By S. Chandrasekharan.
Frustrated by lack of progress and being let down by the Maoists with whom he got into a secret deal just to become the Prime minister, Jhalanath Khanal had no option but to tender his resignation on 14th evening at the end of the central committee meeting of his party.
By this resignation, Nepal is again moving into a period of uncertainty with no prospect of an alternate consensus candidate for the post of Prime Minister being made available immediately.
Despite many meetings, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists are unable to come to an understanding as to who should lead the next government . Within the Nepali Congress itself, Sher Bahadur Deuba is again seen to be nursing ambitions to become the Prime minister, though he has proved to be incompetent not once but thrice!
Khanal in declaring that he would quit by 13th August if no progress was made in peace process, constitution writing and constitution making, had to resign as his party colleagues also advised him to tender his resignation in the absence of any “life line” being thrown by the Maoists. The problem was that Khanal trusted the Maoists too much and now had to pay the penalty.
It was in the early hours of 29th May this year that the three main parties- the Maoists, the Nepali Congress and the UML gave the interim constitutional assembly a three-month extension to complete the peace process and the drafting of the new constitution. I had said at that time that if past record is any indicator, no progress can be expected unless the Maoists showed some sincerity in pushing the integration process and the constitution making.
The Maoists made no move to expedite the process. The excuse was that they were busy with their central committee meeting! Instead of expediting the peace process all that the party did was to take a whole month to make a fresh list of ministers for the cabinet after the old ones were asked to quit. The new list given to PM Khanal on the 25th of last month was supposed to have representatives of all the three factions in the party and despite his misgivings. Khanal was coerced to induct the new ministers on the 5th of this month!
The Special Committee for monitoring the integration process made no progress either. No recruitment of surveyors has been made so far. The survey teams were supposed to visit the PLA camps and decide on the number of people for integration, rehabilitation and for discharge (golden hand shake).
The Maoists refused to allow the recruitment of surveyors in the absence of a clear agreement on integration modality, norms, number, rank determination policy, rehabilitation, golden hand shake policy etc. But they were not willing even to come for the meeting for the whole month and a half as they claimed to be busy with their central committee meeting! They have also made it clear that they will not accept anything but a “combative” role for the PLA cadres!
There has been no progress in constitution making either. The special committee formed under the chairmanship of Maoist chief to resolve the contentious issues have not met for the last one month as the chief was also busy with the central committee meeting of his party
There was an attempt to form a “Constitutional State Restructuring Commission” and the Speaker of the Constituent Assembly Nembwang was very keen. But this was shot down by the newly formed Madhesi Group which suspected that the attempt was to give up the federal units altogether. Instead they suggested forming a group of experts within the assembly to suggest names, boundaries of the 14 federal units to the Constituent Assembly for state restructuring and distribution of powers.
In the meantime, the Nepali Congress has once again gone back to demanding only seven regions and not fourteen as had been agreed to, earlier. The seven would include two in Terai, four in the hilly regions and one province in the Kathmandu valley. This would avoid demarcation of boundaries on ethnic lines for fourteen provinces which everyone knows is going to be very painful and contentious!
The net result is that the three months given for extending the life of the interim assembly has been wasted totally and the Maoists and to a lesser extent the Nepali Congress are to blame for this stalemate.
In all likelihood, the Constituent Assembly may be extended for another three months, but nothing dramatic is going to happen unless Maoists decide to push for progress. Present uncertainty perhaps suits them better. One view is that if they take over the administration by rotation by consensus probably there can be some progress. But to me even this is doubtful.
On 21st July, Kathmandu saw the spectacle of the Maoist affiliated trade union closing and padlocking of Kist Medical College, evicting all patients, even those in the ICU, maternity and pediatric wards to leave the hospital and what is more the labour union singing and dancing after accomplishing this feat!
For the first time, the representative of the Dalai Lama who has had his office all the years undisturbed was abruptly arrested and detained for many hours. The reason was said to be that he had an “informal meet” with the press!.
This is what one can expect when the portfolios of both home and health are held by the Maoists and with a weak prime minister who has no control over them.