Reading between the lines of Pushpa Kamal Dahal's first open public address in Kathmandu on Tuesday, it becomes clear that the chairman was in damage control mode.
As they prepare to be part of the interim government, the Maoists are also dealing with the fallout of the identity politics they themselves unleashed. At Tundikhel, Dahal was trying hard to change the subject and conceal the blunders that fanned the tarai flames last month.
It wasn't a convincing performance. He didn't express any regret (although there was a belated apology for the Madi bus bomb), and he accused madhesi groups of "stealing our slogans". The realisation seems to be dawning on the other parties-albeit reluctantly and slowly-that the tarai issue, and others like it, need a political solution. Yet the Maoist leadership still sees the tarai as an internal squabble that can be treated as a law and order matter and crushed by force. This attitude and the continuing party-sanctioned extortion and threats make it difficult for us to see how the Maoists can be accommodated in the interim government.
The transitional administration needs to be much more streamlined, responsible, and responsive to deal with not only elections, but also the eruption of identity politics. Time has run out on the government's ten-day deadline to address madhesi demands, and now janajati groups are on warpath. Anyone with a grievance is taking advantage of a state weakened by disunity and jaundice.
It's not all bad news, though. Take a step back, and discernible beyond the strikes and blockades is a basic transformation in the way Nepal will be governed. There is consensus on fundamental matters: that political representation should be based on ratio of population, and that power must be devolved to federal units of governance.
What is making it difficult for these principles to gain the traction they need is the reluctance of those who have traditionally held sway-and this includes the power brokers within political parties-to let go gracefully. We sidelined the monarchy and delinked it from the military. Now we want a parliament to be more representative and for political parties to practice internally what they preach externally.
The road ahead is long and bumpy. Someimes we careen dangerously close to the edge, but at least we are moving in the right direction.