By Anshuman Behera
Nepal’s unending troubles have pushed yet another year into the void, with a political deadlock blocking out all possibilities of progress in both Government formation and the critical drafting of a Constitution. A tiny glimmer of light, however, can be extracted from the fact that, despite the continuous and often abrasive political confrontations, the country has remained relatively free of major acts of violence.
Total militancy-related fatalities, according South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP data), have continued their declining trend, with 35 deaths recorded in 2010 (all data till November 28, 2010), as against 50 through 2009, and 480 in the last phase of the Maoist ‘people’s war’ in 2006, before a peace deal was hammered out with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) after the collapse of the monarchy. Civilian fatalities have seen a dramatic fall, from 35 in 2009 to 12 in 2010, while militant deaths have risen from 14 to 22.
*Data till November 28
Significantly, of the 12 civilians killed, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (UCPN-M) was responsible for just two deaths. The remaining 10 were killed by Madhesh-based extremist formations, principally the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha – Jwala Singh faction (JTMM-J). Of the 22 militants killed, as many as 14 were from the UCPN-M, another two from its youth wing, the Young Communist League, five from JTMM-J, and one ‘unidentified’. Significantly, in a departure from previous years, most of the extremist killings have been in factional or party rivalries. 10 UCPN-M cadres were killed by Madhesh-based terrorist groups such as JTMM-J and Sayunkta Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (SJTMM), and another four by unidentified assailants.
The Maoists, who spearheaded the violent political turmoil in the country for a decade (1996-2006), are evidently no longer actively engaging in armed violence, and the consequent vacuum has created spaces for fringe Madheshi groups to consolidate their power through localized campaigns of intimidation and murder.
The Maoist role in the country’s unrelenting political logjam, however, remains central. On November 19, 2010, the Maoists obstructed the passage of the Annual Budget by the caretaker Government led by the Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), unleashing pandemonium in Parliament and attacking Finance Minister Surendra Pandey. In doing this, the Maoists – the country’s main Opposition party – backtracked on their pact with the ruling parties to allow the new Budget to be passed. The three principal parties of Nepal – UCPN-M, CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress (NC) – had, on November 15, decided to form a three-member taskforce comprising former Finance Ministers Bharat Mohan Adhikari, Ram Sharan Mahat and UCPN-M Vice Chairman (VC) Baburam Bhattarai to carry out consultation among parties to present the Budget in Parliament on a consensual basis. After the meeting, Bhattarai had said, “We are close to striking a package deal.” On November 17, the three reached an agreement to allow the Budget to pass through Parliament.
The obstruction of the Budget was, however, no more than the deepening of an enduring crisis most starkly reflected in the failure to elect a Prime Minister (PM) in more than five months since caretaker PM Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned on July 1, 2010, and with 17 rounds of elections. The attempt to elect the PM was initiated on July 21, with three candidates: Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, the Chairman of the UCPN-M; Jhala Nath Khanal of the CPN-UML; and Rama Chandra Poudel of the NC. While, Jhala Nath Khanal withdrew his candidature after the first round, Prachanda remained a candidate till the seventh round (held on September 7, 2010). Since then, the lone surviving candidate for the post has failed to secure the magic number of 301 in the 601-member Parliament. There is little possibility of a resolution here, unless there is a significant inter-party consensus, given the distribution of seats in the Constituent Assembly: the UCPN-M accounts for 220 seats; NC, 110; CPN-UML, 103; and the Madheshi parties, a combined strength of 82. Maoist support is essential to Government formation by any other party; while the Maoists can secure power only with the support of either the NC or the CPN-UML. Neither of these outcomes has crystallized despite months of hectic politicking.
Another conflict that has proven irreducible is the confrontation between the Maoists, on the one hand, and all the other parties massed on the other, over the integration of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the Nepal Army (NA). The integration question has been one of the principal causes of the political polarization in the country for over four years, and this has been deepened further by the participation of the PLA in the ongoing Sixth Plenum of the UCPN-M, held in the Gorkha District, which commenced on November 21, 2010. The participation of the PLA in the Plenum has been criticized, not only by political opponents of the Maoists, but by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) as well. On November 24, 2010, Upendra Yadav, Chairman of the Madheshi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), accused the UCPN-M of breaching the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by involving their former combatants in the party’s Plenum, and demanded that the Army Integration Special Committee (AISC) should take the matter seriously, as the former Maoist combatants are now under its purview. Similarly, Karin Landgren, the Chief of UNMIN, stated, “PLA presence in the plenum is contrary to the spirit of Agreement on the Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.” The understanding between the SPA and the Maoists on the modalities and regulation of PLA combatants, and their verification, has been the subject of three different agreements in 2006. Even after four years, however, a stalemate on the question of integration persists.
There is further and increasing contention on the role and tenure of UNMIN. Originally, UNMIN’s tenure was intended to end on January 23, 2008, but has since been extended seven times, the last of these on September 15, 2010, with a four month extension, ending January 15, 2010. It is unlikely that the PLA’s integration will be completed (or even see any substantive progress) within this period, and UNMIN’s credibility can only be further diluted with the passage of time and its evident ineffectiveness.
