Early this week, the seven stalwarts of the seven parties took three important decisions, seemingly to prepare a level playing-field for themselves in the run-up to constituent assembly elections. But such is the distrust between members of the alliance that the deal fell through.
With a large number of nominal members in the interim parliament, the Maoists would have gained most from the Rs 1 million per MP constituency development fund. The NC and the UML manipulated public opinion and exerted enough pressure on the seven party steering committee to have the largesse frozen till elections. The Maoists retaliated by joining hands with NC in rejecting the revival of local bodies that would have made the UML the strongest contender at the grassroots.
The UML took its revenge by making the Maoists demand the postponement of the elections for the NC-aligned Free Students Union scheduled for 28 March and then protested against the decision in public. FSU elections were likely to help the NC most, but the rival UML-affiliated ANNFSU was most vociferous in condemning the poll deferral. No wonder the Maoist shock-troops at various campuses were baffled and NSU activists appeared bewildered. However, when their younger comrades exerted pressure upon the leadership, the UML commissar managing Tribhuban University as its VC declared that there was no plan to postpone FSU polls.
In this three-cornered contest to undermine each other, all the three lost ground in equal measure. Meanwhile, in the other elections (for the CA) there is a loss of momentum. Sincerity and a unity of purpose between seven parties are crucial for creating a political environment conducive to polls. If the steering committee of the SPA spends all its time and energy in resolving internal conflicts, there is no time to hold meaningful dialogue with the various Madhesi groups or the Khambuwans looting arms from police posts in the eastern hills.
The Maoists used to consider themselves masters in manipulation. In the past, they successfully played the palace and parliamentary parties against each other and came out as winners. But they seem to have lost their edge. No matter what Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal does, his alliance partners manoeuvre around it. He tries to present his successes to his cadre, but always fails to sell his accommodative policies to his YCL hotheads.
In the wake of visits of powerful Kathmandu-based diplomats to the Indian capital, PKD was himself keen to go to New Delhi to present his side of the story. The YCL aborted it by burning Indian vehicles in Biratnagar. He wanted to return seized property to its rightful owners. Extremists of his party openly defied their leader's whip. By physically assaulting NC leaders and reactivating People's Councils under the stewardship of Baburam Bhattarai, critics of PKD's conciliatory approach have practically registered a vote of no confidence against him. You may not like the antics of the Maoist chief, but the consequences of his marginalisation are fraught with unseen dangers.
The people are fed up with these games. Endless shutdowns in the Tarai, YCL terror in the hills and the apathy of the state everywhere has begun to affect the cloistered life of urbanites in Kathmandu valley. Rumours are doing the rounds that Gyanendra may have something in store for his customary Democracy Day address if he gets positive hints from high-profile Indian visitors. It might not do much to save the monarchy, but an extension of his stipend is still possible if constituent assembly elections are once again postponed under some pretext or other.
The Indians are leaning on various Madhesi groups to prepare the ground for elections. But voting can only take place if the parties want it. The seven horses have been taken to the water, but they show no inclination to drink. They are having fun playing games as rest of the country burns, all in the name of republicanism.