Now that King Gyanendra has backed down, how the seven-party alliance will bring the Maoists into the mainstream of democracy is the real challenge before Nepal.
Although the Maoists have rejected the revival of parliament, a rapprochement is possible through a constituent assembly. The parties and the Maoists have been on opposite sides except when they started their joint struggle against the king.
The Maoists launched their armed struggle in 1996 after they felt multiparty democracy wouldn't bring about social change. Can a violent approach now be grafted onto a peaceful democratic structure? Unlike the political parties, the Maoists are fighting an ideological battle and the monarchy is a sticking point. The alliance wants the king to stay as a constitutional head. The king may not be personally popular but many Nepalis are emotionally attached to the monarchy. So too the army, which remains a stable institution. Nothing will work without their active cooperation and they do not look like they are about to jettison the monarchy.
Dr Karan Singh, New Delhi's envoy who met the king on behalf of the Indian government last week, obtained assurance from the alliance that the king would continue. In hindsight, sending a former king to meet King Gyanendra was not a good idea. Nepal's political parties have been close to the socialist leaders in India, and the seven-party alliance would have preferred an envoy from among them.
New Delhi's policy, as enunciated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also wants the king to stay as part of India's twin-pillar doctrine. So the Maoist demand to abolish the monarchy is difficult to meet. On the other hand, if the Maoists are kept out of the settlement, the country may return to conflict.
India faces a dilemma. No doubt it has changed its pro-king stand by announcing that it will abide by what the people of Nepal decide. The seven-party alliance is also straining every nerve to persuade the Maoists to accept the parliamentary concept of government. Were they to do so, the Maoists' fear is that they would compromise on their aim of overthrowing the 'bureaucratic capitalist class and monarchy'. They might face wrath from their own ranks which have been ideologically motivated.
New Delhi doesn't want a scenario where the Maoists are lionised. It can visualise the effect on the Naxalites in its own backyard, who have assumed power which is already causing concern. According to official sources, the Naxalites have an upper hand in one-fourth of 600 districts in 13 out of 28 states. The Naxalites in India and the Maoists in Nepal have also constituted a Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organisations of South Asia (COMPOSA). They want a socialist South Asia through an armed struggle.
The crisis in Nepal would not have come to the boil if the king had listened to New Delhi. It tried its best to persuade him to give up power but failed. It should have been firmer earlier. New Delhi has not emerged unscathed and is now seen to be on the side of the king. The Nepalis who put their eggs in the Indian basket are disillusioned. They had to come to the streets themselves and face the bullets to get power. At best, India was a sympathetic spectator.
A constituent assembly is now the best way out of the impasse. But the tough job is going to be the selection of members. No doubt, a free and fair election can throw up people's representatives. But how do you hold free and fair elections if security doesn't improve or the king stays in power even as a constitutional head?
The king did not realise the power of the awakened people. New Delhi can't escape the blame because it just couldn't make up its mind on how far to go to put pressure on the king. At one stage, the fear was that Islamabad and Beijing would assist the king if challenged. They could not have done so in the face of the nation's unity behind the demand for the restoration of democracy.
New Delhi's problem is that it opts for the least line of resistance. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn't. Nepal is one example where it didn't. India may have to pay the price for its mumbling policy.