Originally Published 2012-07-10 00:00:00 Published on Jul 10, 2012
The road ahead in Nepal's fragile political landscape is becoming much bleaker with increasing power tussle. While Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is insisting that he will hand over power only to an elected government.
Nepal: Options shrink, political crisis deepens
The road ahead in Nepal’s fragile political landscape is becoming much bleaker with increasing power tussle. While Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is insisting that he will hand over power only to an elected government, the President is under pressure from opposition parties not to allow Bhattarai to continue in the absence of a parliament.

Bhattarai also feels that stepping down could trigger a repeat of the February 2005 experience - when the then monarch usurped all state powers and dismissed an elected government in the face of political crisis. Other political parties also share anxiety that the current instability could give the royalists and the Hindu right groups time to consolidate and lobby for reinstatement of the 1990 Constitution with a ceremonial monarchy.

But the credibility of the political parties is fast depleting. The inability of the top leaders to forge a consensus on the issue of state restructuring can cost the entire peace process dearly. The integration process of the former combatants is stalled and main political parties are now divided on ethnic lines. Besides the Nepali Congress, all other parties, including the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), have witnessed splits. There is also a high possibility of identity-based movement emerging in various parts of the country.

Split in UCPN (Maoist)

Last month, the UCPN (Maoist), the largest political party represented in the 601-member Constituent Assembly (CA), faced a vertical split. The senior vice-chairman of the party, Mohan Baidhya Kiran, formed a new party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist. Many senior Maoist leaders like Ram Bahadur Thapa ’Badal’, C P Gajurel, Dev Gurung, Netra Bikram Chand ’Biplab’ and others have sided with Baidhya. These leaders were in the forefront during the Maoist movement.

The main contention of the Maoist hardliners over which the split occurred was the acceptance of a "Democratic Republic" by Chairman Prachanda, who chose the line of peace and Constitution, represented by vice-chairman and current PM Bhattarai. The new party has termed two key decisions of Prachanda -- collaboration with democratic parties in 2005 and signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2006 -- as major mistakes. Baidhya and several members of his faction were in Indian jails when Prachanda signed the 12-point agreement with the seven-party alliance in New Delhi in 2005.

Baidhya has threatened another "people’s revolt" as he believes that the Maoist party deviated from its original goal. He wants a "people’s constitution" that would guarantee the rights of the marginalised communities and ethnic groups. The split, therefore, could derail the constitution writing process as it will weaken the Maoist hold over much of the country.

President vs PM

The demise of CA on May 27 has left a constitutional vacuum in the country. A power tussle was visible soon after the CA dissolution. PM Bhattarai announced for fresh elections for CA on November 22. After initial consultation with constitutional and legal experts, the president is faced with a pressure not to allow Bhattarai to continue in office. He has been advised to use special powers under Article 158 of the interim Constitution and call for a unity government. President Ram Baran Yadav has already stated that there is "no alternative" to national consensus at present.

The classic example of the tussle between the President and PM is the ongoing debate over introduction of budget in Nepal. While Bhattarai’s government is preparing to produce a full-fledged budget, the opposition parties have urged the President not to allow such a move. The NC and UML are arguing that a caretaker government cannot bring a full budget. Another case was the recent attempt of the government to remove many political activists from the list of human rights violations. Bhattarai was severely criticised by human rights bodies in Nepal and abroad for recommending this and thereby allowing a state of impunity to continue.

Clearly, the breakdown of consensus and dissolution of CA has brought about an unprecedented political and legal crisis, which will be aggravated in days ahead due to differences between the two offices.


The issue of state restructuring (over which the consensus broke down and led to the end of CA) is another burning issue in Nepal. While marginalised groups - Janajatis, Dalits, women and other minorities -- are demanding division and naming of provinces on ethnic lines, some political parties like the NC have strong reservations on ethnic division of the state.

Ethnic sentiments run high among the Hills and Tarai people and also among the party workers across party lines. The indigenous nationalities, Dalits and others have united to fight for single-identity based model for a new Nepal. The indigenous groups have announced that they will form their own party by August. The stated aim of such a party will be to fight for social justice, inclusion and equality.

Chairman Prachanda is still towing the line of ethnicity in order to please a large section of the people from indigenous and ethnic backgrounds. But he is losing much of the hold. NC and UML are non-committal in regards to ethnic division of the state, which is weakening these parties. They will be marginalised if they do not incorporate the popular aspiration of the ethnic groups, Dlaits, women and other backward communities of the country.

Federalism will thus emerge as the main bone of contention in days ahead among the political parties.

Nepal Army

The national army is the only remaining institution in Nepal which still has credibility and professionalism. Although the NA has till now not shown any desire for political ambition, one cannot rule out the possibility of a military take-over if the country continues to face instability and deteriorating law and order situation. It is to be noted that there will be a change of leadership in NA in September. The incumbent Chief Chattra Mansingh Gurung will be succeeded by Lt. General Gaurav Shumsher Rana.

Rana could be a game changer. While Gurung, who hails from a Janajati background, has been accommodative and flexible towards the peace process, things could change with Rana’s arrival. There has been much shift in the NA’s position on the integration and rehabilitation of former Maoist combatants with change of guard at the top position.

When General Rookmangud Katawal was the chief, the NA took a hard position. Katawal openly denounced any bulk entry of Maoist combatants into the NA. He came in direct confrontation with the then Maoist government for taking many decisions which was perceived to be defiance of a civilian government’s order. The NA-Maoist tussle reached its pinnacle when Prachanda attempted to sack Katawal but in turn had to step down after the President intervened, a move which was backed by international community, including India.

Things changed when Gurung took over. NA demonstrated flexibility and proposed to form a separate directorate in the Army for those combatants to be integrated in it. Unlike Katawal, Gurung became soft by showing flexibility in integration criterion and age-limit. As a trust-building measure, the army was sent to the Maoist cantonments and the NA took a complete charge of the camps by the beginning of the year.

However, much has changed since the army entered the cantonments. The political consensus has broken down and the Maoist party has split. Both these factors will have a major bearing on the decisions that will follow post Rana’s appointment.

Peace Process

Not all is well at the Maoist cantonments either. The integration process did not turn out to be the way the Maoist leadership had intended it to be. Majority of the combatants from the original 19,000 plus soldiers opted for voluntary retirement. Of the 6500 (the number agreed in November last year for integration), only around 3000 choose to be integrated in the army. This was a huge blow to the Maoist calculation.

The combatants and the hardliners of the Maoist party criticised the manner in which the entire process was being carried out. They have termed it "humiliating" for a force which fought for "people’s cause." This also became a major reason for the split in the Maoist party. Of the remaining Maoist combatants at the cantonments, many want to choose retirement at the behest of Baidhya faction. Those leaving the cantonments may re-organise. Already, news reports are afloat that those combatants who took voluntary retirement are planning to form a formal organisation.

Although there is a reduced possibility of another armed insurgency in Nepal, this is an issue of grave concern. It should also be remembered that the Maoists did not surrender all weapons to the United Missions in 2007 when the latter was invited to carry out the verification process and to take over a monitoring role.

There is thus an urgent need for the political parties to hold talks on these key issues of national concern in order to preserve the gains of Jana Andolan II (People’s Movement of 2006). Further delay will fragment the society and lead to more polarised and fractured polity. The public patience is running out and there is a danger of ethnic outburst, which can push the country deeper into violence and instability.

(Akanshya Shah is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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