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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jana Andolan II And After

By Yuba Nath Lamsal

We have entered the fourth year after Jana Andolan II succeeded in restoring democracy by clipping the wings of the feudal monarchy. We have come a long way since that eventful day that not only restored people’s sovereignty but also cleared the path for a republican set up in Nepal. By all account, this incident is a historic one, which can be compared with all the big political changes that have taken place in the world like the French Revolution, American War of Independence, October Revolution of Russia and India’s Independence Movement.
Important movements
Nepal has seen important movements in its history. But all movements in the past got aborted in compromises, which failed to establish people’s sovereignty in the true sense. The first popular movement for democracy was against the Rana family oligarchy. When the anti-Rana movement gathered steam in 1951, it was aborted by a tripartite Delhi pact that shifted the authority from the Ranas to the Shahs.
Although the 1951 political change ushered in a relatively more open political environment and provided the people with some democratic rights, the real sovereignty and power rested on the monarchy, which was repeatedly misused by the kings against the people and democracy. The Nepali Congress, which led the 1951 movement, also failed to understand the gravity of the problem and contributed to strengthening the monarchy and its power. As a result, Nepal again fell into the trap of monarchical dictatorship for over 30 years.
However, the Nepali Congress tends to learn little from history. The Congress along with some other parties, including the CPN-UML, made another mistake of accepting monarchical democracy in 1990. But the monarchy never kept its promises made to the people and betrayed the people every time. The monarchy repeatedly proved to be an anti-democratic institution in Nepal that ultimately invited its abolition.
Right from the beginning, the Nepali Congress had been a strong advocate of constitutional monarchy. Until the last moment, the Nepali Congress had given the monarchy a chance to correct its mistake and accept the people’s sovereignty and democracy. Even the CPN-UML, which, in the beginning, had republican programmes, agreed to accept constitutional monarchy in 1990.
But there were some parties that had been consistently advocating a republican set up right from the beginning. Even during the 1951 political change, the communists, whose strength was not as strong as it is today, had opposed the Delhi agreement and demanded an end to the feudal monarchy. As their strength was not strong enough, their voice was not heard. As a result, the monarchy became so powerful that it ultimately marginalised the parties and imposed its authoritarian regime in the name of the Panchayat system.
Even in 1990, the political forces mainly the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML accepted constitutional monarchy as the then king promised to abide by the rules of democracy. The then king Birendra, indeed, respected the norms and principles of constitutional monarchy and refrained from political adventurism, despite repeated pressure from his family members, relatives and rightist elements to take over power. He consistently rejected the idea of rolling back to the old Panchayat days.
But the king and the family were wiped out in a shootout at the palace in June 2001. After King Birendra and his family’s assassination, Gyanendra rose to the throne, who within two years of his enthronement, staged a coup and took over power. This political adventurism proved costly for the monarchy, which forced the parties to abandon their monarchical policy and embrace the republican line. Had Gyanendra not taken over power, the monarchy would not have been abolished so quickly. In other word, Gyanendra dug his own grave and the people buried the monarchy in it.
The abolition of monarchy is perhaps the biggest and most important political achievement so far. In the abolition of the monarchy and establishment of a republican set up, the role of the Maoists was crucial. The republican set up and Constituent Assembly were the agenda of the Maoists which the other parties later accepted under compulsion. The acceptance of the Maoist agenda was necessitated to launch Jana Andolan II in collaboration with the Maoists. In exchange, the Maoists accepted multi-party democracy.
With the joint force and strength, Jana Andolan II succeeded within 19 days, which is described as a fusion of the Maoists’ ‘People’s war’ and the seven parties’ peaceful struggle.
Jana Andolan II not only restored democracy and abolished the monarchy but also brought the Maoists to the peace process. The Maoists had been waging a guerilla war for more than a decade, which had reached a state of equilibrium, which meant that there was no possibility of either side winning the war. Thus, it was necessary to seek a middle way to end the crisis and establish peace in the country. Jana Andolan II did that.
Jana Andolan II was not a complete revolution in itself but paved the way for epoch-making political change in Nepal. The immediate gain of the Jana Andolan was the restoration of monarchical democracy. Gyanendra was forced to reinstate the once-dissolved parliament. Jana Andolan II clearly aimed at dismantling the old system and bringing about new but radical change. Based on the mandate of Jana Andolan II, several historic decisions were taken that turned Nepal into a federal democratic republic.
The real change took place after the old constitution was abrogated and a new interim constitution came in its place. The interim constitution formally brought the Maoists into the political mainstream. The interim constitution also suspended the monarchy until its formal abolition by the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly. The election to the Constituent Assembly was held successfully to write a new constitution which provided new optimism that it would establish lasting peace in the country by resolving all the outstanding issues.
But even after the Constituent Assembly election, the situation did not improve significantly. The real problem began after the Constituent Assembly election as the parties breached the coalition culture. This was started by the Nepali Congress as it opted to sit in the opposition. The interim constitution had not visualised the provision of ruling and opposition parties until the new constitution was written. The very concept of not having the ruling-opposition provision was guided by the motive that all the parties would work together to write a new constitution and complete the peace process successfully. But the Nepali Congress pressed for the amendment of the constitution to include the provision of an opposition bench. This was the beginning of the present political deadlock.
Political vacuum
Now a new political crisis is likely to brew as the parties have failed to write the constitution in time. There will definitely be a constitutional and political vacuum after May 28. Now the parties need to intensify consultations and hold dialogue to find an amicable solution. The best option would be to set a new deadline for writing the constitution. Although this would set a bad precedent, there is no option.

