March 4, 2010

Turn Our Future With Strong Foothold

The recent visit of Nepal president Ram Baran Yadav to India may not have attracted wide media attention or analysis, but remains nevertheless significant. In the political uncertainties which continue to loom over Nepal, the role of the president, even if constitutionally nominal, may acquire unexpected, even if unsought, significance. It was, of course, a historic visit as it was the first time that an elected head of state of Nepal, instead of a king, visited a foreign land.
The agreements inked during the visit were not of great importance, even if reflective of an Indian desire to assist Nepal tide over a difficult economic situation. There was the offer of a $250 million Exim credit, supply of substantial quantities of rice, wheat and lentils, enlargement of the scope of air services, increasing rail connectivity to five more points in Nepal and construction of a conference hall in Birgunj, across the border from Raxaul. All these may be considered useful, but not quite path-breaking.
The warmth of the reception to the president, not unusual in Indo-Nepal exchanges, can be over-interpreted. A Nepali commentator has suggested that this was in recognition of his hard line towards the Maoists, which is endorsed by India. President Yadav......
said on his return to Kathmandu that Indian leaders had showed concern over constitution-making and the peace process in Nepal. Indian president Pratibha Patil’s comments in her banquet speech for Yadav were nuanced. After paying tributes to the courage of the Nepali people, she said, “Nepal has crossed several important milestones on its journey to a stable and inclusive multiparty democracy. We hope that the remaining tasks would be completed expeditiously, so that the new constitution of Nepal is adopted. It would be a glorious and historic moment for the people of Nepal. We eagerly look forward to rejoicing with Nepal, when the new era dawns on your beautiful country.” However delicately put, the message appeared to be that the new Nepal that has been talked about for nearly the past four years is yet to become a reality and that the celebrations would have to wait until the work was completed.
Over the past few years, political parties, including the Maoists, have failed to uphold the spirit which had informed the move towards a multiparty democracy or to be seen to make serious efforts at addressing the root causes of the disaffection that sustained the Maoist insurgency. The traditional political parties, the Nepali Congress and the UML, had been disgraced by the electorate but have shown little signs of having drawn appropriate conclusions for future action. The Maoists, on their part – having taken the plunge to eschew violence and permanently enter a democratic polity – have given contradictory signals with regard to their intent. Statements from their leadership extolling violent means for the capture of state power have eroded their credibility, however much these can be sought to be explained as tactical moves.
What seems not to have been recognised adequately by the political parties in Nepal, or by neighbours, is that the stunningly large share of votes for the Maoists in the 2007 elections to the Constituent Assembly may not have been a vote for any Maoist philosophy per se, but a vote for change from the manipulative politics of the past and greater attention to the welfare of the people. The Maoists failed to capitalise on the opportunity to govern, however disruptive the opposition, while the mainstream parties seemed to disregard the expression of the voice of the people as a mere aberration or a bad dream that would disappear on its own. The Indian establishment would have been concerned, saddled as it is with its own extreme left-wing movements. But if the Maoists have not helped themselves with their extreme rhetoric, the failure of the Centre to consolidate could well result in an even larger share of votes for them in any future elections.
The resignation of the Maoist-led government in Nepal had followed President Yadav’s refusal to accept the cabinet’s recommendation to dismiss a controversial chief of army staff. The constitutional propriety of his action has been questioned and there are differing interpretations and views. A subsequent Maoist campaign has highlighted the question of civilian supremacy vis-a-vis the armed forces. When quieter counsels prevail, it would be important for Nepal’s future to arrive at a closure on this question.
There is more than an even chance that the new constitution of Nepal would not be promulgated by the due date less than 14 weeks from now. An extension of six months is permitted by the interim constitution if there is a state of emergency. It is also suggested that the present Assembly may simply renew itself for a further period. In either case, the role of the president would acquire great significance and one would hope that he would guide Nepal in charting its way to a secure and stable democratic future.

Source:TOI {Former Ambassador of Nepal}

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