23-29 August 2013 #670

Competing for consensus

Older parties are trying to reinvent themselves and new ones are maturing
Anurag Acharya

This week, the High Level Political Mechanism held ‘decisive’ talks with the Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoists but despite all efforts to bring the party on board, the meetings ended with a vague agreement to seek an outcome through an all-party meet whose date has not been fixed. This was bound to happen. Just as we had predicted, despite the willingness of Baidya and senior leaders like Ram Bahadur Thapa, radical deputies and their inflated egos prevented any meaningful outcome to this stalemate.

But the good news is that the Election Commission has refused HLPM’s request to make changes in the election schedule. This will put pressure on CPN-Maoists to come clean on elections or abandon any political recourse. The fact that the Upendra Yadav-led morcha, Sarat Singh Bhandari’s National Madhes Socialist Party, and Ashok Rai’s Federal Socialist Party have already made over-the-table and under-the-table deals to participate in the polls, will also play in Baidya’s mind. Still, the role of parent party in bringing the disgruntled CPN-M into the fold will be crucial.

At an interaction program organised by ABC television in Biratnagar, Pokhara, and Janakpur over the last few weeks, UCPN-Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has said his party has suffered from philosophical and ideological angst ever since the end of the conflict, which lead to the split. But he questioned the decision of Baidya and Co, stating that as comrades who had fought for the agenda of drafting the constitution through a Constituent Assembly, it was politically incorrect of the party to stay out of the process.

Indeed, Mohan Baidya stands disoriented and cornered by leaders and cadre who are products of his own orthodox schooling. If he has any intention of remaining in peaceful and competitive politics, he will have to pass on a message to his cadre and most importantly his deputies in a language that they best understand: the end of the revolution was never to overthrow political opponents, but to establish a democratic society where all ideological grounds can compete for influence through their programs and public mandate.

They must be told that holding a red flag alone does not make them champions of social justice and egalitarian society, that they must be willing to go door-to-door to convince people of their vision of society, and that elections are the best path to ‘state capture’.

The UCPN-M under Dahal understood this fact after entering competitive politics and despite claims of electoral fraud, they did champion the vision of a just society that won them overwhelming public support during the last election. In a Pokhara interaction, Dahal confessed that the 2008 victory had made the Maoists belittle the efforts of other parties, especially the role played by the late NC President Girija Prasad Koirala which effectively ended politics of consensus between the parties and polarised the CA.

In the final months before the dissolution of the last CA, we had maintained that the debate was not so much about what kind of constitution this country would get. That could have been resolved by a simple voting inside the CA. The main issue at stake was who got to take away the credit for laying the foundations of ‘New Nepal’.

It became clear that the CA would not be able to deliver the constitution until all powerful forces were assured of their due share in the history. The sizable presence of the Maoists and their Madhesi and cross-party Janajati allies marginalised all other political forces in terms of agenda setting and ended this possibility, which was a major reason for the failure of CA-1.

Today, Nepal’s political landscape is populated by older parties trying to reinvent themselves and the new ones maturing in their vision. The parties know why they failed last time and what they need to do this time. The rhetoric has softened and the distortion created between identity-based federalism and its ethnic bogey, which became a major point of contention, is now becoming clearer.

This week, both Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal publicly stated that they are against ethnic federalism and that it must not be confused with the demand for identity-based federalism. Now it is the NC and UML’s turn to make their position public about identity-based federalism which has galvanised the Dalit, Madhesi, and Janajati constituencies and was agreed upon in the last CA by all political forces. We do not want the ghost of the last CA haunting us again, do we?

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