The four parties in government are talking about it. The four parties on the streets are talking about it. The international community is talking about it. The Maoist are talking about it. Everyone is talking about talking, but no one is actually talking.
In fact, there seems to be fierce competition among various political leaders to prove that they are ahead in the talking game. More than a month and a half after his appointment and two weeks after he put together a government, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has been saying, "I am for talks, but not if they are destined to fail like last time."
The UML needs progress on the peace front if it is to justify joining a royal-appointed government, and is impatient with Deuba's delay. The army says it doesn't want a ceasefire which the Maoists will use to regroup like last year.
The king's man in the cabinet, Information Minister Mohmmad Mohsin says cautiously: "We are weighing all options and discussing how to go about it with Nepali and foreign conflict experts."
The Common Minimum Program document that forms the basis for the coalition between the NC-D, UML, RPP and NSP states that the government will exercise 'maximum flexibility' in pursuing talks.
But there is disagreement on what this means. "The government has to stay within the constitution," Mohsin cautioned. Monarchists see the constituent assembly demand as another way of saying 'republic'. But the constituent assembly demand doesn't just split the government and the Maoists, it also divides the NC-D and the UML. Deuba, who shouted slogans for constituent assembly while on the streets, has suddenly gone quiet about the matter.
On Wednesday, UML general secretary Madhab Nepal said, "The government has to be more proactive. Whatever is being done is not enough." UML leaders, including those in the government, have even been proposing a unilateral ceasefire by the government to see how the Maoists respond.
Maoist chief Prachanda issued a statement this week saying there was 'no immediate possibility of talks'. But he left the door open by reiterating his preference for UN mediation, a move that analysts say is designed to ensure the safety of Maoist leaders if they emerge for talks and also to gain international legitimacy for the movement. The Maoists are getting civil society to exert pressure on the government to lift its terrorist tag before talks and agree to discuss the constituent assembly. The facilitator in last year's negotiations, Padma Ratna Tuladhar, believes the government has made no preparations at all to negotiate. "We see no confidence-building measure, no feelers," he told us.
Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala, whose student wing has been washing dirty linen in public all week, claims he has been securing national and international pressure on the Maoists and the king to hold talks. "The king doesn't seem to be the least bit interested," he said on Thursday. "What he has in mind is not clear to me."