Nepali Times Asian Paints
No looking back


It has been almost a year since the political parties began their agitation to force the king to restore the democratic process.
Twelve months later in the new year, the protests are still going on, the king hasn't budged on demands to restore parliament or set up an all-party government, and the Maoists are stronger than ever before.

While the king is on a PR blitz in the hinterland, the parties' agitation has taken an ominous new edge as impatient party activists storm barricades surrounding the palace. In the past year their demands have become increasingly more radical, with affiliated student unions openly questioning the relevance of monarchy. Now, it looks like the party leadership has no choice but to swing towards a republican stance.

"Informal discussions have already begun among the parties," says NC leader Narhari Acharya. "There is no other way out.

The political leaders insist the semantics is not so important, but it is clear that the palace sees 'constituent assembly' as an euphemism for 'republic' and will not agree easily. The parties may be pushed to ask for a constituent assembly, which has been the Maoist demand all along. This was also the point on which the peace talks between the government and the Maoists collapsed last August.

"Ultimately, we will need a constituent assembly to bring both the king and the parliamentary forces within the constitutional framework," says Daman Nath Dhungana, former speaker and a peace facilitator. "All the factions will unite against the king if he does not agree. It will be the people vs the king."

But the king could still defuse the situation by forming an all-party government acceptable to everyone, or restoring parliament. After reclaiming power, the parties may soften their tough talk, as they gear up towards future elections while trying to arrange a ceasefire.

It is later that a future elected government will face its toughest test in dealing with the Maoist insurgency. In a sense, we will back to 3 October 2002 but with a much more virulent uprising.

The Maoists, for their part, have been using the party-palace clash to their advantage. They are on an offensive spree with attacks on police posts in Janakpur and Ilam this week. But things have changed. India is belatedly giving the Maoists a hard time in its territory and Indian concerns will have deepened after the Nepali-style landmine attack in Jharkhand that killed 26 police last Thursday.

For the first time in years the Maoist statements have taken on a strident anti-Indian tone accompanied by attacks on Indian vehicles and businesses in the tarai.

Former minister and peace broker Narayan Singh Pun believes the Maoists' attacks in Bhojpur and Beni actually show that they want to return to the table. "They are forcing the government to take them seriously and restart the peace process, but both sides need to trust each other," he told us.

The government is still talking tough, refusing to accept third-party mediation. "The Beni attack completely wiped out the possibility for peace talks," Home Minister Kamal Thapa said after the 20 March incident. Analysts say the Maoists are more likely to sue for peace when they feel strong, like they do now, rather than when they
are weak.

But there are no indications that there are any back channel initiatives. If anything, the situation on the ground is getting worse. The midwest has been under siege for two weeks now, with serious food shortages in the hill districts. The blockade has forced some Nepalis coming home from India to walk up to 200km to reach their homes. In the far west, the Maoists have been especially active this week rounding up thousands of villagers and taking them on tractor trailers to an unknown destination. Many others have fled across the border to India.
The big question now is how long can, or should, King Gyanendra fight his war on two fronts?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)