By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal is known to be a soft-spoken gentleman- politician and not given to political tantrums or sly moves against his opponents. It is therefore a surprise to many of us that he entered into a secret agreement with the Maoist chief to get the post of the prime minister. Perhaps he was very desperate. But why?
More surprising was that he did not consult his other senior leaders in the party and what is worse, he agreed to certain clauses which were against the past agreements that included the comprehensive peace agreement. My previous update no 245- in note no. 616 may be referred to.
Khanal should not have gone for a “secret” agreement” at all. In Nepal nothing is a secret and only the Maoists can keep a secret. Does anyone know what actually transpired in the plenum meeting at Palungtar?
Secondly, he seems to have made some oral commitments that included the handing over of the important security related Home Portfolio to the Maoists and that too without consulting his colleagues.
How could Khanal have done it? It looks that he was desperate to become a Prime Minister and it is being said that for the past one year some of his close aides were talking to the Maoist leaders to find ways and means to topple the government led by his own party- the UML.
The Maoists on the other hand, have been very clever and they used their skills to lure Khanal into their trap and in the process achieved their aim of not only getting a “bulk entry” for their combatants but also in leading the government in the crucial phase after the promulgation of the new constitution and towards elections under the new constitution.
What is more – they were eyeing for a long term arrangement for the consolidation of all the leftist forces thus isolating the Nepali Congress and perhaps to marginalise Indian influence?
In this scheme of things worked out very cleverly, they do not have to dismantle the para military nature of their YCL having more than 50,000 cadres. By having the Home portfolion, they would have taken control of the entire security apparatus of the country from now on. This was not acceptable to other parties particularly the Nepali Congress. This was not acceptable to even Khanal’s own associates Madhav Nepal and K.P.Oli who have considerable influence in the party hierarchy.
While three UML leaders took oath of office on the 9th, the Maoists were unwilling to join the cabinet unless the important Home portfolio was given to them. Dahal as the leader of the party having the largest representation felt cheated and has been harping on the full implementation of the seven point of agreement both in “letter and spirit. Other wise he said that his party would sit in the opposition. If this happens, it will be back to square one with the only change being that of the prime minister- Madhav Nepal being replaced by Jhalnath Khanal. But the peace process cannot be gone through and integration of the Maoist combatants will also come to a stand still.
The only remedy would be to modify the seven point agreement that will be acceptable at least to the UML as a whole as they and the Maoists will still have a comfortable majority to carry on and complete the peace process.
This is exactly what the UML politburo decided on 23rd. Without calling it an amendment or a modification, they are trying to cheat themselves by terming it as a “ reinterpretation” of the seven point agreement. The politburo resolution says that the aim of the 7 point agreement is to complete the peace process successfully and promulgate a federal democratic republic. The clause on the army integration ( see my last update) is to be scrapped( then where is the question of re interpretation?) and is replaced by a statement that the seven point agreement does not supersede the previous agreements and the army integration and other tasks that will have to be done by following the previously agreed formal processes. The leadership of the government will not be restricted to the two parties alone. ( This again is not an interpretation but modification)
The Maoists will feel certainly let down, but they themselves are responsible for bringing the present crisis to its head. Will they agree to the “defanged” agreement? It is doubtful but the peace process cannot proceed either without their cooperation. This is the dilemma that Khanal will be facing now. The reaction of the Maoists (UCPN-M) is not known so far.
With less than a hundred days to go it is very doubtful whether the constitution drafting process could be completed. Analysts believe that three scenarios are likely. 1 Promulgate a brief skeleton of a constitution to meet the dead line (May 28th) and then fill up the rest that will involve taking crucial decisions like division of provinces, democratic processes etc. 2. Extend the life of the present constituent assembly by completing the first draft before the deadline 3. Extend the assembly even without completing the draft.
The best course and perhaps acceptable to the people would be the second option of finalising and approving the draft and then seek extension. However, this will not be enough. Some serious and irreversible moves should be made on the integration process, if the country is to move on.