(Opinion, editorial, the Hindu, April 3, 2007)


The formation of an interim government in Nepal with the participation of revolutionaries who, until recently, were engaged in an all-out war to overthrow the state is an event of historic political significance. In 1996, when the Maoists walked out of the House of Representatives with a charter of demands aimed at deepening Nepal’s fledgling democracy, few expected them to have any impact on the course of the country’s politics.


Even when they launched a `people’s war,’ most observers were convinced that their armed struggle would wend its way to irrelevance. Things certainly did not turn out that way. Despite being able to draw on external military assistance, Nepal’s monarchy and army failed to stem the rebel tide. The Maoist call for a Republic, land reform, and equal rights for all of Nepal’s people — including women, Dalits, Janajatis, and Madhesis struck a chord among people across the country. Desperate for a breakthrough, King Gyanendra turned against the one crutch that gave his authoritarianism a veneer of legitimacy: the parliamentary system. When he assumed direct power in February 2005, it was clear his days were numbered. In an exemplary display of statesmanship and political wisdom, the Seven Party Alliance and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) reached out to each other and formed a common front against the authoritarian rule of the palace. It was this powerful alliance that blew away the King’s power in April 2006.


If the process of change in Nepal is to be taken to its logical conclusion — the election of a Constituent Assembly and the writing of a new Constitution — it is vital that the alliance that defeated the King in 2006 consolidates itself. Not surprisingly, the transition from April 2006 to March 2007 has not been easy. The process of sequestering rebel and army weapons and combatants under United Nations supervision took a long time to get off the ground. The deliberations over the apportioning of ministerial portfolios dragged on longer than they should have. However, it is a sign of the can-do attitude of the new coalition that it has signalled its intention to hold elections to the Constituent Assembly in June 2007, exactly as scheduled. What is more, the interim constitution has been amended to allow the interim legislature to abolish the monarchy by a two-thirds majority vote should the King attempt in any way to disrupt the political process. A problem that awaits resolution is the continuing agitation of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, despite all its substantive demands being met. The interim government must find a way of defusing the crisis — through dialogue and conciliation rather than police measures. 

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