27 Feb-5 Mar 2015 #747

In an agitated state

The opposition may have to go through with its show of force on Saturday, but should try to get it over with minimum fuss to resume negotiations on the constitution.

DEVAKI BISTA
Saturday’s show of force at the centre of Kathmandu will prompt many to ask who are behind it, and why. Let’s try to simplify it for you: The NC-UML formed a coalition government after winning the 2013 elections. After trying in vain to come to an agreement on disputed issues in the constitution, the Constituent Assembly missed its 22 January deadline. The NC-UML led government then tried to use its numerical strength in the CA to push the agenda to a vote.

The UCPN (Maoist) and Madhesi parties, still smarting from their election defeat, tried to make a distinction between their ‘revolutionary mandate’ and the ‘election mandate’. This is their way of saying, “we lost but we still want to have our say."

The CA has been in limbo for over a month now, there have been no negotiations on the constitution draft. The Maoist-Madhesi opposition alliance is determined to go through with its self-described ‘make or break’ protest on Saturday. It’s a risky thing to do, to make public turnout the only indicator of its future existence as a force to be reckoned with. The Maoists have issued a threat to their own cadre that those who don’t show up on the streets will be punished. They must be pretty desperate if one political rally is going to be a life-or-death issue.

In the run-up to Saturday, the Maoists have threatened to go on warpath, unleash another bloodbath, and warned of an Armageddon. "Prachanda, give us the order, we will pull the trigger," the newly-revived YCL shouted on the streets this week. They have used insurgency-era terminology to designate their top leaders to head the Eastern, Central and Western ‘Commands’ to prepare logistics for the protests. Their message to the people is: “We lost the election, but if the NC-UML don’t agree to our demands and give us a share of power we will kill a whole lot of you again.” It is like brandishing a gun and holding the Nepali people hostage.

As a warning, the opposition has used the excuse of the location of the land revenue and mapping offices in Kaliya and Simara to try to foment unrest. This is playing with fire. They are warning Kathmandu that they are willing to unleash ethnic discord as a political pressure tactic.

From what we can tell, instead of galvanising public anger, the call to the streets has frightened the people about the possibility of anarchy. It has convinced even those who were pro-federalism that the whole formula is fraught. If a national trade artery can be blocked for a week on a political pretext, imagine the kind of blockades we will see in future disputes between provinces. This public mood must have seeped into the consciousness of opposition leaders who have been touring the districts to prepare for the agitation. They must have also seen that the fire they light could easily spread across the Tarai and spiral out of control.

To be sure, the last 12 months of the Koirala-led government has not exactly been a scintillating success. Despite the list of ‘achievements’ he presented this week, the prime minister has fumbled and not shown enough statesmanship to bridge the gap on the constitution with the opposition. Its governance record has been patchy, and even the improvement of the investment climate, for which Koirala tried to take credit, happened mainly because of the proactive role played by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

However, the NC-UML have backtracked from their demand for a CA vote, and they have put the process on hold. This was the demand of the Maoist-Madhesi alliance on 22 January, so we see no discernible reason why they should push through with their agitation now. It is time for them to reciprocate the gesture.

The opposition has positioned itself into a corner, they cannot backtrack from the streets without losing face, so they must go ahead and try to paint the streets red for a day. Our advice to the Maoist-Madhesi combine would be to go through with their protest if they must, get it over with minimum fuss, and get back to the negotiation table. If there is one option left, that is it.

Read also:

Not yet boiling point, Navin Jha

Tables turned, Anurag Acharya

Lengthening the fuse, Editorial

Show of strength, Om Astha Rai

Reluctant Madhes, Navin Jha

Maoists revive YCL

Simara simmers, Shyam Gupta

Simara protest called off

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