MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Madhav Kumar Nepal's new government is going to operate under serious limits. He has many allies to please and many debts to repay, which will reduce his room for engineering a political consensus. There are serious doubts about the sustainability of this government, and whether it can deliver. Yet, here is a three-point checklist for the new government.
Nepal's first priority must be the peace process. Those who want to derail it may attempt to do two things: block the payment of the monthly stipend to PLA in order to increase disillusionment within the Maoists, and prevent any discussion on integration. Integration has anyway become more difficult in recent weeks. The army is opposing it more vocally, the non Maoist parties have become more suspicious after the video, and Maoists (sensing attack from all sides) feel the need to keep the PLA as a back up force.
The new PM must resist any efforts to provoke the PLA. Making life difficult for the Maoist leadership may look like a tempting proposition, but it will boomerang and create complications. Nepal also needs to have active channels of communication with the Maoist leadership. GP Koirala's proposal of a high-level political mechanism is a positive one in this respect, as it provides the top rung a common platform to talk things out when necessary.
Madhav Nepal is the only senior leader to have publicly admitted that they made a mistake in not pushing integration before the elections. He should reconstitute the special and technical committee if necessary, but give it the political backing to continue the preliminary homework on the future of combatants. It is unrealistic to expect a final settlement on the PLA in such a political climate, but keeping the ball rolling would be good enough.
The new government's second objective must be to address the political-security situation caused by multiple ethnic movements across the country. Between 2005 and 2008, there have been 1,600 killings in Tarai and more than 3,000 abductions. The disillusionment with existing Madhesi forces may once again create a political vacuum and leave the ground fertile for ethnic radicalism in eastern Tarai. The non-UML Tharu faction led by Laxman Tharu is itching to get back to street agitation. And the eastern hills continue to be volatile. With the Maoists out with the aim of rendering the government ineffective, the security situation will become even more troubling.
If Nepal can just implement commitments made in agreements with these groups, and stop playing the divide and rule games between them, it will be an enormous leap. This has to go along with a systematic rebuilding of the state apparatus. Some simple steps can help improve the security situation: increase in police posts outside district headquarters, a firm direction to the CDOs and SPs that anyone complicit with armed groups will face a punishment posting, strict vigilance from the centre, providing the administration the confidence that if they resist political pressure, they will not lose out, and a constant engagement between local authorities and civil society.
Nepal's third priority must be economy and governance. Every day that is wasted in this regard has implications for education, health and employment.
Baburam Bhattarai has left the government with a vast sum of money and a finance ministry in good shape. Nepal, not known for his economic acumen, needs to appoint the right people for the right jobs and allow them to build up on that. The other imperative is to constitute local bodies and have effective line ministries which can push projects. He needs to continue with the welfare programs like the employment scheme besides managing the inflation.
As head of the constitutional council, it is Nepal's double responsibility to expedite constitution-writing process. From ensuring access to water to dealing with the food crisis in the hills, engaging with ultra sensitive neighbours to an international community which has a prescription for every problem, his plate will be full.
Madhav Nepal's government is not in a position to radically change things for the better. Not letting it slide for the worse would be a major achievement.