On Wednesday, the two main coalition partners signed an agreement with Madhesi People's Rights Forum to pave the way for the latter to join the government. This latest in a series of agreements, however, fails to recognise the reality of post-conflict transition in Nepal.
Ever since Madhav Kumar Nepal replaced Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal as prime minister after the latter's botched attempt to dismiss the then army chief, there had been a dispute about the roadblock to the peace process and constitution writing posed by the absence from the power equation of the largest party in parliament.
The concern was appropriate but the argument was wrong, on at least two counts. First, the Maoist party and their apologists deliberately failed to mention that Dahal alone was responsible for bringing down his government. Second, the Maoist party could not be out of the power equation precisely because they became the single largest party after the election, with 238 out of 601 seats in the Constituent Assembly-cum-Parliament. Even with fewer seats, they would have to be part of any decision-making process relevant to the peace process and the new constitution.
The reason is simple. In the post-conflict transition, a party to the conflict cannot be kept out of power-sharing. That reasoning applies to Nepali Congress as well.
However, it's the same mistake all over again. It's back to the post-election days when the two major communist parties were in power and NC was in the opposition. The peace process and constitution writing cannot proceed without the active participation of the Maoists and NC Ė the two principal architects of the peace process.
With the deadlock continuing and the CA being extended for a year on 28 May last year, Madhav Nepal offered to leave to pave way for consensus. When consensus proved elusive, he resigned anyway last June to facilitate power-sharing. In other words, it was to create an opportunity to accommodate the Maoist party without humiliating them. But that opportunity has been squandered.
So what do we have now? It is worth looking back to plan ahead. We have seen the back of two majority-wielding governments, each of which did not include a key party. First NC was out of the Maoist-led cabinet (August 2008-May 2009), then the Maoist party stayed out of the UML-led government that included NC (May 2009-June 2010). With Nepal's resignation, it is silly to argue about numbers in parliament. After all, Nepal commanded a comfortable majority when he resigned.
We are back to the old, and likely-to-fail, equation. The seven-point deal between UML chief and current PM Jhala Nath Khanal and Dahal has effectively shut the door on NC's participation in a national consensus government, as it speaks of a rotation of government leadership between the two communist parties. Further, as Khanal hounded his own party's government when it was led by Nepal, the latter and party colleague KP Oli are making things difficult for him. All their talk about democracy and the peace process is mere eyewash.
But if the peace process, genuine power-sharing and constitution writing are still the goals, NC has to be part of the decision-making process. Time is at a premium here. The two parties have to reach out to NC but first, they have to discard the seven-pointer. NC, on the other hand, needs to internalise the fact that it made a blunder by not reciprocating the overtures from Dahal. Now it should not hesitate to join the government should the offer come.
There is still a possibility of concluding the peace process and constitution writing if the Maoists and NC come together, ably supported by UML and the Madhesi parties.