By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On May 17, 2016, 13 persons, including 11 cadres of the Federal Alliance, an alliance of 30 ethnic and Madhesi parties formed on July 31, 2015, and two Policemen, were injured when Police clashed with the demonstrators outside Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s residence at Baluwatar in the national capital, Kathmandu. On May 15 and May 16, the Alliance had picketed Singha Durbar (Lion’s Palace, which houses the Prime Minister’s and other Government offices) as part of its protest program to pressure the Government to meet their demands, which include provisions for proportional representation and rewriting of the newly promulgated Constitution of September 20, 2015.
Nevertheless, the Federal Alliance announced its protest program on May 18, 2016, for the next 12 days, including mass rallies and public gatherings in different places in the Kathmandu Valley and some other cities. According to the program, the Alliance had organized stage demonstrations at Patan (Lalitpur District) on May 19, at Baneshwar (Sankhuwasabha District) on May 20, and at Swayambhu (Kathmandu) on May 21. Likewise, a mass gathering at Chabahil (Kathmandu) on May 22, at Kirtipur (Kathmandu) on May 23, at Bhaktapur District on May 24, at Balaju (Kathmandu) on May 25, at Kalanki (Kathmandu) on May 26, at Thimi (Bhaktapur District) on May 27 and at Kathmandu Durbar Square on May 28, had also been scheduled. The Alliance also declared that protest rallies and public gatherings would be held in Birgunj (Parsa District) and Pokhara (Kaski District) respectively on May 29 and May 30.
Earlier, on April 15, 2016, Sadbhawana Party (SP) Chairman Rajendra Mahato had said that there was no option for them but to launch another movement to force the Government and the major political parties to address the demands of Madhesi forces. Similarly, on April 18, 2016, Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal (FSF-N) Chairman Upendra Yadav had noted, “The Constitution is discriminatory and it does not address the feelings of Madhesi, indigenous and ethnic communities, thus, it is necessary for all ethnic communities from Madhes to mountains to participate in the next uprising.” Later, on April 27, 2016, the Federal Alliance submitted a 26-point memorandum to Prime Minister Oli, stating that the new Constitution was promulgated on the basis of numerical strength and the use of coercive power of the whip by the political parties, and violated the mandate of the past movements of indigenous nationalities, Madhesis, Khas, Dalits, Muslims, OBCs and minority communities.
Nepal has, in fact, been going through a cycle of new agitations since July 2015. Cadres of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), comprising the Upendra Yadav-led FSF-N, the Mahantha Thakur-led Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), the Rajendra Mahato-led SP and the Mahendra Raya Yadav-led Tarai Madhes Sadbhawana Party (TMSP), commenced the agitation on July 1, 2015, by burning the copies of the preliminary draft of the new Constitution in capital Kathmandu, as it failed to incorporate their demands. UDMF is a constituent of the subsequently formed Federal Alliance. The Madhesi protestors are demanding redrawing of the proposed boundaries of Provinces in the Himalayan nation under the new Constitution, and the restoration of rights granted to Madhesis in the Interim Constitution of 2007 which, they claim, the new Constitution has snatched away.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since July 1, 2015, at least 61 persons, including 41 civilians and 20 Security Force (SF) personnel, have been killed and another 728, including 561 civilians and 167 SF personnel, injured, in violent protests across the Terai region and its adjoining Districts (data till May 22, 2016).
Significantly, a Cabinet meeting held on May 20, 2016, decided to call the Federal Alliance for talks, assuring ‘utmost flexibility’ in discussions with the protesting parties. The response of the Federal Alliance is awaited. Earlier on May 8, 2016, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Kamal Thapa, who heads the Government talks’ team, had invited the protesting UDMF for talks. The UDMF, however, responded that talks under the present circumstances were irrelevant. There is no indication that this situation has changed manifestly. Indeed, the violent confrontations between Federal Alliance protestors and the Police are likely to have hardened the resolve of the Madhesi and minority communities to push their confrontation with the Government even further.