Maoists, striek and Withdrawal

By Yuba Nath Lamsal

Last week, the country saw a six-day general strike called by the Unified CPN-Maoist. The strike was largely peaceful, although the people had to endure great hardships as shops and offices closed.
The Maoist party withdrew the strike on the sixth day and changed the nature and form of the protest. It then held a mass meeting in Kathmandu where the leaders tried to defend their decision to withdraw the strike and convince the cadres why this was necessary. The next day, the Maoist party cordoned off the government secretariat at Singha Durbar. Going one step forward, the UCPN-Maoist, all of a sudden, withdrew all forms of the protests for the time being.
The first three days of the strike were completely peaceful. But sporadic incidents of violence and clashes started taking place on the fourth and fifth days, which compelled the Maoist leadership to withdraw the strike to, according to the Maoists, avoid unnecessary confrontation with the people.
Trading charges
The Maoists and the ruling parties have traded charges and accused one another for inciting violence and confrontation during the strike. The ruling parties have held the Maoists responsible for the clashes. The Maoists accuse the government of infiltrating into the protests and inciting violence. However, the Maoists alone are not responsible for the clashes. Had the Maoists wanted violence, they would have done so right from the first day of their strike. But some elements that wanted to reap benefit from the chaos and crisis infiltrated into the protests and tried to provoke the agitators and incite violence.
The other fact which shows that the Maoists were not behind the violence and clashes is their swift decision to withdraw the strike once such incidents started taking place. The decision to withdraw the strike was not because the Maoists were afraid of clashes. The decision was taken to prevent the country from falling into a confrontation. This should be taken as a positive and responsible act of the Maoists.
The Maoist leadership assessed the situation in time and did not hesitate to withdraw the strike. The party not only withdrew the general strike but called off all kinds of protest programmes temporarily. The Maoist leadership had earlier announced that the indefinite strike would continue until the present government was ousted and a national government under their leadership was formed.
The party leadership came under fire from the cadres for its sudden withdrawal of the strike. But the party chose to face the wrath of the workers than push the country into a confrontation. By taking this quick step of withdrawing the strike, the Maoists have proved that they are sensitive to the country and people’s woes and want peace and stability in the country
Although the cadres may not have been happy with the party’s decision, they accepted the instruction of the leadership quietly and obediently. Not a single voice of discontent and grumbling was heard. This shows the strict and perfect discipline in the party. Had it been the case of the other parties, there would have been a big hue and cry. This is a lesson that the other parties must learn from the UCPN-Maoist.
The announcement of the strike and decision to withdraw it unilaterally by the Maoists have sent a positive message both at home and abroad. Firstly, the totally peaceful nature of the strike and the quick decision to withdraw the protest programmes once the strike saw sporadic clashes and violence have cleared the misgiving that the Maoists still have the hangover of war. This shows that the Maoists want change and reforms in the country through peaceful means. Even in the past, the Maoists had to opt for war because their plea for peaceful reforms and change were not heard by the state.
It is worthwhile to mention here that the Maoists had proposed to the government for peaceful reforms in the past. More than a decade ago, when the Maoists had not started the armed insurgency, a delegation of the Maoists had sought an appointment with the then prime minister to hand over a memorandum concerning their demands for change and reforms. But the then prime minister, instead of meeting the delegation, ordered the police to use force. As a result, several workers and leaders, including Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, vice chairman of the UCPN-Maoist, were injured in the police baton charge.
Soon after this incident, the Maoists reorganised the party and announced an armed insurgency. This shows that the Maoists were forced to wage war as their efforts to bring about change and reforms through peaceful means were exhausted.
Even at present, the Maoists claim that they were not in the mood to stage the general strike. They had to do so since their demands were not listened to by the government and the ruling parties. The main concern of the Maoists at present is constitution writing and concluding the peace process. With the chance of promulgating the new constitution within the deadline growing slim, the Maoists chose to pressure the government and other parties in the form of a strike for a timely constitution and conclusion of the peace process. This shows that the Maoist strike was not their choice but a compulsion - a compulsion for peace and constitution.
The second message that the withdrawal of the strike has given is that the Maoists are sensitive towards the problems of the people. Since the supply system worsened due to the week-long general strike, the Maoists did not want the people to suffer further and took back the protest programmes.
Thirdly, they respected the call and appeal of the civil society and the international community to withdraw the strike and seek a solution through negotiation and dialogue. The Maoists have, thus, shown their responsible and flexible attitude, and the onus lies on the ruling parties to show similar kind of flexibility for the resolution of the problem.
The Maoists have said that the protests were only suspended for sometime but not ended and can be revived if the ruling parties do not respond to their liberal and flexible policy.
According to the Maoists, the suspension of the strike and protest programmes temporarily is aimed at giving the other parties, especially the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, a chance to create an atmosphere for national consensus and formation of a national government. The other parties, too, need to take this opportunity positively and do the needful to end the political crisis through mutual consultation.
Opportunity for peace
If the ruling parties take the withdrawal of the strike as a defeat of the Maoists and victory of the government, it would be a blunder. This will only invite further confrontation and crisis in the country. The withdrawal of the Maoist protests has created an opportunity for peace and constitution, which must be utilised for an amicable solution of the political crisis facing the country.