ANANDA RAM DANGOL
Jhala Nath Khanal's election as PM is good news, for it breaks the stagnation that had marked politics for some time and ends the effort to 'isolate and encircle' the Maoists that had been the guiding principle of the previous government. But whether Khanal can go beyond that – to achieve his stated objectives of finishing up the peace process, writing the constitution, and providing a semblance of governance – really depends on how well he manages contradictions and mediates between conflicting interests. His first week in office does not offer too much reason for hope.
The controversy over the seven-point agreement and the home ministry is instructive. To get the Maoists on his side, Khanal signed the seven-point deal. He did not show it to his party for he knew that it would never get passed – a clear sign of political insecurity. Once the details emerged, he had to spend the better part of the week apologising to and convincing his colleagues that this was not a sell-out. In the process, even though the Maoists understand his constraints, their trust in his ability to deliver has diminished considerably.
How Khanal balances Oli-Nepal and Dahal, who in turn has to manage his own internal party dynamics and thus can yield only so much, will determine the composition, character and stability of this government. It will remain in place for a while, for even if the Maoists do not join the government, they cannot withdraw support immediately. Whether the government is functional or not depends on how Khanal reaches out to the multiple domestic and international constituencies that are suspicious of his intentions.
Take governance first. No government can really solve the structural ills that plague Nepal with a magic wand, from unemployment to power cuts to impunity. But Khanal has an additional complication. His alliance with the Maoists is a manifestation of the deep resentment against India in a large section of Nepal's political class. Delhi's flawed uni-dimensional policy is responsible in large measure for such an alliance having come into force.
But forming a government that India may not like is one thing. Running such a government is something else. If the folks in South Block and the CGO complex decide that it is in their interest to erode the legitimacy of this government, they have a range of instruments at their disposal. These include delaying fuel supply; turning a blind eye to armed criminal groups operating in the Tarai; encouraging anti-government movements; and tightening the screws on trade issues, monetary supply, investments, and tourist inflow.
The root source of the idea of a separate Maoist force, or a mixed force, remains a bit of a mystery. It was among the four models the Maoists had presented; a section in the previous government and some in the army also toyed with it as a way of keeping the purity and 'institutional sanctity' of existing security organs intact and eliminate the chance of Maoist infiltration. But the way it was inserted in the seven-point agreement has generated suspicion among both NC and the army that this is a Maoist ploy to retain a parallel force. With negotiating positions constantly shifting, non-Maoist members of the Special Committee are now more comfortable with the idea of higher numbers in the army than in other forces.
Till there is a broader consensus, the peace process cannot move for the simple reason that all decisions have to be passed unanimously by the Special Committee.
The modality is as important as the politics. NC, and its backers, would not like to see the peace process concluded under this government – for it could just mean the further consolidation of the existing alliance. At best, the Maoists could decide to take the first step and 'regroup' the combatants to show they are committed to the process. But movement beyond that is difficult to envisage.
If the peace process does not move beyond that point, it is difficult to see all parties agreeing on even the framework constitution that is being discussed at multiple levels. The Maoist incentive to compromise on contentious issues diminishes without a major share in the power structure and an agreeable model of integration. NC incentives to compromise will be even lower if the government is seen to be geared to 'isolate' them. What is more likely now though is another extension of the CA – sources tell us the unwritten eighth point in the deal is to use 'regrouping' and discussions in the Constitutional Committee as evidence of 'progress' and as a basis to propose a six-month extension.
Madhav Nepal only had to stay rigid, keep the Maoists out, and bank on India to do a fair share of political management for him. With more powerful adversaries, demanding allies, and an ambitious agenda, Khanal has a far tougher job ahead.
Slap-happy: (ADJ.)dazed, silly, or incoherent from or as if from blows to the head, EDITORIAL
The goose strikes back, DAMAKANT JAYSHI
Khanal the Trojan, KANAK MANI DIXIT