A popular Nepali proverb says that even rivers return to their original course after twelve years. It has taken exactly twelve years for the Maoists to return to electoral politics. In 1995, they abandoned parliament after being denied their rightful place there by the two big parties of the day.
After the registration of the CPN-Maoist at the Election Commission, the politicians-turned-extremists of the former Samyukta Jan Morcha have come full circle in other ways: they were the third largest party in the parliament of 1991 after Nepali Congress and UML. The numbers have changed; but all the three parties retain their relative positions in the interim parliament of 2007. But the challenges of change have become much more complex in the intervening period.
The Maoist insurgency was violent, but it created an opportunity for what Franz Fanon called collective catharsis: "a channel, an outlet through which the forces accumulated in the form of aggression can be released". Had Nepal been a truly unified entity, the violence could have worked as shock therapy to treat the sick state. As it happens, Maoist insurgency has ended up dividing the already fragmented society.
2063 BS belonged to Girija Prasad Koirala in every sense of the term. He rightfully claimed the credit of bringing terrorists into the political mainstream. His leadership proved crucial for the success of the April Uprising against the monarchy. But the next phase of the peace process will require more active participation of the Maoists. Elections to the constituent assembly may be the principal agenda of the interim government, but that government has to first deal with the forces that Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his fellow-travellers unleashed for strategic advantage during their decade-long war with the state.
Preceding elections, the government will have to anticipate and prepare for dealing with the dissatisfaction-if not more-of Maoist cadres interned at makeshift camps. These disillusioned youths must be going through what rehabilitation psychologists term post-revolutionary trauma: a sequential mental agony of confusion, boredom, hopelessness, uncertainty, insecurity, and frustration that may lead to either withdrawal or agitation. Their gods have failed, and the government better be prepared for the day this realisation begins to sink and create ripples in the camps.
The leaders of the seven-party alliance can't even comprehend the enormity of the second biggest hurdle to free, fair, and impartial elections to the constituent assembly. This will stem from the post-conflict adjustment of their own rank and file. Fears of being hanged separately forced party workers to hang together during the insurgency. With calm returning to the countryside, the danger of relapse into chronic internal squabbles is real for the UML. The Nepali Congress is now even more at risk for nepotism and cronyism, pathologies that almost destroyed the party in the mid-nineties.
Last winter's Madhes Uprising exposed definitively the vulnerabilities of the SPA-Maoist alliance. The state machinery seems to still not be under the total control of the government. The communal mindset of most mainstream actors at the helm of government persists. The \'inclusion' agenda is mostly superficial. All this create a fertile ground for recruitment by any demagogue with a handful of armed followers.
Jai Krishna Goit, Jwala Singh, and Upendra Yadav have been conditioned in conventional politics. They are as angry with themselves for their failure as with any other leader, and so hesitate even when they agitate. But should the madhesi leadership fall into the hands of any egoistic upper-caste politician without scruples, its impact on national unity will be horrific. And conducting constituent assembly polls without first seriously engaging with marginalised groups will de-legitimise the elections before they are even held.
At a recent astrologers' convention, a fortune-teller predicted that the year tocome will be more momentous for Nepal than the year past. This is the tragedy of this country: analyses turn out to be false, instinctive responses invariably true. Reason may give reassurance, but emotion breeds anxiety. The price, perhaps, for living in interesting times.