Nepali Times
Guest Column
Between red and blue


New political energy has been unleashed by the Maoist announcement of a unilateral ceasefire on 3 September. It is apparent the palace's policy-drivers were taken aback by the decision. But it is a triumph for non-violence, for the Nepali people who have suffered needlessly for 10 years and for all those (even within the militarised factions) who believe peace can never be attained by the barrel of the gun.

From February First to September Third we saw a gradual erosion of democracy and crackdowns that removed the middle path. "You are with me or against me" was the message and it forced people to make a false choice between red and blue.

By declaring a unilateral halt to their war, the Maoists have taken a bigger risk than any of the political parties. The rebels have demanded proactive leadership from the mainstream parties to solve the political crisis. They have appealed to the parties to come together to negotiate through the creation of an interim government and the election of a constituent assembly. They have stressed sensitivity towards the concerns of the UN, India and the entire international community, towards civil society's movement to democratise the country. They have also urged Nepalis to be vigilant against the ploy to make this country a failed state.

The reinstatement of the House of Representatives is one core demand the Maoists have constantly rejected. But we cannot move down a new path without an interim statute. One of the rebels' major demands, a roundtable meeting of the political forces, has not been demanded this time. Legally, this means we can now move ahead through Article 128 of the constitution.

The Council of Ministers of the interim government formed after 1990's return to democracy was given parliamentary mandate to use the same article. A government formed under this provision could create an all-party government that would include the Maoists and hold elections to a constituent assembly.

But even as we have this tantalising vision of radical reform, a serious barrier remains. Those who are at the king's side are adamant that the king should have more power than provided by the 1990 constitution. All this is happening parallel with the monarchy losing the confidence and respect of more and more people.

But no one has emerged in the political leadership who can fill this vacuum. No mechanism has been established with a clear work plan and led by a collective leadership. This is possible only if the parties come up with a clear agenda for political reform.

The international community cannot remain silent by excluding the political parties nor neglect its responsibilities towards human rights and humanitarian laws in Nepal, which is already regarded by the outside world as a country facing a humanitarian crisis.

At a time when the parties, civil society and the international community were coming together, there was a need for the Maoists to take a firm initiative to create peace. And they have done so by declaring this unilateral truce.

If history were a guide, were the political parties to now propose a common plan, they would surely get the people's support. The palace is in a fix: roll back the drift towards authoritarianism or sacrifice the monarchy itself. Happily, the history of Nepal is also replete with examples of cooperation and reconciliation. Failing to take positive political action now could jeopardise everything this nation has ever stood for.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)