There was once a Chinese artist who was obsessed with dragons. He loved to draw dragons and he painted them everywhere. One day, a real dragon poked its nose through his door breathing fire, and the artist was so scared he ran away.
It is a similar story with the Maoists. For the past 12 years they have cried themselves hoarse demanding constituent assembly elections and they fought a ruinous war to make it happen. But now that polls are finally possible they're suddenly frightened of it.
It is clear that the Maoists are not psychologically, politically or physically ready for elections. That is why they've come up with their new set of 22 demands that include declaration of republic, complete proportional representation and the threat of escalating street protests that they hope will scuttle elections
These decisions smack of desperation and confusion in the Maoist ranks. The leadership is stuck, it can't go back and it can't move forward. Hence the post-plenum Prachandaspeak to remain in government while opposing it. To stick to the peace process while preparing for a "people's uprising". The leadership wants it both ways: distract its rank and file with radical talk while putting the pressure on partners in the governing alliance to postpone polls again.
But the long and short of it is that the Maoists are completely uninterested in elections on 22 November. The 22-point demand and the threat of a people's uprising is therefore a strategy to postpone elections again. Only two of the 22 demands are substantive: the declaration of a republic and a fully-proportional election. By insisting on the abolition of monarchy through parliament because "the king will conspire against elections" the Maoists are just being disingenuous.
And since they know they can't guarantee even a single seat in the first-past-the-post part of the election in the 240 constituencies, they are backing a full-proportional representation. But even that demand is counterproductive because it was the Maoists themselves who approved the mixed election procedure in parliament. The demand just exposes their inconsistency.
The Maoists now have 83 unelected members in the interim parliament. It is clear they will only have a fraction of those seats if proper elections are held in November. The Maoists just want a face-saving way to secure respectable representation in the constituent assembly. Informally, Maoist MPs have even tried to talk the NC and UML into a deal where they get to keep at least 30-40 percent of the seats, threatening that otherwise they won't go for elections.
This is a party that is afraid of losing in November and is trying its level best to wangle a favourable outcome, failing which it will even try to sabotage the polls. The prime minister's indifference and silence in all this is puzzling, but it shows that the NC is also not that keen on elections.
The difficulty in ensuring unity with the NC-D and Sher Bahadur Deuba using YCL as excuse to proclaim elections can't be held prove that the kangresis are also nervous about the outcome in November. But the NC is perfectly happy to let the Maoists take the blame for being anti-polls.
It's now up to the prime minister to behave like a statesman and not a party boss, get together with the Maoist leadership and show renewed commitment to elect an assembly in November to draft a new constitution.
Raghu Pant is a UML member of the interim parliament and a former journalist.