Amidst continuing protests by the Madhesis against the Government, the Government itself has been confronted by an existential crisis. The Nepali Congress (NC), the main opposition party, on May 4, 2016, held talks with leaders of the second-largest ruling coalition partner, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), at the Legislature-Parliament building in New Baneshwor, Kathmandu, to woo away the aggrieved Maoists from the coalition. UCPN-M Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal accused the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) of failing to resolve major political issues, including implementation of the new Constitution through dialogue, and to carry out the reconstruction of Nepal (in the wake of the devastating earthquakes of April 25 and May 12, 2015), despite his party drawing attention to these issues repeatedly. The UCPN-M’s real grievance was, however, the issue of ‘transitional justice’ relating to ‘crimes against humanity’ during the armed conflict between 1996 and 2006. To give further confidence to the Maoists to come out of the Government the NC, on the same day, held a separate meeting with leaders of the agitating UDMF, at the same venue. In the meeting the discussion was about toppling of the Oli-led Government. The UDMF leaders expressed their readiness to find an alternative to PM Oli, and agreed to support a new Government to be formed under the NC’s initiative, but also said they would remain outside the Government until their concerns were addressed.
However, realising the imminent threat to the Government, CPN-UML, the senior partner in the ruling alliance, signed a pre-emptive nine-point agreement with the UCPN-M on May 5, 2016. The fact that five of the nine points in the agreement address issues of transitional justice show just how worried the Maoists are about having to answer for the crimes they committed between 1996 and 2006. One of the points of the agreement oblige CPN-UML and the Maoists to amend the laws on transitional justice within 15 days, so that they ‘reflect the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA)’ — an euphemism for immunity from prosecution. The two leaders also agreed to register the ownership of the lands that were transacted (often forcibly) on the strength of household papers during the conflict era on the basis of those same documents. They also agreed to immediately initiate the process to withdraw or give clemency on insurgency-era cases and other ‘politically-motivated’ cases filed on various occasions.
Meanwhile, reacting against the nine-point agreement, Suman Adhikari, Chairman, and Ram Bhandari, General Secretary, of Conflict Victims Common Platform Nepal (CVCP), in a statement on May 6, 2016, declared, “We are shocked by the major two ruling parties’ intent to interfere in the current transitional justice process and withdraw the cases from the court and grant clemency to the accused.” Further, on May 17, 2016, members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) observed that the recent nine-point agreement has shattered thousands of conflict-victims’ hopes for justice. In fact, TRC had started receiving complaints from conflict victims from April 17, 2016, and had already received 7,789 complaints from across the country by May 18, 2016. On May 19, 2016, TRC started preliminary investigation on complaints received. TRC is scheduled to start detailed investigations on the complaints from June 15, 2016.
Interestingly, in a joint convention in Kathmandu on May 19, 2016, 10 of the fragments of the original Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist, the UCPN-M led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, CPN-Revolutionary Maoist led by Ram Bahadur Thapa, CPN-Maoist led by Matrika Yadav, Revolutionary Communist Party led by Mani Thapa, Gauravshali Party leader Jayapuri Gharti and some leaders from Netra Bikram Chand-led CPN-Maoist and the Baburam Bhattarai-led Naya Shakti (New Force), have united to form a party under Dahal, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-Maoist Centre). Addressing the function, Dahal claimed that the unity of Maoist parties would ensure that the TRC and CIEDP would work as per the CPA, creating a path that would lead the nation towards socialism. Earlier, on April 21, 2016, four Maoist parties, including the Mohan Baidhya-led CPN-Revolutionary Maoist, CPN (Maoist) led by Matrika Yadav and Revolutionary Communist Party Nepal led by Mani Chandra Thapa and UCPN-M, had issued a joint statement calling the Government to scrap conflict-era cases, claiming that such cases violated the CPA.
The Oli-led Government is evidently confronted by a multiplicity of increasingly irreducible crises. The first of these, of course, is the internal crisis within the Government, with UCPN-M flirting with other parties to push its agenda – crucially including the disruption of the transitional justice process. This pits the government directly against those who demand a fair trial for atrocities inflicted during the conflict, and justice for victims. Equally, the Government and major parties have demonstrated extreme intransigence on the issue of accommodating the aspirations of the Madhesis and other minority communities in the constitutional scheme. These two issues, if unresolved, have the potential of pushing Nepal over the brink into another protracted cycle of mass disorders, threatening the tenuous peace that has held for nearly a decade now.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management