Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Not out of the woods yet


No one has come out clean from the presidency fiasco. The Maoists opened multiple fronts and tried to fool all the people all the time. Girija Prasad Koirala's ego and obstinacy held the country hostage. Upendra Yadav confirmed suspicions yet again that he is a political opportunist who wants MJF to be the RPP-type kingmaker.

But there is little point in going back to why events unfolded the way they did. What is certain is that the realignments spell bad news for the peace process, democracy, constitution-writing, and even Kathmandu-Madhes relationship.

Depending on how you look at it, the peace process is either over or doomed to remain incomplete and flawed. If this exercise was only about getting the Maoists out of the jungle and 'locking them in', the job is done.

But if the process entailed sustained engagement on other issues (integration of soldiers, building a just state, tackling disappearances, ensuring accountability and reorienting economic policies) the political confrontation has made the task a lot harder. There is a possibility that PLA soldiers will drift out of the cantonments, and YCL will become more assertive.

A top NC negotiator, who has played a role since the 12-point agreement, says: "Stop pampering the Maoists in the name of the peace process. We have suffered enough. Just treat them like other political party."

But they are not just another party. Democracy is in danger not only from the authoritarian impulses of the Maoists, but also from the lack of political opposition to them on the ground. Recent political events have further opened the space for the Maoists to consolidate even as NC and UML stick to manipulative and petty Kathmandu-centred politics.

If the Maoists stay out of government, it could be a collective self-goal for the others. The former rebels will use their effective organisation and propaganda machine to play the victim. They will monopolise the opposition so any government is bound to fail in dealing with popular expectations. There is little hope that the old faces in the new government will do anything to initiate progressive economic change. This can only mean that the extremists will emerge even stronger.

The relationship between Kathmandu and Madhes, and between Madhesi parties and the people has also got strained over the past week. Most Pahadis grumble that Madhesis have got more than their share by occupying both top presidency posts. The irony is that Madhesis are not too satisfied either.

MJF district activists find it difficult to explain why the MJF has allied with the NC, its main electoral competitor, and the UML, the main opponent on federalism with Jhalanath Khanal even rejecting the eight-point agreement. Upendra Yadav may have wanted to balance the Maoists and extract a top post from the alliance, but he risks being discredited like he was after signing the 22-point agreement last year unless he goes back to the Tarai and explains the logic of his decision.

Talk to Madhesi intellectuals and they are happy to see a Madhesi as president, but ask whether it had to be Ram Baran Yadav. Kathmandu's narrative of Yadav is that of a nationalist who resisted the pulls of identity politics. Many in Madhes perceive him as someone who did nothing for the Madhes movement, but used it to rise up. They remember him calling the agitation 'mass hysteria' and saying this is not the time for identity assertion. Madhesis may not turn radical, but don't be surprised if you find they are not thrilled with his elevation.

It is also important not to be complacent about the Madhes because the fundamental faultlines remain. The state-Madhesi trust gap will remain as long as CDOs and SPs are Pahadis. The inter-party competition in Madhes will only intensify. The Maoist-Forum relationship will become more strained. And inter-community tensions are slowly surfacing again.

We are at a dangerous moment. Maoists leading the government will help smoothen some of these issues. But unless the more fundamental aspects of the peace process, governance and state-Madhes gap are addressed, it may be premature to characterise Nepal as a 'post-conflict' country.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)