By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
Unlike the previous Maoist regime under Pushpa Kamal Dahal ( Version1.0), the present Maoist regime under Dr. Baburam Bhattarai appears to have learnt its lessons. There is no arrogance or “cockiness” that marked the previous regime. There is no India baiting this time either.
After a little dilly dallying , the government did the right thing in forcing the resignation of Minister for law- Sah of UCPN-M who is alleged to have been involved in a murder case.
In the case of another, the Defence Minister S. S. Bhandari said to be close to the Deputy Prime Minister Gacchadar, was forced out, for making an indiscreet statement about Terai seceding, in a public meeting at Banepa on the 26th of September though in my view this did not call for the extreme punishment.
There seems to be, finally a genuine feeling that the peace process and the completion of a draft constitution should be made without further delay.
Yet it is doubtful whether the twin tasks could be completed before November 30 as was declared when Bhattarai took over. There are two hurdles – one real and the other perhaps made out deliberately that may slow down the two tasks.
First, is the unofficial understanding between the Nepali Congress and the UML on the question of integration of the PLA combatants still in the camps, to insist on a package deal that should deal with all the contentious issues before making any beginning. The NC-UML combine is not for any move for categorisation until all the issues are settled.
Second, is the internal opposition faced from the Mohan Baidya faction within the party (UCPN-M) that is said to prevent Bhattarai from being a little more flexible. The Nepalese press is full of articles describing the Maoist party of having a hardline faction and a moderate one with the Mohan Baidya faction being identified with the former and those of Bhattarai and the Chairman P.K. Dahal belonging to the “moderate” faction.
I am still not convinced that there are a hardline and a moderate faction within the party. If one looks at the statements made by Bhattarai until 2009, one could say that he was as much a hardliner as anyone else in the party. To me, it looks that the views of the so called hardline faction is being used by the Maoist leadership to be inflexible in the settlement of all the contentious issues relating to the peace process. Dahal is still in a position to take firm decisions in the matter of integration of PLA. There will be differences, but once the decision is made no one would oppose the party line.
It is understood that the package deal being talked about by the NC-UML combine consists of the following.
1. Leadership of the Special Directorate being formed with the PLA combatants, should be with the Nepalese Army.
2. The integration should be on individual basis and a definite “no” for bulk entry.
3. Army standards can be relaxed in individual cases- in the matter of education, age etc.
4. No position should be given to any PLA combatant beyond that of a “Major”
5. Deployment of the force should be in areas in civil-military or non essential army functions.
6. In all, not more than 4 to 5 thousand PLA combatants should be accepted for integration in the army.
The sticking point is mainly on the deployment, which neither the Maoists nor the NC-UML combine can insist as that would depend on the decision of the Army Chief to use the troops of the directorate in the manner he thinks best.
There is need for both parties to be flexible and there is no better time than now to solve all the contentious issues in the matter of integration. It is time that the Maoist leadership decides to return all the properties seized during the conflict without any reservation and also take quick steps to set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). For the TRC, international norms are available and no exception need be made, but there has to be a will on the part of the Maoists to agree to the international standards.
Surprisingly, there are less contentious issues in the drafting of the constitution and there is “near consensus” on many issues. There appears to be a general agreement on a mixed electoral system, with the french model of cohabitation and restructuring of the state on a federal basis. The Nepali Congress is also said to be in agreement to have an “expert panel” to resolve the contentious issues.
As is said by one of the commentators, what is needed is a political will, honesty and sincerity to complete the twin tasks of peace building and drafting of a new constitution as soon as possible.
The present government is also seen to be keen to implement the four point agreement with the Madhesi groups. Preliminary steps to recruit over 10,000 Madhesis are on the way. There is vocal support for the government from the Janajathis, Madhesis and the Tharus. The national dress of Daura Surwal that is very uncomfortable for those in the plains is not being forced on the citizens anymore!
Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is in India for a four day visit starting from today. He is said to be carrying a long “wish list”. While it may not be possible to do all that is requested, it is incumbent on India to have the same approach that it had shown in the case of Bangladesh. It is equally important for the Indian leaders to insist that Bhattarai takes irreversible steps to complete the peace process and in resolving all the contentious issues related to constitution making.