequently the Constitution making process as well.
But progress was recently made - the Maoists suspended their agitation and stopped blocking the CA proceedings even when their legitimate demands for overturning a controversial presidential decision were not met. This resulted in the CA moving ahead with work on the Constitution making process. On the very important question of the federal structure of the new republic, a majority decision was made - Nepal would be federated into 14 states based on the preponderance of ethnic identity. Much discussions are already on, over other important decisions such as the nature of the highest political executive and its powers - whether Nepal will have a presidential or a prime ministerial executive, whether the executive will be representatively elected or directly elected by the people and so on. But still, the key issue is that a step in the right direction was taken when deliberations were speeded up after the Maoists gave up their CA boycott call.
Yet, suspicions on the Maoists' intentions persisted. Egged by a overly intrusive and supportive Indian establishment, the Nepali parties in government - the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Nepali Congress (NC) only tried to isolate the Maoists, who on the other hand used this situation to press on extra-parliamentary means to get back to power. The onus on the Constitution-making process was put on the Maoists, who were blamed for throwing a spanner into the works for boycotting CA proceedings and for going into the agitation mode. But the boot is on the other foot now. Not only have the Maoists reiterated their commitment to the Constitution making process, they have also clearly enunciated that this is the first of their priorities. And the Maoists must be given the highest credit for the whole process in the first place.
It was the UCPN(Maoist) which gave the clarion call for Nepal's transformation into a republic - heeded later on by the other mainstream political parties, some reluctantly. It was the UCPN(Maoist) which insisted on a proportional representation system to elect candidates and it was the very same party that pushed for new federal project - before the theme was supported by sections of other political parties such as the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist)-UML and the Nepali Congress. Interestingly all these proposals from the Maoists were themselves arrived at after much internal rumbling about the path of "revolution". The failure of the Maoists to retain a hegemony in government since the 2008 elections had emboldened hardliners in the party to try to change course to a insurrectionist line. But two aspects - positive and negative - saw the triumph of the Constitutional democratic line - identified with Maoist leader and intellectual, Baburam Bhattarai.
One, was the fact that the Maoists have clearly seen their support base swell, ever since they entered into the democratic mainstream. By resigning from government based on a principled position and by engaging in organisational and propaganda activity as an opposition party, the Maoists have been able to garner more support than what they held during the days of civil war, particularly in the plains' areas of Nepal. Mobilising public opinion on the presidential decision to re-instate the army chief who was removed by the Maoists, helped the party gain more supporters. This gain in support, strengthened the argument of those among the Maoists who wanted to utilise the democratic mainstream effectively to get to power, eventually - provided the Constitution was written on time and elections were held after this.
At the same time, despite the surge in public support, the Maoists have been unable to break the broad coalition of parties that has held on to power despite very little programmatic or ideological understanding among themselves. Here is where the Indian influence has played an important role and so has the fear of Maoist hardliners, among politicians of the other political parties. Despite not being to get into government or break the coalition, the Maoists have still managed to get some of their policy positions to be agreed upon by other political parties - such as on federalism. This ideological hegemony has convinced the Maoist leadership that continuing on the democratic mainstream has a lot of dividends to pay and hence the current decision.
What this means is that the Indian establishment must trust the Maoist leadership now and so too should other political parties in Nepal. Onus must be now put upon parties such as the Nepali Congress which has been very laggard in bringing out its stated positions on various issues that are yet to be fully debated out in the writing of the Constitution. The Nepali Congress, for example, made no attempt to draw its agenda for federalism, and only registered opposition to the current 14 province reorganisation, while placing no effective alternative.
The other dogged issue that has to be resolved is that of integration of the Maoist combatants into the Nepali army. Both the UML and the Nepali Congress have evinced little interest, since coming to power, to this question. Even sections - the hardliners - are not so keen. Precedents such as the South African integration process post-apartheid suggest pathways where an integration of this kind can be conducted smoothly. That requires the whittling down of the trust deficit among the major parties - a process that is made easier following the Maoist declaration on Constitution-writing. And the Indian establishment - particularly the nosey diplomatic corps and "strategic analyst" sections - to tone down its direct interference in the Nepali political process beyond facilitation and also to stop looking at Nepal as a geopolitical buffer against China.