Nepali Times
Centre to centrestage

Paradoxically, the unilateral ceasefire declared by the Maoists has turned out to be unilateral in an unexpected way. It was the government side that seems to have observed the Dasai truce, while there was no real slowdown in the Maoists' intimidation, extortion and attacks on infrastructure throughout the country.

In fact, Prachanda's ceasefire call seems to have been part of a strategy to move his forces during the holidays from the midwest to future adventures in the east, and also to lure salary-earners home to their villages so they could be fleeced for 'donations'. Maoists in the districts fixed a price tag on every level of employee to buy their protection. Extortion has now also gone overseas, with reports of Nepalis abroad being forced to hand over cash in return for the 'safety' of family members back home.

Meanwhile, the destruction of rural infrastructure continues apace. A power plant in Okhaldhunga that had just been repaired has been blown up again and telecommunication towers have been destroyed putting large areas of Janakpur, Dadeldhura and other remote districts out of reach. Residents of Jaleshwar and far-western Nepal now have to cross over into India to make calls to family members in Kathmandu.

The will of the people is different from the will of the armed. As experiences in insurgency-ridden regions of Sri Lanka and India have repeatedly shown, most conflicts are maintained not because groups of people oppose each other, but because very small groups of men, backed up by guns, claim to speak for The People.

This works only because the current political paradigm recognises men with guns as a legitimate power. Unless this changes soon there is no hope for the restoration of democratic norms. The first step towards that goal must be to restore the role of the entity whose very existence rests on the principle of non-violence: the political party. True, our party leadership with its bullheadedness sometimes seems to be a part of the problem, rather than the solution. But there is really no other way than for them to be included on the side of constitutional forces.

One year after the king's direct rule, it is clear that whatever experiment this was, it isn't working. It hasn't worked to restore order, it hasn't worked for governance, it hasn't delivered development and peace and it may not even be in the longterm interest of the monarchy.

Neither the palace nor the parties want to lose face in a compromise. Fine. But is a compromise over the king actually acting out his constitutional role such an insurmountable problem? Only after we cross that hurdle can we contemplate taking on the more knotty issue of the Maoists. It is difficult to contemplate how they can become part of a solution under the present atmosphere of mistrust where almost everyone sees the constituent assembly demand as a trap. The solution lies outside these two binary opposites of the left and right: the revival of the centre.

But resurrecting parliament is fraught with dangers. It will expose the all-too-familiar short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness of influential players in Nepali politics. The way to go then is an all-party government of national consensus that must be committed to radical changes in the existing constitution to make it more inclusive.

And this may be the only way to prove to the Maoists the futility of their violent path.

Deviating from the middle path has exacted a heavy toll on the Nepali polity. There should be no more delays in restoring the centre to centre-stage. Without that, more showcase ceasefires and token talks will be meaningless, and even counterproductive. Call us revisionists or status-quoists, but the middle way is the only way.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)