Reading or watching interviews with Maoist leaders this week, one could get the impression that they have won not the boring constituent assembly election but the much sexier general election.
Instead of sticking primarily to the task of making a new constitution as soon as possible, and then going for general elections to start the process of formally governing Nepal under the agreed-upon rules (which, if I remember correctly is the mandate of the CA), the Maoists are busy handing out platitudes on how they will address issues affecting Nepal's all-round development. It could just be a play to the gallery. But if we start to forget what the CA election was for, a worrying start of mission drift is likely to be upon us.
True, the CA elections showed that millions of poor and hitherto neglected Nepalis want their concerns addressed. And the Maoists have wasted no time in assuring that they have the right answers, even though reaching that ideal state of communism will by their own admission require a century or more.
But what's forgotten in this assurance game is that, just as Girija's capstone contribution lay in ensuring the successful completion of the CA election, the Maoists' biggest contribution ahead should be delivering a new constitution to the Nepali people within a reasonable frame of time. After all, only when there are fundamental rules, enshrined in the constitution, can the government accountably get on with the business of governance.
If they try to multi-task and be all things to all people, the Maoists risk drawing out the process of constitution-making to interminable lengths. If that happens, it creates opportunities for them to make up and enforce their own rules in the interim, which can then be potentially (ab)used to consolidate a hold on power for longer periods.
The other parties should learn from recent history. Had the interim government focused primarily on getting the CA elections completed by the original date of June 2007, a mere 14 months after the second Jana Andolan, who knows what the election results would have been?
But the government acted as though it had won some kind of general election in April 2006. It tried to multi-task. The longer it stayed in power, the further away it moved from the most important goal of holding the CA elections on time. During its watch, there occurred some of Nepal's most shameful human rights abuses in Gaur and Kapilvastu. The Maoists walked in and out of government. The Tarai problem grew worse, and the CA elections were postponed three times until pressure from all quarters, including internationally, was no longer resistible. No wonder its lost focus made the main parties identified with it - the NC and UML - electorally unappealing.
The public's frustration at this no doubt increased support for the Maoists, but they themselves are already suffering mission drift. Baburam wants to invite foreign investors before he can even guarantee protection of private property and individual liberties. His boss Prachanda has promised economic miracles before there is even a clear expression in the constitution about what kind of an economic system New Nepal is going to have.
This is why the challenge for civil society pundits, global well-wishers and the media should be to not get carried away with the grand rhetoric of the Maoists, and to keep a steady eye on the new government so that the winners of the CA elections focus on and speedily deliver the actual task for which they were elected: making this country's constitution. Taking years to do this will be just another familiar case of mission drift - something Nepal can ill afford, or the people may get restless again.