Nepali Times
State Of The State
Dark forces rising



Tuesday 22 January could prove to be a defining date in our collective memory. In turbulent periods of history, uncertainty is the only certainty. Days break with a strange mixture of hope, despair and foreboding in the air. Dusk brings a resigned sense of relief. But even in the confusion of constant change, some days are more tumultuous than others.

From early morning, rumours about the prime minister's health began spreading through Kathmandu. Meticulously planned and carefully orchestrated tyre burning shut down the city's thoroughfares, ostensibly in protest at the previous evening's petroleum price rise. A madhesi officer at the Agricultural Development Bank in Rajbiraj was shot dead for refusing to hand over Rs 3 million. In Khotang, for the first time since the civil war ended, three police posts were overrun and their arms looted by a mysterious crowd, which later clarified its intent to prevent the constituent assembly elections at any cost.

For hope, we had to look abroad. In New York, UNMIN was denied an expansion of its role, reportedly at the insistence of the Chinese. In New Delhi, the British and Indian prime ministers welcomed the announcement of a date for Nepal's constituent assembly elections. Together they urged all parties "to cooperate and maintain the declared date to ensure a free and fair process, open to all without intimidation." For good measure, they added a pious sermon: "It is for the people of Nepal to decide their own future." Phew! What a relief! At least in their eyes, we are masters of our own destiny.

This destiny, however, seems to be slowly slipping from our grasp. Powerful forces opposed to the sovereignty of the people have begun to act in silent concert to subvert all efforts to hold the elections. They have been dormant until now because they didn't believe the Seven Party Alliance was serious about the polls. With Maoists and mainstreamers at each other's throats, there was no need for a third party to meddle. But several simultaneous developments have changed the status quo.

For the first time since their entry into mainstream politics, the Maoists have officially decided to enter the electoral fray. Pushpa Kamal Dahal directed his cadres to return property to its rightful owners and consented silently when home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula promised to mobilise local administrations to help restore land to its title-holders. Despite apprehension over the poll result, the Maoists appear to be preparing to face the electorate.

The Nepali Congress was never too keen on the elections. Sujata Koirala took all the flak for saying what almost every NC central committee member was thinking: reactivate the 1990 constitution to pave the way for direct elections to a new parliament. However, this strategy has failed to find any takers outside the usual suspects: Khum Bahadur Khadka, Bijay Gachhedar, Govind Raj Joshi, Chiranjibi Wagle and the like. All other NC stalwarts have now realised that they can do very little to avoid facing the people.

The constituent assembly election will also be the death of the royalists. There is no way the interim parliament will accept any role for the king. But, contrary to widespread suspicion, the silence of Gyanendra can also be construed as his acquiescence to the necessity and importance of a constituent assembly.

More than anything else, it's the enthusiastic participation of people in the SPA's mass meetings in Biratnagar and Bhairahawa that has alarmed those opposed to the polls. The SPA leadership needs to extend these programs to the districts.Constituent assembly elections are not about making a government or choosing a president. They are about charting the future course of Nepal. That requires nothing less than the complete unity of purpose among the constituents of SPA government assigned to the task of conducting elections.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)