Nepali Times
Reality check

Beyond the desire for peace that makes us want the government and the rebels to meet, it is important to see to what extent each side is willing and capable of compromise, and limit our expectations accordingly.

There is a structural deficit in the peace talks that have been presently suspended. The quicker we realise that, the more realistic our hopes will be. The Maoist leadership clearly understands that there is no possibility of winning their war against the 'old regime', given the lately proven resilience of the state as well as international and regional geopolitical trends. What they needed was a gesture and offer from the government side that was adequate to convince their battle-hardened cadre that the war was won.

But the government's ability to make a ground-breaking departure is circumscribed by its weakness of not being backed by the legislative process, which comes from being a royal-nominated entity. That in turn makes it untouchable for the political parties. Whatever we may think of them, it is the peoples' representatives who come closest to representing the Nepali people during the present limbo.

In their concept note to Maoists at the Sneha Hotel, Kamal Thapa and Prakash Chandra Lohani evaded the rebel demands related to the monarchy and army. This was due to their government's own provenance. But they could not respond to the demand for a constituent assembly because of factors even more important-Nepali society is divided on the matter and an unrepresentative government could hardly have taken society along in the exercise.

In itself, gaining a constitution through a constituent assembly is a good and democratic idea. An important opportunity was missed in the 1950s, then came the Panchayat era, brought to an end by the Kathmandu Spring of 1990. The main political forces, including the Congress and the Left decided then to draft a constitution by committee rather than by constituent assembly. In those heady days of freedom, this was deemed to be OK.

The main sticking point in the talks is a constituent assembly as demanded by the Maoists, and their public rejection of the logical statement made by the government side that the demands can be tackled by revising the constitution.

Let us keep in mind that the Maoists were fighting a democratic system, howsoever flawed, and not a police state. Also that the 1990 constitution is a democratic instrument and the weaknesses, evident in the polity over the last dozen years, were in the implementation. That included the stricture which keeps the army (through the National Security Council) under civilian control, but which did not carry through in real life.

So, if the 1990 constitution is a democratic document, should the larger society accept the demand for constituent assembly mainly because the Maoists, gun in hand, say so? Would that be democratic, when those who can be called most representative of our democracy (the two main political parties) do not see the need for a constituent assembly?

We call on the Maoist leadership to show courage in the political arena to match that shown by their fighters on the battlefield. Look reality in the eye: this government cannot offer them a constituent assembly for the simple reason that they will have to convince the political parties first.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)