As 2010 ends, here's what the key political actors will be thinking about the year gone by and the one that lies ahead.
For the president, this has been an excellent year. If 2009 saw him at the centre of a controversy, Dr Ram Baran Yadav's spin doctors have managed to salvage his reputation almost entirely by now. He has played the role of the concerned statesman perfectly ‚Ä" expressing concern over the political deadlock, and repeatedly conveying how he is not empowered to act. He made successful visits to India and China; built up a support base in Kathmandu¬†among army generals, lawyers, journalists, and a section of the business community; chose his public commitments carefully; and maintained his links with NC while expanding outreach among politicians of all hues.
Dr Yadav knows what will be asked of him this year and has set the stage accordingly. The tenor of his message is ‚Ä" I do not want to go beyond the limits of this office, but if there is no choice and democratic forces and the international community support me, I am ready to step in. But don't be swayed by this seeming reluctance: the president is an active politician and will relish the power that comes his way. But aware that his institution is still in a nascent stage, he will ensure there is a cushion around him before he acts.
General Chhatraman Singh Gurung will be a happy man too. He has played his part in rehabilitating the Nepal Army (NA) and erasing its none-too-glorious recent record from day-to-day political discourse. Careful about the army generals below him who have greater influence, pedigree and connections, the chief has nonetheless carved out his own niche.
Gurung took on the prime minister on certain postings; he launched a belligerent campaign on UNMIN and succeeded in forcing the Maoists to concede that NA and PLA could not be equated by way of the four-point agreement in September; the army's public relations drive has been a success. And NA has offered a quid pro quo to the politicians ‚Ä" we don't want direct power, we will symbolically plead allegiance to you, but don't mess with us or interfere in our functioning. Many parties have signed up to the deal.
2010 has been an even more terrible year for the Maoists than 2009. Last year, they had to give up power but retained the moral high ground and sustained a public movement that energised the organisation. This year, the May strike brought home to them the limits inherent in inciting urban unrest when the state, middle class, international community, and media are on the opposite side. This dampened the morale of cadres, from which they are yet to recover, leaving the party gasping for alternative paths.
The party fell into the trap laid out for them by anti-Maoist strategists in Delhi and Kathmandu, whose aim was to strengthen the hardliners by keeping the party out of power and generating an existential crisis. There are now deep divisions in the leadership, and an increasing perception that the Maoists are solely to blame for the present stalemate. The fact the party did not split while managing to break the 'democratic alliance' ranks as its only achievement of the year. While Chairman Dahal remains the foremost national leader, his reputation did take a massive dip with failed attempts to become PM, and refusal to make compromises that would help win the trust of other parties and convince them of the democratic commitment of the Maoists.
In 2011, if the CA is not extended and another regime takes over, the Maoists will become the face of the resistance. In a way, this would suit the party as it would be the culmination of their plan to polarise politics; they did the same by helping bring NA into the battle in 2001. But it is highly unlikely that the Maoists will be able to use the streets to get back to power and impose the political system they desire. Their political achievements, and their growing integration into the political system that has proved financially profitable, could well be reversed if they took this path. Unlike a massive homogeneous movement, the resistance may take the form of multiple mutinies dictated by local conditions.
But if any one person was the face of the stagnation of 2010, it was Madhav Kumar Nepal. Nepal's smug smile over the past six months is representative of how most of Nepal's NC-UML politicians think ‚Ä" irrespective of the state of the citizens, as long as their positions are secure, Nepal's democracy is safe. But if they do retain any of their democratic values, it will be time to make some tough decisions in 2011.