The best promise of the newly minted republic of Nepal was in the manner that the "constitutional republic" was being constructed. Nepal had managed to achieve a truly democratic and representative Constituent Assembly (CA) for the first time ever in South Asia in 2007. There were great hopes for a Constitution to be wrought out of debates and discussions in the CA between established political parties that had worked together to end decades of "soft" and "hard" autocracy through mass mobilisation and with international goodwill. Challenges were already identified - the unresolved problem of integration of Maoist combatants within Nepali army and society; and the raging debate on federal restructuring of the Nepali state. If only the various actors of the Nepali polity, atleast the major ones - the Maoists, the Unified Marxist Leninists, the Nepali Congress and the Madhesi Peoples' Rights Forum had kept this as their priority. That was not to be, as these forces were from day one after declaration of election results engaged in competitive power politics. While the Maoists were, after a few setbacks, able to gain the most important post of Prime Minister, garnered by their Chairman, Pushpa Kumar Dahal alias Prachanda, they were done in by the nature of Kathmandu's political intrigue not very much later. All the other major parties ganged up against the Maoists with more than crystal clear backing from India for such a denouement.
Were the Maoists responsible for such a culmination due to their recourse to achieving or atleast endeavouring to realise some of their radical aims? Or was it a classic case of reactionary gang up against them by the other major parties? As commented before
, the composition of the forces in power at this point of time indicates that the latter is the most plausible definition of the current situation. But it is also to be suggested that the Maoists themselves were caught napping in their game of oneupmanship.
Since May 2009 however, when Prachanda resigned from his post citing a reason of breach of civilian supremacy in the President's actions and external interference, the Maoists have regrouped both organisationally and publicly. Calling into question the rather opportunist alliance of all the major parties, who only found anti-Maoism as a common ground, the Maoists proceeded to fish for support among the people once again. In their recently launched "peaceful" demonstrations since the beginning of November, the upsurge of support that they have received since May (and even before) is amply clear.
What of the other parties? Emboldened by the structuring of a broad anti-Maoist alliance as well as the steadfast support from the mighty Indian government, sections of the other parties have seen to it that they would try to relegate the Maoists further from the power corridors as much as possible. No wonder, statements by senior officials of the Madhav Kumar Nepal led government have suggested a shifting away of goalposts from the Comprehensive Peace Agreements signed between the mainstream parliamentary parties and the Maoists in 2005. This process has only been helped by the Indian ambassador's interpretations
on Maoist combatants' integration (into the "society" and not the "Army"). And the Maoists' massive protests has made nary a dent in this determined holding on to negativist positions by the current government - either on the demand to debate the President's actions in the CA or on whether or not to include the Maoists in a truly consensual unity government (which the much harried officials of the United Nations who brokered the peace agreement would be happy with, as well).
Now the effect of all these have put additional strains on an already fraying process of writing the Constitution. Deadlines for committees to come up with blueprints on various questions - the kind of executive power in the offing, the formulations on federalism, the nature of "fundamental rights", on economic redistribution and others, have been mostly never met and ideological barriers have strengthened themselves. Among the Maoists themselves, impatient currents baying for revolution had sprung up, some who have been thrown away because of their ultra-dogmatism (the likes of Matrika Yadav) and others who have cautioned the more mainstream leadership about reformist ways and are demanding a more assertive insurrectionist make-up. The fact that two main leaders of the Maoists in the erstwhile government- former prime minister Prachanda and intellectual and former finance minister Baburam Bhattarai have resigned, has helped them to spend more "organisational" time with the party cadre and to reconnect with their mass bases. The "two-line" divide within the party has not therefore turned schismatic but has enriched debate and pressed for a more stronger unity of thought.
The same cannot be said of the UML. A reactionary set of anti-Maoists, most of whom who had tasted defeat in the CA elections, led the way in the formation of the new government of which the UML is the major partner. But the very instrumental tie up with the Nepali Congress has seen a contradiction of sorts emerging within this party as well, as some leaders have found the rabid anti-Maoist and opportunist alliance as something that would not help their cause of increasing their support base among the people. Ergo, the party chairman Jhalanath Khanal and the prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal seem to speak in different languages on Maoist presence in government. Khanal's visit to India seems to be a prelude for yet another round of shift of powers in their corridors in Kathmandu, and from the looks of it, this could be a welcome sign for the formation of a consensus regime at last. As for the Nepali Congress itself, the party had just managed to bundle up its contradictions that came to play in the manner the party's patriarch GP Koirala sought (and managed) to elevate his daughter Sujata Koirala to the post of deputy prime minister.
If at all the stasis like situation is to be overcome, it seems that the initiative has to arrive from the UML leadership and from sections of the Nepali Congress who were at the forefront of the republican demand during the phase of absolute autocratic rule of the monarchy. That would mean that the antagonistic forces to an unity government among these parties would either have to submit to a new will or be sidelined; the latter option could most likely be achieved through nerve-wracking internal divisions on this issue, and possibly leading to a rupture - probable in the faction ridden UML.
The continuous bickering and jostling for occupying the corridors of power and the lingering differences on various issues pertaining to the building of the Constitution suggests that the drafting exercise would face a possibility of not meeting up with the deadline set in the middle of next year. In such a scenario of a deadlock, the last available option would be a Constitutional Referendum with a basket of positions on various issues being placed by various political parties to be put for vote among the public themselves. If indeed such a process happens, it would be a spectacularly democratic but highly divisive and contentious event for the nearly 25 million people in the country.