Adding to the overdose of instability is the increasing internal division within the UCPN-M, which has come to a head during the Sixth Plenum. On November 22, Maoist leaders, such as Baburam Bhattarai, Mohan Baidhya and Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda tabled different reports regarding the party’s future strategy and line of struggle, with Vice-chairmen (VC) Bhattarai and Baidhya presenting two separate documents contradicting party chairman Prachanda. Bhattarai reiterated the idea of a ‘competitive republic’, which was adopted by the Party at its Fourth Plenum at Chubang, Rukum District, in 2005. Baidhya wanted the party to adopt the idea of a ‘people’s republic’, as was discussed in the Kharipati (Bhaktapur District) meet of the Party on February 17, 2010 and demanded that that Maoist revolutionaries should have no option to revolt against the party if it plunged into ‘rightist revisionism’. On the contrary, Prachanda simultaneously stressed preparations for a new revolt, while staying firm on peace and the Constitution.
The two most contentious issues within the UCPN-M are: to decide who the principal enemy is, and what would be the future ideological line of the party. On the principal enemy, Prachanda and Baidhya have similar views. They claim that foreign intervention, particularly by India, is the principal factor for the present political impasse, and such intervention is, consequently, the principal enemy. Prachanda and Baidhya insist that the Party should wage an ‘ideological war’ against India to preserve national Independence. Bhattarai, on the other hand, on November 22, articulated a ‘softer’ line, calling for an ‘agitation’ and not a ‘war’ against ‘foreign forces’ – a semantic distinction that has been given much significance within the party’s polemics, and has been denounced in certain quarter as ‘pro-India’. On the future ideological line of the Party, there are three divergent views. Baidhya advocates a hard-line revolutionary perspective, declaring, on November 23, 2010, “I have a clear view that democratic republic and democratic constitution cannot address the genuine issues of the people. We should establish a people’s federal democratic republic…” Bhattarai, on the same day, advocated a continued commitment to the present peace process, insisting, “We should remain on the peace and constitution processes till the last minute to save the republic, secularism and federalism”. Prachanda’s stand on the future ideological line opportunistically blends these two approaches, preparing for revolution, but staying on in the present peace process.
Ideological niceties apart, however, the real struggle in the Party is between Bhattarai and Prachanda over leadership. Prachanda is increasingly threatened by Bhattarai’s growing popularity; Bhattarai accuses Prachanda of working in the Party as an autocrat. Baidhya, on the other hand, has accused both Prachanda and Bhattarai of deviating from Communist ideology.
Earlier divisions in the UCPN-M gave birth to the militant MJF, JTMM-J, Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha –Jai Kishan Goit (JTMM-G) and the Matrika Yadav-led Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist. Further divisions in the UCPN could result in the creation of other radical formations in the country, violently struggling to secure some prominence in the political landscape.
The Madhesh based parties further complicate a difficult situation. In the struggle to elect a PM, with none of the major political formations capable of chalking up the required support on its own, and no two of them willing to sit together to form a Government, relatively minor Madhesh-based parties have begun to wield disproportionate clout in Kathmandu. The demands of the Unified Democratic Madheshi Forum (UDMF), a combination of the four principal Madheshi parties – MJF, Madheshi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik (MJF-L), Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) and Sadbhawana Party (SP) – remain unacceptable to each of the national political formations. The alliance – with 82 members in Parliament – crucially, seeks complete regional autonomy and a single Madheshi Provincial State (ek Madhesh ek Pradesh), and an unambiguous ‘right to self-determination’, in addition to specific commitments on the peace process and on the drafting of the Constitution, as well as the implementation of past agreements, such as the bulk integration of Madheshi people in security institutions, as the price of its support to any Prime Ministerial candidate. While the Madheshi parties appear to have become much more central to any resolution of the protracted crisis in Kathmandu, it is far from the case that they offer any easy solution. There is, moreover, little internal coherence even within the Madheshi groupings. There are, for instance, serious divergences of opinion on the question of autonomy, with the Upendra Yadav-led MJF demanding complete autonomy and right to self-determination, while armed groups such as the JTMM-G have raised the stakes to a claim of sovereignty. Reports indicate that there are at least 30 underground militant groups operating in the 20 Districts of the Madhesh region.
The multiple political disputes in Kathmandu have crystallized into a deadlock on the drafting of the Constitution. The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly (CA) was held on May 28, 2008, and 11 ‘thematic committees’ were allocated responsibilities to work on different components of the proposed Constitution by the SPA and the UCPN-M. A dead line of May 28, 2010, was imposed for the completion of the drafting process. However, with each of the political formations amplifying their disagreements on even the smallest possible issues, the deadline has long gone, and the process itself has lost impetus within the daily political deadlocks in Kathmandu. Repeated Maoist announcements regarding the intention to start a ‘new revolution’, and acquisition of capacities for violence by various other political formations, have only added to apprehensions that the political impasse may spiral incrementally into open chaos.
Anshuman Behera, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management